Like skin, nails tell alot about the state of your health. Fingernail problems include abnormalities such as small depressions or pitting, white streaks or spots, crumbly or weak nails, finger nail ridges, brittle fingernails, brittle toenails, and changes in the shape, color, or texture of nails.
Aside from physical trauma, fingernail disorders typically arise as a result of health conditions such as illness, or infection, or nutritional deficiencies.
Finger nail ridges, and brittle fingernails or brittle toenails in particular, may be caused by aging, or may indicate disorders such as hypothyroidism, or a lack of important minerals and vitamins for hair and nails.
The nutrients necessary for preventing fingernail problems related to brittle fingernails or brittle toenails are tabled below, together with the foods that provide such minerals and vitamins for hair and nails.
If brittle fingernails are also accompanied by dry skin and hair problems, it could be a sign of overall nutritional deficiency. Xtend-Life’s page on Hair, Nails and Skin details the relationship between these and overall health.
What vitamins and mineralst deficiencies can lead to brittle nails
Biotin is well-known to be one of the most important vitamins for hair and nails, as it is needed for cell division and growth. A deficiency of biotin is the main culprit in fingernail problems like brittle nails, and dry brittle hair.
Other symptoms that may indicate deficiency of Biotin :
- thinning of hair which may lead to total hair loss
- dry scaly scalp or face in infants (cradle crap), or in various parts of the body in adults
- mental depression
- intestinal tract symptoms like loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
- fatigue or extreme exhaustion due to impaired energy production
- muscle pain or cramps related to physical exertion
- nervo-muscular symptoms like seizures, numbness and tingling of extremities, and movements characterized by lack of muscle tone and coordination
Biotin-rich foods that can help prevent brittle fingernails / brittle toenails include:
- organ meats such as liver
- romaine lettuce
- swiss chard
Not only is calcium important for strong bones, but it also plays a role in strong nails and in preventing fingernail disorders. One of the symptoms of calcium deficiency is misshapened or brittle nails.
Other symptoms that may indicate deficiency of Calcium : osteoporosis characterized by brittle, porous bones and frequent bone fractures impaired bone mineralization which, in children, can cause rickets (bone softening) which may lead to bone deformities, fractures, or stunted growth osteomalacia (bone softening) in adults loss of bone mineralization in the jaw tooth decay or periodontal disease higher levels of lead in bones and teeth .
Severe deficiency can cause spasmodic contractions of skeletal muscles, symptomized by tingling fingers, toes or lips, numbness in arms or legs, and muscle pain or severe muscular cramps or spasms
Calcium-rich foods that might help prevent fingernail problems like brittle fingernails or brittle toenails include:
- fresh dark green vegetables like collard greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, wing beans
- dairy foods such as buttermilk, mozzarella cheese, raw (non-pasteurized) milk, whey, yoghurt
- goat’s milk
- soft bones of wild salmon, sardines, tuna, and anchovies are good sources of calcium that is easily absorbed by the body.
Lack of copper may cause brittle fingernails and brittle toenails indirectly, as it results in hypothyroidism (under-production of thyroid hormones) which can lead to dry brittle hair, hair loss, brittle nails, coarse dry pale skin, weight gain, intolerance to cold, fatigue, depression, irritability, poor memory, muscle or joint pain, constipation, decreased libido, heavy periods or menstrual irregularities.
Early symptoms of deficiency are osteoporosis, osteopenia (lower bone mineral density than normal, but not as low as for osteoporosis) and joint problems retarded growth or abnormalities in bone development in infants and young children anemia that is characterized by lack of improvement with iron therapy alone loss of skin or hair color impaired immune function that may lead to frequent infections impaired nerve function that may lead to taste insensitivity and lack of physical coordination inelastic blood vessels that rupture easily elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels irregular heart beat skin sores Menkes disease that occurs mostly in male infants, characterized by sparse greyish or colorless twisted hair, and floppy muscle tone
Copper-rich foods that can help prevent hypothyroidism, and resulting brittle fingernails or brittle toenails, include:
- cashew nuts
- dried beans like soybeans, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lentils, lima, navy beans
- dried spirulina
- crimini mushrooms
- shiitake mushrooms
- sesame seeds.
Fingernail problems such as brittle fingernails, and finger nail ridges in particular, are associated with iron-deficiency anemia resulting from insufficient red blood cells, as iron is needed for formation of hemoglobin in blood cells; iron deficiency anemia symptoms may include pale skin, cold hands and feet, whites of eyes appearing bluish, headaches, dizziness, irritability, lack of energy, extreme fatigue, rapid heartbeat, low immune function with increased susceptibility to infection, brittle nails, shortness of breath, sore or inflamed tongue or mouth, lack of appetite, blood in stools, restless legs syndrome.
Other symptoms that may indicate deficiency of Iron :
food cravings for inedible items such as ice, paint, starch, clay, or dirt increased intestinal inflammation or irritation depression or apathy insomnia or disturbed sleep decrease in ability to concentrate impaired mental skills that can affect memory and job performance learning disabilities and short attention spans in children irregular menstrual periods hair loss; nails that are spoon-shaped or that have ridges running lengthwise
Foods high in iron that can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, and consequent brittle toenails and fingernail disorders, include
- animal liver
- blackstrap molasses
- eggs (especially the yolk)
- shiitake mushrooms
- dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, turnip greens
- green beans such as winged beans, string beans
- dried beans like kidney beans, lentils
- soybeans and soy products, especially tofu
- rice bran and wheat bran.
Deficiency of iodine may also result in brittle fingernails or brittle toenails indirectly, as it causes hypothyroidism (under-production of thyroid hormones).
Deficiency of Iodine can lead to symptoms such as dry brittle hair, hair loss, brittle nails, coarse dry pale skin, intolerance to cold, fatigue or weakness, poor memory, depression, irritability, weight gain, muscle or joint pain, constipation, decreased libido, infertility, menstrual irregularities or heavy periods, and in more severe cases, hoarseness, decreased sense of taste and smell, mental impairment, skin thickening, and puffy face, hands or feet.
Eeven mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy can hamper growth of the child’s brain and lead to low intelligence congenital hypothyroidism is the most common cause of mental retardation in children
Foods rich in iodine that can help prevent hypothyroidism, and resulting brittle fingernails / brittle toenails, include:
- salt-water fish
- seafood and shellfish
- seaweed like dulse, bladderwrack, kelp, nori
- iodized table salt.
Manganese is important for activating enzymes that enable the body to utilize key vitamins for hair and nails, like vitamin C and biotin.
Deficiency of this nutrient can therefore contribute to fingernail problems like brittle fingernails or brittle toenails, excessive bone loss and weak hair and nails.
Other symptoms that may indicate deficiency of Manganese
- hearing loss
- iron-deficiency anemia
- high blood sugar levels (impaired glucose tolerance) blood cholesterol levels that are too low impaired bone growth or skeletal abnormalities
Severe deficiency in infants can cause convulsions, and even paralysis, blindness and deafness.
Manganese rich foods that may help prevent fingernail disorders related to brittle fingernails include
- dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach)
- nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts).
Research indicates that selenium deficiency worsens the effect of iodine deficiency on thyroid function, leading to hypothyroidism with symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, irritability, depression, poor memory, weight gain, constipation, intolerance to cold, heavier or lighter menstruation than normal, coarse dry pale skin, dry brittle hair, hair loss, and brittle nails, and that selenium supplements may help protect against goiter.
Other symptoms that may indicate deficiency of Selenium :
- weaker immune system leading to susceptibility to stress and illnesses
- greater incidence of cancer, especially gynaecological, gastrointestinal, esophageal, lung, and prostate cancer
- rheumatoid arthritis patients tend to have low blood levels of selenium
- elevated blood pressure
- risk of arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis (hardening and/or narrowing of the arteries), leading to heart or coronary artery disease
- loose skin
- hair or skin discoloration
- whitened fingernail beds
- Keshan disease (heart disorder characterized by inflamed heart muscles)
- Kashin-Beck disease (disabling disease of bones and joints, characterized by stunted growth, bone deterioration, and deformity of joints)
Severe deficiency along with malnutrition can cause muscle breakdown characterized by pain or weakness in the muscles
Selenium-rich foods that alleviate iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism, and consequent fingernail problems and brittle toenails, include
- Brazil nuts (one of the most concentrated selenium food sources)
- mushrooms (button, shiitake, reishi)
- fish (cod, flounder, halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, smelts, red snapper, swordfish, tuna)
- seafood (lobster, oyster, scallops, shellfish, shrimp).