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Nailing the truth

Your nails reflect your inner health. So make sure you eat right and don’t ignore these warning signs, writes Dr Anjali Mukerjee.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 07, 2009 20:13 IST
Dr Anjali Mukerjee

Has it ever occurred to you that nails can help you gauge your health status? Healthy nails sport a pink shade. They are slightly raised in the middle, then curve down a bit at the tip. But sometimes they may change colour, texture and shape, signifying a nutritional deficiency, infection or an underlying ailment.

Fingernails are made of keratin, a protein similar to the one that hair is made of. Just like hair, which turns brittle, dull and dry if not provided with adequate nourishment, nails, too, lose their colour, lustre and tone. Although the rate varies in each individual, nails grow an average of an inch and a half each year. They tend to grow faster in younger people. The rate is also higher during pregnancy and in summer.

Here’s how can you identify nail abnormalities and how they can be corrected through the right diet.

Identify the abnormality
A nail which curves in the opposite direction at the tip is a symptom of chronic anaemia caused by an iron deficiency. Nails that tend to curl under at the tips can signify respiratory or heart problems, while nails that are raised at the base can also signal respiratory trouble. Flat, thin nails can be due to insufficient Vitamin B12. Meat, dairy products and eggs are great sources of Vitamin B12. Also eat iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and organ meats, as well as adequate vitamin C from lemon juice or other citrus fruits to enhance iron absorption.

Tweak your diet
Peeling nails point to a diet lacking in omega fatty acids. Supplementing the diet with foods rich in omega fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds and evening primrose oil will help improve moisture levels. Besides, keep your hands moisturised with a body lotion.

Many women complain about their nails being too brittle. Though the problem seems quite simple, there could be several underlying causes. An underactive thyroid gland is often associated with brittle nails. A diet lacking in calcium and protein can also cause nails to break easily. Consume foods rich in iron (methi, nachni, fish, and most leafy vegetables), eggs and have biotin supplements. Also, don’t leave your hands wet for too long.

The problem lies within
White lines in or across the nail can be a sign of liver or heart disease, kidney disorders or, more likely, a lack of iron or zinc in your diet. It can also signify more complex issues such as eczema or psoriasis. To raise your zinc levels, eat dried beans, cashew nuts, yogurt, raisins, chickpeas, dairy products, almonds, milk, chicken breast, kidney beans, peas and oatmeal.

Fungal infections are one of the leading causes for fingernails to take on a unhealthy tinge. A yeast infection causes the nail to separate from the base. Bluish nail beds can be a sign of lung trouble, which causes poor circulation in the finger tips. Reddish-brown spots can indicate a deficiency of folic acid, protein or vitamin C. A diet rich in anti-oxidants will help ease the problem to a certain degree. Consume broccoli, fish, onions, apples, cucumber, grapes, garlic and asparagus (rich in sulphur) to ensure proper circulation and good nail growth.

Vertical ridges that appear on the nail can indicate disorders such as iron deficiency, poor absorption of vitamins and nutrients, overall poor health or kidney trouble. These vertical ridges, as well as bumpy nails, can also suggest that one is prone to developing arthritis. Ridges running horizontally across the nail can indicate physical or mental stress. A diet rich in vitamin C and B-complex vitamins helps reduce these symptoms.

For healthy nails, make sure you eat plenty of good quality protein. Avoid applying artificial nails over your own. They may look nice but they destroy your own nail and may also contribute to fungal infections.

Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.