Much like the tale of your tongue, your fingernails have a lot to say about you—and your health. I’m not talking about gardeners with perpetual dirt under their nails or nibblers with the nervous habit of chewing them right down to nothing (though if you’re looking, both of those things also tell a story). No, I’m referring to the subtle nuances of your fingernails and the importance of what they mean to the trained eye.
When a health care practitioner asked to see my fingernails for the first time, I thought it was almost as loony as being questioned about my daily bowel movements. Since I’d lived quite a few years without discussing my bowel movements or my fingernails, I didn’t have a clue why anyone would suddenly ask about either one now. But such is the approach of a more natural/holistic practitioner—to take into consideration every red flag our body is throwing up.
My self-health education has helped me realize how such detailed questions make a ton of sense. Changes in, or oddities with, the appearance or functionality of our body’s systems are the way it “verbalizes” what’s going on internally. Your fingernails are no exception.
First, here are some fun fingernail facts for you.
- Fingernails and hair are more similar than you would think. They both consist of layers of keratin, which is a type of protein. Therefore, just as foods rich in protein and fat (vitamin F) are good for your hair, those same foods are also good for your nails.
- Fingernails grow faster on your dominant hand. Higher temperatures make them rise at a quicker pace. On average, they sprout up about 3.5 millimeters per month (or a little more than 1/10th of an inch).
- I suffered from onychophagia for many of my younger years. It isn’t as bad as it sounds though—just a fancy word for the habit of chewing my fingernails. My parents tried everything they could think of to get me to stop. When I was ready, I did.
- A perfectly healthy fingernail is a lovely shade of pink with a white half-moon at the base called a lunula. The body of the nail has a smooth surface, is nicely rounded, and curves slightly upward at the end.
Now, what could your fingernails possibly have to say about your health? There’s no shortage of infographics in the cyber world that may give you a better idea of what your nails say about your health, but those are just starting points and typically not as cut and dry as they’d lead you to believe. If you notice a change in your fingernails, bring it to the attention of your health care practitioner to determine exactly what it means for you personally.
- Ridges: if your nails have ditched their smooth surface for a multitude of vertical lines, a zinc deficiency is often suspected.
- Pale nail beds: the typical lovely pink fading to a lighter shade could be an indication of anemia.
- Thickened or yellow: either of these changes can indicate an infection, which is never good to ignore.
- Brittle or thin nails: when your nails tend to break constantly, it could be your body’s way of letting you know your thyroid isn’t functioning properly.
- White lines: horizontal white lines that span across the nail bed are often a sign of a disruption in blood flow, which could be related to kidney or liver function and/or a lack of protein in your diet.
Unbeknownst to you, your fingernails have been going all around town saying all sorts of things about your health. Be sure you don’t ignore the message.
Creative Commons photo/Shannon Kringen