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Nutrients for strong, healthy nails

Women's Health, Minerals, nutrition | February 15, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

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Nutrients for strong, healthy nails

Have you got thin nails that break easily? Do they have ridges or white spots? These could all be signs that your body is lacking nutrients in the diet that are essential for nail growth.

A bit about our nails

Our nails grow approximately 2 to 3 mm per month, taking 6-9 months to grow a full nail. They are make from a protein called keratin, 10% sulphur content, and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, sodium and copper.

Thin nails are usually very flexible and often break easily. They can develop ridges or become flaky and dry. Virtually every nutritional deficiency can affect the growth of your nails in some way. Many fingernail signs such as clubbing, a change in colour and pitting can be a sign of disease and deeper dysfunction in the body. A naturopath or GP will sometimes use these signs to help determine disease states or pinpoint nutritional deficiencies.

What your nails say about your bone density

In one particular study, researchers examined the fingernail integrity of two groups of volunteers – one with osteoporosis and one without. They found that those with osteoporosis had weaker fingernails than those with normal bone density. Specifically, the nails of osteoporotic people had a lower disulphide bond which reduces the structural integrity of both bone and fingernails.

“Bone collagen and nail keratin are two distinct structural proteins, and both require protein sulfation and disulphide bone formation, via cysteine, for structural integrity.”

So, what exactly does this mean? One of the key nutrients suggested here is a sulphur-containing amino acid called cysteine. It is thought to contribute to nail hardness by acting as a glue that holds the keratin fibres together.
Cysteine is found in meat, egg yolk, nuts, seeds and vegetables from the brassica family, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and cauliflower. These are all foods that can be easily added into the diet for healthy, strong nails. 
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Calcium deficiency…?

If you’re thinking that calcium contributes to strong nails—you’re wrong! Contrary to popular belief, calcium does not contribute to nail hardness and makes up only .2% of the nail plate by weight. So even though osteoporosis can weaken your nails, it’s not necessarily from the lack of calcium.

Keeping your nails hydrated

Funny enough, the hydration state of our nails is another major factor that contributes to nail hardness. The water content of the nails can vary greatly, with normal content being 18%. For example, nails become brittle when the water content is less than 16% and become soft when greater than 25%. Repeated cycles of hydration and dehydration as seen in excessive domestic wet work such as washing up and overuse of dehydrating agents such as nail enamel, nail polish remover and exposure to other chemicals can lead to brittle nails. Another common phenomenon in the elderly that contributes to brittle nails is a decrease in water and food intake.

If your nails and cuticles are dry you could try rubbing pure vitamin E oil on them before bed each night. Drink enough water and consume foods rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids such as fish, grass fed meat, walnuts and flaxseeds to prevent dehydration of the nails.

Protect your nails by wearing cotton or protective gloves if using chemicals or gardening and if washing up wear rubber gloves.

Try not to use chemicals on the nails and if you regularly paint your nails allow them time to breathe and recover between manicures.

Protein

As keratin is one of the major components of nails, it is important that enough good quality protein is consumed in the diet. Protein should come from a variety of animal and plant sources and includes, chicken, fish, red meat, natural yoghurt, nuts, seeds and legumes.

Biotin

One study demonstrated a 25% increase in nail thickness in people suffering from brittle nails of an unknown cause and treated with 2.5mg per day of Biotin for 6 to 15 months. Another study showed it took an average of 2 months before results were achieved and approximately 10 weeks after biotin was discontinued, nail ridging gradually returned along with nail brittleness.

Zinc

A deficiency in zinc can show distinct signs in the nail. White spots and longitude ridges in the nails can sometimes be corrected by supplementing with zinc. 

Foods rich in zinc include pepitas, oysters, turkey, nuts, garlic and butter beans. Sometimes supplementing with zinc is necessary to overcome deficiency and it is recommended to take between 25-50mg of elemental zinc daily.

If there is an infection of the nail or the surrounding nail area, zinc may also help to boost the immune system, helping to clear up the infection faster.
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Magnesium

People with soft, flaky nails that break or split easily might be lacking in magnesium. Other signs that you might be lacking in magnesium include frequent headaches, muscle cramps, high blood pressure and fatigue. Magnesium can be found in green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate and meats.
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Iron

If your nails are pale in colour and tend to grow very slowly then these can be signs of iron deficiency affecting the health of your nails. While it is important to get enough iron from your diet from meat and leafy greens, for some individuals it may not simply be enough. If you are feeling tired, get sick often or suffer from heavy periods it is important to get your levels tested.
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Silica

Silica is a mineral, low in Australian soils so it can be a common nutrient deficiency leading to brittle nails. Not only is it effective for strong nails, but for skin and hair health, making it a great all round beauty nutrient. One study found it strengthened nails and hair and had a significant effect on improving skin health. Silica can be easily supplemented but can also be found in horsetail, oats, barley, millet, potatoes and kelp.
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To conclude…

Eating a good quality varied diet can reflect in the quality and health of your nails. Making sure you eat enough protein and foods containing iron, magnesium, silica, zinc, biotin and cysteine is important for healthy, strong nails. If your nails are showing distinct signs, such as discolouration, pitting or clubbing it is best to seek advice from a health professional.

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References

Pillay I, et al. The use of fingernails as a means of assessing bone health: a pilot study. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2005 May;14(4):339-44

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15916508

Cashman MW, Sloan SB. Clin Dermatol 2010 Jul-Aug;28(4):420-5

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45149845_Nutrition_and_nail_disease

Barel A, et al. Effect of oral intake of choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid on skin, nails and hair in women with photodamaged skin. Arch Dermatol Res. 2005 Oct;297(4):147-53

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16205932

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