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Five Things Your Nails Say About Your Health

And what to eat to help ease these problems.

women hands
Photography by: Dorling Kindersley

Nails can provide a lot of insight into a person's health. In fact, they can tell you how other parts of your body are functioning. While changes to the appearance of one nail is often a result of injury and can be considered relatively harmless, changes that affect several of your nails or occur over a longer period of time can signal illness. Ridges, brittleness, discolorations? Read on to find out the causes—and treatments—for these common problems.

 

Related: How to Eat for Hair Health

 

Brittle Nails

While brittle nails are often caused by environmental factors, like repeatedly wetting and drying them (common in winter months, when you're constantly washing your hands, or if you do the dishes without gloves), they can also be a sign of iron deficiency. If you notice other symptoms, like fatigue, weakness, or irritability, ask your doctor for a CBC test. In the meantime, load up on iron-rich foods like red meat, shellfish, lentils, and spinach.

 

Horizontal Lines

Also known as Beau's Ridges, these indentations often result from an injury or systemic illness. While there is no clear cause, some doctors hypothesize that an interference in blood supply can result in Beau's Ridges. They may be a sign of poorly controlled diabetes, as well as several other conditions included malnutrition, hypertension, and renal failure, as well as infections like measles, mumps, malaria, or pneumonia. If you notice horizontal lines on more than one of your nails or have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, check with your doctor to monitor your symptoms.

 

Splitting or Peeling Nails

If you notice that your nails are splitting or peeling—especially your toenails, which are stronger and tend to be exposed to less trauma—you may have a nutritional deficiency in B complex vitamins, zinc, or iron. Load up on beans, seafood, and red meat as well as plenty of leafy greens; if your diet is low on whole, unprocessed foods, consider a multivitamin.

 

Clubbing

If your nails are excessively curved, they are termed "clubbed nails." Clubbed nails can be a sign of low oxygen levels, which may result from any number of serious pulmonary or cardiovascular diseases such as lung cancer or heart disease. In more rare cases, they may also signal inflammatory bowel disease. Check with your doctor if you notice that your nails have taken a more curved shape.

 

Red-Brown Spots

Small, reddish-brown spots on your nails can be a sign of folic acid, protein, or vitamin C deficiency. Folic acid is a B vitamin found in leafy greens, fruits, legumes, and nuts as well as enriched grain products; you can get plenty of vitamin C from vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, and spinach.