Nails are not often given much thought. But right from a minor itch that needs scratching or gaining a grip over anything, nails play a significant role every day.
Healthy nails typically sport a pink shade, slightly raised in the middle, then curved a bit at the tip. But sometimes they may change colour, texture and shape, signifying a deficiency of nutrients, infection or an underlying health issue.
Fingernails are made of keratin, a protein similar to what hair is made of. Just like hair, nails too lose their colour, lustre and tone if not provided with adequate nourishment. Nails usually grow an inch and a half every year, quicker in younger people than older people, in pregnancy, in summer than in winter and in the hands rather than the feet.
In the first of a two-part column, we look at what could go wrong with your nails and the nutrition you need to repair them.
Nail shape abnormality
A nail that curves in the opposite direction at the tip is a symptom of chronic iron deficiency anaemia. 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. Square, wide nails can be a result of a hormonal disorder while flat, thin nails can be from insufficient vitamin B12. Meat, dairy products and eggs are great sources of vitamin B12. Besides, having a good intake of iron rich foods through green leafy vegetables, nuts and organic meats, and complementing it with vitamin C sources such as any citrus fruit or lemon juice helps enhance iron absorption.
The nail contains several layers of keratin that are sealed together. However, when unprotected hands are exposed to hot air, water or cold air, these sealed layers may peel off. Peeling nails means that the diet is lacking in omega fatty acids. Supplementing the diet with foods rich in omega fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds, almonds, nuts, sunflower seeds and evening primrose oil will help improve moisture levels of dull nails. Moisturising your hands with a body lotion also helps keep the layers supple.
Women often complain about their nails being too brittle and cracking easily. Though the problem seems quite simple, there are several underlying causes. Brittle nails cannot hold on to moisture, tend to dry too easily and crack. An underactive thyroid is often associated with brittle nails. A diet lacking in calcium and protein also cause nails to break or crack easily as they lack in strength. Consuming foods rich in iron (methi, nachini, fish, most leafy vegetables), biotin supplements and eggs will help rectify the problem to a certain degree. Besides, one must try avoiding leaving hands wet for too long as that worsens brittleness. You can increase your calcium intake through green leafy vegetables, dairy products, sesame seeds or even a daily calcium supplement.
Yellowing nails are early signals of various internal disorders such as diabetes, respiratory or liver problems. Yellow spots on the nails can be an indicator of fungus or psoriasis. Seek your doctor’s advice for fungal problems.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre