Caroline Lilley November 23, 2014

Finger and toe nails grow continuously throughout our lives, but did you know that their appearance can indicate underlying health conditions?

Being able to spot the symptoms and know how you can prevent them is key to achieving stronger nails and overall wellbeing.

The 5 main components of nails

Before we start on some tips on how to look after your nails, let’s take a look at what exactly they are made of.

Nails are made up of five main components; the root, lunula, cuticle, perionychium and the plate. These all work together to make sure the nail grows healthy and strong.

The root

Also known as the matrix, this is the area of tissue that sits under the skin. Blood vessels provide the root with nutrients the body uses to grow the nail.

The lunula

This is the white curve at the base of the nail that is essential for the nail’s formation.

The cuticle

The cuticle sits between the skin and the nail plate and works as a sealant to ensure water can’t get under the skin.

The perionychium

This is similar to the cuticle in terms of position. Sometimes nails can grow into this area causing ingrown nails. If you’ve ever experienced an ingrown toenail you’ll know this is something to avoid!

The plate

This is the main section of the nail that appears pink due to the blood vessels underneath. The bottom of the plate is grooved to help the nail stay attached to the nail bed.

Top nutrients to strengthen brittle nails

A healthy nail should be smooth, evenly coloured and strong, meaning it shouldn’t break or snap off easily. If you notice your nails are lacking in any of these qualities the following vitamins, minerals and oils could help.

Fatty acids

Dry or brittle nails may be an indication your body is lacking essential fatty acids including omega 3 and omega 6. By including more of these fatty acids into your diet such as oily fish, seeds, avocados or omega supplements you should notice your nails begin to strengthen.

B vitamins

If your nails are soft and prone to splitting in layers or cracking regularly your diet may be deficient in vitamin B. Taking a daily vitamin B complex supplement, which includes biotin, could increase your vitamin B levels, helping to cure underlying causes and harden the nails.

Iron

Nails can also be described as scooped, which is when dents in the nail plate are large enough to hold a drop of water. If you notice these appearing, they can be an indication of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can present other symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin and heart palpitations, so recognising a lack of the nutrient through physical signs on your nail could prevent these developing. Enrich your diet with iron by eating red meats, dark leafy greens or through iron supplementation.

Zinc and magnesium

White spots or streaks on the nails are fairly common and can signpost different things depending on their size and shape. One explanation is that the white dots are one way of the body telling you it is lacking in the minerals zinc or magnesium. This can be rectified by a change in diet including foods such as whole grains, spinach, nuts and meat.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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