The Nail File

Health at your fingertips

The Nail File

At-home nail care - pampering and nourishing - can prevent cracking and splitting and improve overall nail health.

Whether we like them long or short, polished or au naturel, our nails are a beautiful extension of our fingertips. Because of their never-ending growth cycle, they provide an accurate record of our health—and can signal internal problems before other symptoms appear.

Nails tend to lose moisture as we age, leaving them thinner and more brittle. Extreme dieting and vitamin deficiencies can also damage nail health. For example, brittle nails might indicate poor dietary vitamin A, while dry nails suggest a lack of B vitamins.

People afflicted with psoriasis often experience problems with their nails. Of those who suffer from arthritis associated with psoriasis, 80 percent have nail concerns, including discolouration or pitting of the finger and toenails. Affected nails can thicken, become yellow, or start to crumble, and skin around the nail can become inflamed. Nails can also pull away from the nail bed in a condition called onycholysis.

Since psoriasis involves inefficient fat metabolism, those with the condition should be sure to include omega-3 fatty acids in their supplement regimen, as well as folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and dietary silicon.

What are your nails telling you?
Appearance Possible causes
clubbing—nails bulge and curve downward heart or lung disease
spoon-shaped—nail tips turn up at end anemia or B12 deficiency
vertical ridges hormone imbalance or protein deficiency
horizontal ridges physical or psychological stress
black vertical lines or spots intestinal ulcer or melanoma
thick nails circulatory problems
red skin around cuticles psoriasis
blue nail bed heart or lung problems
yellowish nails with pink base diabetes

While our nails can mirror our inner health, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes nail problems are just problems with your nails. For example, tumours and warts can occur in any portion of the nail unit, and the actual nail can be destroyed as a result. Warts are painful viral infections that affect the skin underneath or around the nail. Because some lesions can be cancerous, see your health practitioner for any abnormal growth or lump.

On the other hand (pun intended), constant immersion in water or contact with chemicals can result in a fungal infection. It can also occur with nail biting or in children who suck their fingers. If left untreated, the nail could be lost. If your work involves constant exposure to water, protect your nails by wearing cotton gloves under your rubber gloves.

Prevent cracking and splitting

For healthy nails, include these biotin-rich foods in your diet:

  • egg yolks
  • fish
  • liver and other organ meats
  • soybeans
  • whole grains and cereals
  • yeast

Therapy for flagging fingernails

Healing
Some nail infections can resolve with simple home-care treatments. If no abscess has formed, infected nails may improve with a soak in warm water and tea tree oil. According to researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, massaging a drop of tea tree oil into the nail bed two or three times a day to treat nail infections is as effective as clotrimazole, a prescription antifungal medication.

Pampering
Indulge in a little at-home fingernail TLC with a 10-minute soak in extra-virgin olive oil. Strengthen weak nails with a warm water soak: add 2 or 3 drops horsetail or rosemary essential oil to a cup or so of warm water. To soften brittle nails, add 2 or 3 drops evening primrose or calendula to a cup of warm water and soak.

Nourishing
One final tip: feed your nails a varied and well-balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, plenty of protein from legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and soy products), seeds, nuts, eggs, fish, and lean meats. Also include sulphur- and silicon-rich broccoli, onions, and sea vegetables. Drink plenty of pure filtered water to keep those cells hydrated.

Remember to pay attention to the signals your nails are sending and report them to your health care practitioner. Once you’ve started to address the underlying condition causing your nail troubles, it could take up to two years to be reflected in your nails.

Beauty prescription for healthy nails
  Daily Amount What It Does
vitamin A 5,000 IU helps nails use protein
vitamin B complex including biotin 100 mg strengthens brittle nails
omega-3 essential fatty acids 1,100 mg nourishes and moisturizes nails
orthosilicic acid (silicon) 3 mg strengthens nails
-From Living Beauty (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2006)

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