Diet therapy

Eat your way to healthier nails

The quality, appearance and growth of our  nails often reflect the state of our general health and the adequacy of some essential nutrients in our diet.

Nail health

Here are some common nail conditions and nutritional issues that may or may not have a causal effect:

Ridges in the nails

These can be a sign of a lack of protein or protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). This can occur due to environmental, economic, social, physiological and psychological factors globally. PEM can also be associated with eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, very restrictive diets, infectious diseases, individuals suffering economic hardship or children with malnourished mothers. In fact anyone with grossly inadequate intakes can be affected.

However there is no evidence that protein intakes greater than 0.8g/kg/day or protein supplements can improve the health of nails in those people who are not protein deficient.There is also no research to indicate that supplementation with gelatin will improve the growth or appearance of nails.

Spoon shaped nails (koilonychias)

This is a symptom of long-standing iron deficiency which can be reversed by eating iron rich foods such as lean red meat, green leafy vegetables and dark dried fruits.

White fingernail bed

This can be the result of selenium deficiency however be careful of supplementation as in excess, selenium can lead to brittle nails and nail loss. Good sources of selenium are whole grains and brazil nuts.

Pigments in nails

This can be a symptom of pernicious anaemia which can be reversed with cobalamin treatment. However there is no evidence that taking Vitamin B12 supplements will benefit the nail health of individuals who are not B12 deficient. Vitamin B12 can be found in dairy products, meat and eggs.

Brittle nails

It has been theorized that the water content in brittle nails is less than that of normal nails. However research has failed to prove this although the use of nail polish remover and the frequency of professional manicures were associated with brittle nails. Also it has been found that working in wet conditions can increase the brittleness of nails but is not the cause of it.

Lack of lunula (moons) also half and half nails (half white,half brown)

These conditions along with Terry’s nail ( no moons and very white nails), koilonychias and splinter hemorrhage( the nail lifts from the nail bed) or leukonychia (white lines or spots) are commonly seen in people who have renal disease or have been on haemodialysis for a long period of time.

Dietary Supplementation

There is no sound evidence that dietary supplementation with either biotin or calcium will improve nail health, quality or appearance.

Practical tips for nail care

  • Do report to your doctor or dermatologist if you notice changes in nail, colour, shape, thickness, separation from nail bed, bleeding , redness, swelling or pain around the nail
  • Keep nails dry and clean to prevent bacteria, fungi and other organisms from growing under your nails. Wear cotton-lined gloves when washing dishes, cleaning or using chemicals and avoid long soaking of your hands in water.
  • Keep nails trimmed, clip rather than pull any hangnails and avoid picking at dry cuticles. Instead, use hand moisturisers to rub into the base of the nail and cuticles each day.
  • Avoid using your nails as a tool or biting fingernails as bacteria growing under the nail can lead to gastrointestinal upsets.
  • Eat a healthy diet that contains sufficient energy, protein and micronutrients to meet your daily needs.

If you would like to assess your nutritional status to see if dietary issues are responsible for your nail health then contact us today

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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