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Whether you like them long or short, polished or au naturel, our nails are a beautiful extension of our fingertips. And because of their never-ending growth cycle, nails provide an accurate record of our health – and can signal internal problems before any other symptoms appear. Brittle nails, for example, might indicate that your diet is deficient in vitamin A, while dry nails suggest a lack of B vitamins.
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But your nails hold clues to more serious conditions, as well: a pale nail bed is associated with anemia, and white nails might suggest liver disease. Yellow nails might indicate excess fluid in tissues, causing swelling (lymphedema), and excess fluid around the lungs. Some nail concerns highlight digestive troubles: chronic fungal infection, for example, might indicate an underlying Candida imbalance in the digestive tract.
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Likewise, up to 50% of patients with psoriasis experience nail problems, and 80% of people who suffer from inflammatory arthritis associated with psoriasis show pitting and discoloration of the fingernails or toenails. The size, shape, and depth of the marks can vary, and affected nails may thicken, yellow, or crumble. The skin around the nail is sometimes inflamed, and the nail may peel away from the nail bed in a process called onycholysis. As psoriasis involves inefficient fat metabolism, be sure to include omega 3 fatty acids in your supplement regimen, as well as folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and dietary silicon.
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Pay attention to these signals, and make your doctor aware of them. Once you’ve started to address the underlying condition causing your nail troubles, changes could take up to two years to be reflected in your nails.
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What are your nails telling you?
•Clubbing (nails look like the back of a teaspoon: Abnormal heart anatomy or lung diseases
•Spoon-shaped (tips turn up at end) Anemia or B12 deficiency
•Downward tip: Respiratory problems
•Vertical ridges (base to tip): Adrenal weakness; hormone imbalance; protein deficiency
•Horizontal ridges (side to side): Physical or psychological stress
•Black vertical lines or spots: Digestive, intestinal or kidney ulcer
•Thick nails: Circulatory problems
•Spitting nails: Insufficient hydrochloric acid for digestion
•Red skin around cuticles: Poor metabolism of essential fatty acids
•Blue nail bed: Circulatory: heart or lung problems
•Yellowish nails with blush at base: Diabetes
While our nails do mirror our inner health, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes nail problems are just problems with your nails. For example, tumors 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 these lesions can be cancerous, seek medical care.
On the other hand – pun intended! – paronychia is a fungal infection resulting from nails that are constantly immersed in water or in contact with chemicals. The infection occurs when organisms enter gaps between the nail and the surrounding skin. Aggressive nail biters and children who suck their fingers are also susceptible. Often a warm-water soak with tea tree oil will help if no abscess has formed. Left untreated, you could lose the nail. If your hands are regularly deep in water, wear a pair of cotton gloves under your rubber gloves for ultimate protection. And keep those fingers out of your mouth!
One final tip: feed your nails a varied and well-balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and plenty of protein from legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and soy products), seeds, nuts, eggs, fish and lean meats. Also include sulfur and silicon rich broccoli, onions, and sea vegetables, as these nutrients are necessary for healthy nails. Drink plenty of pure, filtered water to keep cells hydrated.
By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Alive