The mere mention of fingernails will trigger thoughts of mani-pedis, nail polish, hand and foot massages, and other spa delights in most people’s minds. While decorating these seemingly insignificant little patches of dead keratin has become a nearly $20 billion a year industry, most people know little about them. It turns out that these little fashion accessories do much more than lend a little polish to your appearance.
The fingernail acts as a counterforce when the pulp of the finger touches an object. The part you paint makes your grip more strong and precise, thereby making it easier to pick up objects like sewing needles, paper clips, and pencils. They also make it easier to peel fruit, and cut, scrape, and scratch anything from your head to a chalkboard.
And they can be an indicator of your overall health. Your fingernails will change as you age, like much of the rest of your body. They may start to develop vertical or horizontal ridges, which can be the result of aging, or possibly the sign of an underlying medical condition that might need attention.
As fingernails age, their capacity to absorb nutrients diminishes. This affects the nail’s ability to grow and could result in vertical ridges. Stress, vitamin deficiencies, inadequate protein intake, lack of moisture, and improper nutrition could also cause nail ridges. If they are accompanied by color or texture change, peeling, white lines, or in-grown nails, it may indicate a more serious condition and medical attention should be considered.
Zinc is an essential mineral necessary for metabolism, immune function, and wound healing. It is also required for any cells that rapidly divide, like the cells that make up nails. Zinc enables proteins in the body, including nails, to remain and grow strong. A deficiency of zinc often presents in nail health, including vertical ridges. Extreme deficiency could lead to nail loss. Zinc can be found in most meats, poultry, seafood, legumes, and whole grains. It is also available as a supplement in capsule or lozenge form.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, which maintains healthy bones. If your nails are peeling, brittle, or have vertical ridges, you may be vitamin D deficient. Dubbed “the sunshine vitamin,” one of the best sources is sunlight. It can also be found in fatty fish, beef, liver, egg yolk, and fortified dairy, orange juice, and cereals. Another excellent source is a high quality supplement like Care/of’s vitamin D, The Sunny D3.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for collagen synthesis. Collagen is a component of the nail bed. While there’s no real data that establishes a direct correlation between vitamin C deficiency and vertical nail ridges, it is important for overall health and well-being to maintain your vitamin C intake. Among the best sources are citrus fruit, tomatoes, avocados, leafy greens, strawberries and white potatoes. The water-soluble supplement is available in powder form and capsule such as Care/of’s vitamin C, The Citrus Savior.
There is very little likelihood that your vertical nail ridges are a result of vitamin A deficiency. While it may cause scaly, dry skin, brittle nails, nail discoloration, and loss of hair, the deficiency is extremely uncommon in the United States. Supplementation is only recommended when there is a true vitamin A deficiency. Good food sources include leafy greens, broccoli, orange and yellow vegetables (especially carrots), cantaloupe, beef liver, fish oils, milk, and fortified foods.
Vitamin B12 supports iron absorption and ensures that the red blood cells are produced correctly to promote healthy blood flow to the nail beds. Vertical ridges in the nails, or a change in texture, strength, or color, may indicate a B12 deficiency. Meat is a primary source of B12, so vegans and vegetarians need to be especially aware of meeting their B12 needs. If you are taking a proton-pump inhibitor, which is usually prescribed for heartburn and acid reflux, you should also monitor your B12 levels as this medication can inhibit B12 absorption. The B vitamin is water soluble, which means what your body doesn’t use it will excrete through urine. If you choose to supplement, it is available in either liquid form, or as a capsule such as the premium quality Care/of’s B-Complex supplement, The Busy Bs.
Biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency can lead to brittle nails and there is some research that has shown an improvement in nail hardness with biotin supplementation, hence its use in hair, skin and nails vitamins. But a biotin deficiency is rare since most people meet their needs with a varied diet.
Fingernails are largely made up of hard and soft keratin proteins. Keratin is one of the most important structural proteins in the body and is an essential building block for hair, skin, and nails. This study, which supplemented healthy women with 500 mg of keratin for 90 days, found that their nail strength and appearance improved significantly. Carrots, beef liver, onions, kale, garlic, mangoes, salmon, and eggs are all excellent sources of keratin.
Horizontal ridges, also known as Beau’s lines, are horizontal ridges or dents in one or more fingernails or toenails. They are usually a sign that there is an underlying illness, injury, or skin condition that has interrupted your nail growth. Treating the underlying cause will enable new, smooth, nails to grow again.
Buffing your nails out may reduce the ridges, but there are consequences. Ridges are the result of missing nail matrix due to vitamin deficiencies, illness, or nail trauma. Buffing the nail will yield a thinner nail bed which is prone to more damage. Addressing the underlying issue is much more important than buffing the nail.
The best thing you can do for your nails is eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit, a variety of vegetables, seeds, nuts, omega-3s, and proteins. Keep your fingernails clean and dry, and practice good nail hygiene. Use moisturizer for your nails and cuticles, and do not bite them or rip off hangnails. Avoid harsh products like acetone free polish remover and make sure your manicures and pedicures are done in a clean environment. Remember that your nails can be an indicator of your overall health and consult your physician with any concerns.