vitamins deficiency symptoms

Brittle Fingernails or Brittle Toenails due to Vitamins and minerals deficiencies

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
  • insomnia
  • 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
  • carrots
  • romaine lettuce
  • swiss chard
  • tomatoes.


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
  • beef
  • 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)
  • avocados
  • pineapple
  • raspberries
  • 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).

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Selenium and cancer

Many studies indicate that death from cancer, including lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers, is lower among people with higher blood levels or intake of selenium. In addition, the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer is significantly higher in areas of the United States with low soil selenium content.

The effect of selenium supplementation on the recurrence of different types of skin cancers was studied in seven dermatology clinics in the U.S. from 1983 through the early 1990s. Taking a daily supplement containing 200 μg of selenium did not affect recurrence of skin cancer, but significantly reduced the occurrence and death from total cancers. The incidence of prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer was notably lower in the group given selenium supplements.

Research suggests that selenium affects cancer risk in two ways. As an anti-oxidant, selenium can help protect the body from damaging effects of free radicals. Selenium may also prevent or slow tumor growth. Certain breakdown products of selenium are believed to prevent tumor growth by enhancing immune cell activity and suppressing development of blood vessels to the tumor.

However, not all studies have shown a relationship between selenium status and cancer. In 1982, over 60,000 participants of the Nurse’s Health Study with no history of cancer submitted toenail clippings for selenium analysis. Toenails are thought to reflect selenium status over the previous year. After three and a half years of data collection, researchers compared toenail selenium levels of nurses with and without cancer. Those nurses with higher levels of selenium in their toenails did not have a reduced risk of cancer.

Two long-term studies, the SU.VI.MAX study in France and the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) in the United States and Canada, investigated whether selenium combined with at least one other dietary supplement could reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.

The SU.VI.MAX study examined the effects of a supplement package containing moderate doses of vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, zinc, and selenium versus placebo on the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Among the 5,141 men enrolled, those randomized to the supplements that began the study with a normal PSA (prostate specific antigen) level at baseline had their risk of prostate cancer reduced by half. Among the men whose PSA levels were elevated at baseline, however, use of the supplements was associated with an increased incidence of prostate cancer of borderline statistical significance compared to placebo.

The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) was a very large randomized clinical trial begun in 2001 specifically designed to determine whether 7-12 years of daily supplementation with selenium, with or without synthetic vitamin E (400 IU), reduces the number of new prostate cancers in healthy men (PSA ≤4 ng/ml at baseline).

The trial, which had enrolled >35,000 men, was discontinued in October 2008 when an analysis found that the supplements, taken alone or together for an average of 5.5 years, did not prevent prostate cancer. Study staff members will continue to monitor participants’ health for an additional 3 years.

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Effects of vitamins and minerals deficiency on your hair

In many cases condition of hair symptoms are among the early outward warning signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Deficiency of zinc in your diet leads to coarse, brittle hair.
Dandruff often results of deficiency in vitamins B2, B6, zinc, magnesium or biotin.
Cause of dry hair may be shortage of vitamin A or zinc in your nutrition.
And deficiency of folic acid, pantothenic acid, PABA, biotin, minerals induces of greying hair.
If you have oily hair it can be symptom of vitamin B2 deficiency.
Most serious symptom of hair disorder is hair loss.

If you experience sudden or excessive hair loss, or bald patches, you should visit the doctor to rule out vitamins and minerals deficiencies, thyroid concerns, and other health problems.
An unbalanced diet, especially one without enough protein, can cause temporary hair loss.

Women who are anemic often experience hair loss.
Include in your nutrition more food with high content of copper, zinc, vitamin B6, sulphur (MSM), selenium and biotin.
Be sure that you have adequate protein intake as protein which is necessary for hair growth.

Good sources of protein are fish, poultry, lean cuts of meat, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy. Eat enough amounts of meat, poultry, and fish that contain iron required for proper hair growth.
Nuts and seeds, for example almonds are excellent source of magnesium.
The outer skin of plants such as potatoes, cucumbers, green and red peppers and sprouts can.
Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are good sources of essential nutrients and fibre.
Remember that nutrition is one factor of baldness because of lack of protein, vitamins and minerals that sustains the hair.

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