You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands. You can see evidence of personal hygiene standards, whether they do hard labour with their hands or not, wealth or status by looking at any jewellery, and often, a sense of one's personality just by observing the way one holds/uses them in conversation.
What you probably didn't expect, is that the fingernails can tell you a lot about your digestion and your overall health.
In naturopathic medical school, I was taught how to do a general top to bottom physical exam on a patient. We were taught how to do just about anything you'd expect - from blood pressure and the heart exam to checking for suspicious moles.
One of the things I was surprised to learn as a student is that the state of ones skin, hair, and nails can give you a lot of information about a persons general state of health. Being that they are not critical organs like the brain and heart... if some nutrient is at the early stages of depletion in the body... your skin, hair, and nails often show signs of it first!
Secondarily, the skin is one of our primary organs of detoxification (via sweat). So when skin symptoms show up, like eczema, I often consider what the body is trying to get rid of and the health of the detoxification pathways.
Anyway... back to your fingernails...
Your nails are all about protein, vitamin, and mineral levels in your body. To be sure they are made of a compacted protein called keratin, so protien is the most important, here. Other nutrients to consider include Vitamins A, the B's, C, Zinc, Iron, Calcium, and Essential Fatty Acids.
Here are a few of the cool things you can learn from having a look at yours!
#1 Longitudinal Ridging
Sometimes described by patients as "vertical ridging". You can often see it when you look at your nails at an angle, but sometimes you need to run your fingers over the nailbed crosswise to feel it. Often its not every finger, just some.
This happens because the nail is getting thin. It gets thin in older people and those that have trouble digesting protein. The first step in protein digestion is stomach acid. If the gastric acid levels are too low, you are not digesting protein as efficiently as you could be. The primary sign of low stomach acid? Heartburn and GERD. (Yes, I know this seems counter-intuitive. Please check out this article if you are curious.)
Longitudinal ridging also sometimes shows up in people who are deficient in iron.
#2 "Bumpy" Nail Beds
By these I'm referring to the horizontal bumps/ridges you can feel when you run your finger lengthwise along the nail bed. (Note they run across the grain of the nail, not with it like in #1 above.) Again, this is often not on every finger, but when it's present, you can certainly feel it.
These are the beginning of what are called "Beau's lines". In my clinical experience, this happens when there is underlying disease in the nailbed itself or in an otherwise healthy nail signifies nutrient deficiency.
Commonly there is inflammation in the GI tract which is the root cause of the nutrient deficiency. So this is when I start talking to a patient about their digestion and bowel habits.
#3 White Flecks
Medically, these are called "leukonychia" (pronounced "luke-on-kia"). Not everyone has these at all times, but anyone may have them at a given point in their life. They most often indicate damage to the nail bed.
However chronic and recurrent white flecks often indicate dietary deficiency. Nutrients to consider when these white spots are present include protein, zinc, and iron. But again, I also quiz the patient about digestion. Often it not that they aren't eating the right foods, it's that they are not absorbing them well.
#4 Soft/Peeling Nails
This happen when your nails seem to break off/peel of in layers when you damage them during everyday activities. Note this is different from a "chip". Often nails that peel are also very soft/bendable when you push on them. This problem is sometimes an essential fatty acid deficiency, but can also be related to protein intake/absorption. Again... we discuss digestion.
Have you noticed a theme here?
Healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients is important for healthy fingernail growth. Indeed it's important for all growth and repair in a healthy body.
If your nails (or your digestion) are problematic in any way, I'd be just delighted to help. As a naturopathic doctor, I can take a full health history and assessment and make dietary, lifestyle and supplement recommendations to help you get back on track and prevent bigger health problems in the future.
If you're ready, please visit my Appointments page for information on how I can help you get started improving your health.
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