Nails protect both the fingertips and toes, are extremely helpful when peeling off price tags, and are often considered a sign of beauty. They can even protect clues to your overall health and any underlying diseases. Good nutrition is the key to nail vitality.
What is it?
Composed mainly of fibrous protein called keratin, nails are one of the body's strongest tissues. But they can grow more slowly than normal or become weakened or break for a number of reasons. One of the most common problems is a fungal infection: as many as one in 25 people has this unsightly nail disorder.
What causes it?
Nutrition plays a key role in nail growth and appearance. An insufficient intake of the B vitamins, for example, can produce ridges in the nail, and a lack or calcium can cause dryness and brittleness. And too little vitamin C or folic acid may be partially responsible for the development of hangnails. In addition, nails can change colour when the blood doesn't get enough oxygen because of an underlying illness (such as asthma). Also, exposure to chemicals can dry them out, making them weak and brittle.
The fungus that causes athlete's foot may infect toenails as well. It thrives in sweaty shoes and socks and can enter any tiny breaks in nails caused by strenuous physical activities such as jogging.
What are the symptoms?
- Dry, brittle nails that split and grow slowly could be caused by nutritional deficiencies.
- Thick, yellowed nails (often the toenails) may be harbouring a fungus. Debris collecting under the nail may cause it to peel away from the nail bed below.
- Changes in nail colour, shape or texture may indicate an underlying illness.
Are there any natural therapies?
Various supplements can be used as general nail strenghtheners. About eight weeks of therapy may be required to notice results. Biotin and other B vitamins, taken together with an amino acid complex and vitamins C and E, have a synergistic effect that helps the body build keratin and other proteins that it needs to make nails strong. A mixed amino acid complex also contains sulphur, which is necessary for nail growth.
Besides strengthening the skeleton, calcium and magnesium benefit the nails. As for flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil, they are rich in two different types of essential fatty acids, both of which nourish nails and prevent them from cracking.
Nails infected with a fungus, unfortunately, are harder to treat. Oral vitamin C, taken with vitamin E, remains a good option, because it boosts immunity and may aid the body in fighting off the infection. In addition, try rubbing tea tree oil, garlic oil or calendula ointment onto affected nails twice a day for several months.
What else can I do?
- Don't trim cuticles. They protect the nails from fungi and bacteria.
- Wear gloves if you're doing household chores or it you're using any type of chemical. Apply pertroleum jelly after your hands have been in water.
- Keep nails short, since long nails break easily. Soak nails before trimming to prevent splitting and peeling.
Did you know?
Vets have long used biotin to strengthen horses' hoofs, which are composed primarily of keratin. Medical researchers have found that it strengthens human nails, too.