Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Your Fingernails are a Window to Your Health

One dramatic change I’ve seen as a result of adopting a healthier diet over the years is the condition of my nails. Growing up, they used to constantly split and peel and I would have to keep them short. These days, they’re strong and split-free, and I actually have to constantly clip or file them down to keep up with the rate at which they grow!

Our nails can tell us a lot about our health and whether there are deficiencies in our diets. The Mayo Clinic has a slide show illustrating some of the most common nail conditions and what they may indicate for your health. For example, a condition referred to as “spoon nails”, where the nail scoops outward forming a depression, is a sign of iron deficiency.

Here are a few additional facts taken from the American Academy of Dermatology’s website:

  • Fingernails grow quicker than toenails (0.1mm/day versus 1mm/month, respectively), they grow quicker on the dominant hand, during pregnancy in women, and they grow more quickly in the summer than the winter.
  • Nail conditions become more frequent as we age, which makes sense if health conditions decline, the number of medications increase, and nutrition quality goes down.
  • Changes in nail condition such as discoloration or thickening can indicate health problems such as liver and kidney diseases, heart and lung conditions, and anemia, or diabetes.
  • Melanoma can appear as a dark streak under the nail and should be looked at by a doctor if it doesn’t disappear or if it grows in size.
  • I mentioned keeping our hands away from our mouths to prevent ingesting infectious diseases. This is doubly true if you bite your nails, which increases the risk of infection in and around the nail (and damages the nail, nail bed, and the surrounding skin). Breaking this habit will greatly eliminate the risk of illness.
  • Cutting nails straight across and slightly rounded in the center keeps them strong and reduces the likelihood of developing an ingrown nail (more so with toenails).
  • If you frequent nail salons, ensure that they are following strict sanitary guidelines to prevent spreading germs.

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