What Is Your Body Telling You? Nail Signs Explained
Ridged nails or a furry tongue… we are all likely to experience some ‘abnormal’ body signs throughout our lives, but what do they mean?
From a Naturopathic perspective, what shows up on the outside of the body can be a real indication of our inner state of health.
Our hair, eyes, skin, nails, lips and tongue can provide valuable information on how our bodies are functioning on a cellular and systemic level.
Instead of ignoring changes to our appearance in these areas or being embarrassed by them, it is important to take note of what our bodies are saying.
Body signs can be a great indication of deeper imbalances or deficiencies and can often be addressed through appropriate lifestyle and nutrition changes before affecting other parts of the body.
However these signs should not be used to diagnose conditions or be assessed in isolation, as all of our body systems are interrelated and there can be more than one possible cause of a particular sign or symptom.
Rather, they can help to form an important part of a broader health overview alongside other signs, symptoms, individual health information and pathology results.
In the first of this three part article series, we explore nail signs – what they mean and what you can do about them.
Our nails are made from protein (keratin) and rely on a wide range of vitamins, minerals and fats to grow and remain strong and healthy.
Extra cellular matrix, the base from which our nails grow, responds to nutritional and health changes, therefore nails and nail beds can give important insight into our nutritional status, digestive and general state of health.
Many nail signs are also medically recognised to be associated with specific health conditions or disease processes.
Vertically ridged nails
This is one of the most common nail signs people present with. Vertical ridging is associated with a lack of silica required for connective tissue strength as well as low iron and B-vitamin levels. This sign is often part of a bigger picture of poor nutrient absorption and digestive weakness.
Low stomach acid levels can be to blame, so if you are experiencing any other symptoms like bloating, reflux or sluggish bowels, consider some extra digestive support with digestive enzymes and betaine hydrochloride.
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a couple of teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in a small amount of water before meals can also assist with healthy digestion.
Horizontally ridged nails (aka Beau’s lines)
These ridges often appear on nails when there has been a temporary disruption to the nutrient supply to the nail. This could be due to injury to the nail, malnutrition, illness, severe stress, circulatory disorders, acute toxic overload or toxin exposure, extreme weather changes, etc.
If these ridges appear on your nails often (after previous ridges have grown out), consider investigating the causes for poor nail growth more thoroughly and treat accordingly.
For example, if you are experiencing high levels of stress, adrenal supportmay be necessary, or if your diet is lacking in nutrient rich foods, start supplementing with a Multivitamin and mineraldaily to avoid deficiencies.
Cracked skin around the nail bed and splitting cuticles
These signs indicate that connective tissue is weak, and may be improved by supplementing with calcium fluoride and silica.
A great formula containing both of these nutrients is Blackmores Professional S.C.F. which is also useful for supporting conditions affecting bones, tendons and ligamets.
Diet wise, ensure you are eating plenty of good quality proteins, as protein provides the building blocks for connective tissue.
Spoon shaped nails
Nails shaped like spoons are a common indication of iron deficiency, or of the body’s inability to properly utilise iron in conditions such as haemochromatosis.
If there is a history of anaemia, or other signs of iron deficiency evident such as fatigue, pale skin and nails or shortness of breath, increase dietary iron intake through foods like dried beans, liver, red meats, dark green leafy veggies, dried fruits, nuts and molasses.
A blood test assessing iron levels and stores is recommended before supplementing, as iron supplementation can lead to excess iron levels if there is no pre-existing deficiency.
If your iron levels are found to be low, restore them with a well-absorbed, non-constipating iron formula containing B-vitamin cofactors and vitamin C for enhanced iron absorption. Hemagenics Iron Advanced is a great product to try.
If there is a family history of haemochromatosis, further investigation is warranted and iron supplementation should be avoided.
Another easy way to test for anaemia is to press down on the nail for a couple of seconds and see how long it takes for colour (blood) to return to the nail bed. A slow return and cool/cold skin is an indication of circulatory insufficiency and possible iron deficiency.
Pitting appears like pin sized indentations of the nail and is strongly associated with psoriasis (occurs in 10-50% of people with the condition). It is linked with other autoimmune conditions such as alopecia areata and reactive arthritis, as well as skin disorders including atopic or chemical dermatitis.
Potassium sulphate is a mineral salt that can assist with chronic skin conditions and infections associated with pitted nails.
To gain more individualised health recommendations for the management of autoimmune conditions, speak to an Emed Practitioner.
Clubbing of nails is a more serious sign associated with systemic disease processes described as early as the 5th Century BC by Hippocrates!
Clubbed nails are shaped like an inverted spoon (curved downwards) and are linked with cardiovascular, pulmonary and liver conditions. Inflammatory bowel disease, Coeliac disease and magnesium deficiency are also associated with this sign.
Smoking is a common cause of this sign as it increases risk of lung and many other diseases. For assistance with quitting smoking, read more here.
White Spots on nails
White spots or streaks on nails are fairly common and most likely to be caused by trauma to the nail or mineral deficiencies. Calcium and zinc are the most common culprits. Silica deficiency is another possible cause, as it helps to regulate the way our bodies utilise calcium.
Heavy metal toxicity is a possible (but less likely) cause of white streaks on nails. To find out more about assessing your mineral and heavy metal levels, click here.
Other symptoms of zinc deficiency include slow wound healing, poor sense of smell and taste, recurrent infections and reduced appetite. Zinc supplementation can help to correct zinc levels, we recommend taking an easily absorbed liquid zinc supplement.
Calcium phosphate (C.P. 57) can assist with restoring nail health and calcium levels and is also a great supplement for young children. It acts as a cell-builder, supporting rapid periods of growth, tooth and bone development, maintains nervous system health to reduce irritability and promotes healthy appetite.
Weak and/or Peeling nails
Weak, soft or peeling nails are likely to be caused by insufficient protein intake or low iron levels. Calcium phosphate and silica are also great for strengthening weak nails as they improve connective tissue integrity.
Dry and/or Brittle nails
Dry, slow growing and brittle nails are often a sign of essential fatty acid deficiency. This often goes hand in hand with dehydration and low fat-soluble vitamin levels such as vitamin A and Vitamin D. Vitamin D-enriched Arctic Cod Liver Oil is a great way to dose up on all of these great nutrients in one go.
Another possible cause of dry/ brittle nails is thyroid dysfunction. If you feel low in energy, are sensitive to the cold and have dry skin too, consider getting your thyroid hormones tested.
If nails are thick and dry or chip easily, the silica and calcium combo may help to improve nail health.
Nail and Nail Bed Colour Changes
Red nail beds are often a sign of high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular conditions.
Yellow nails can be due to smoking, chronic illness or infection, liver disorders and diabetes.
Pale nails and nail beds (or with a bluish tinge) are a sign of poor circulation (eg. in diabetes) and possibly anaemia.
White nails may be indicative of liver disease.
Brownish-grey nail colour can be caused by Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Nail Healthy Nutrition
Include good quality protein in your meals and snacks – as we have discussed, protein provides your body with the building blocks to make connective tissue and is essential for good nail health.
Great protein sources include organic eggs and poultry, organic and/or grass-fed meats, fish, raw nuts and seeds, legumes, full-fat natural dairy.
Eat mineral rich foods to support extra cellular matrix health and connective tissue formation – stew up some delicious and nutritious veggie and bone broths to extract a heap of minerals including calcium, potassium, and iron, and include dark green leafy veggies in your diet every day to get plenty of magnesium and B-vitamins.
Hydrate your nails (and skin) with adequate water and essential fatty acids – any symptoms of dryness, cracking and inflammation are a pretty strong indication that your body is lacking water and good fats. Without these nutrients, your cells and extra cellular matrix becomes dry and rigid and cannot function properly.
Increase your intake of raw nuts and seeds, especially linseeds and chia seeds (freshly ground), fish and avocados, and make sure you are drinking at least 33ml water per kg of your body weight each day.
Fawcett, R.S. et al. 2004, Nail Abnormalities: Clues to Systemic Disease, American Family Physician