Nail Problems

Nail Problems

Like your hair, the condition of your nails is a reflection of your nutritional status. They may also be affected by exposure to chemicals, and in some cases by underlying health problems.


  • Flaky or peeling nails
  • Weak or brittle nails that snap or break easily
  • Deep-ridges
  • Spoon-shaped indentations
  • White spots or other discolouration
  • Pitting or stippling marks, resembling pin-pricks
  • Total or partial lifting of the nail away from the nail bed


  • Nutritional deficiencies are a common cause of nail problems. Specific issues may include:
  • Iron deficiency, which may cause spoon-shaped deformity; however, this symptom may also be due to serious health problems, and requires medical investigation
  • Inadequate intake of essential fatty acids, which may cause nails to peel or flake, or to become brittle and break easily
  • White spots may be associated with zinc or calcium deficiency, or may be caused by trauma to the nail bed
  • Silica deficiency is associated with poor nail health in general, and in particular, with deep ridges that run parallel to the fingers
  • Other nail problems may include:
  • Fungal or bacterial infection on or around the nail. Athlete's foot, or tinea, is an example of a fungal infection
  • Paronychia, an infection of the tissue adjacent to the nail
  • Psoriasis, which sometimes causes stippling of the nails, and may also be associated with arthritis
  • Injury, which may cause blood to be trapped beneath the nail, where it appears as a black or deep purple mark
  • Deep ridges that run perpendicular to the fingers are called Beau's lines, and may be indicative of a period of extreme Stress, illness or malnutrition
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals such as detergents, nail polish, nail polish remover or glue (e.g. adhesives used to attach false fingernails)
  • Discolouration due to smoking
  • Nails that lift off the nail bed, or fall off entirely are often due to injury or infection
  • Nail problems may also be symptomatic of many chronic health problems, including some forms of heart, lung, liver, kidney and thyroid disease

Nutritional & Herbal Support

  • For strong nails, take a specially formulated multivitamin that contains biotin at a dose of 1.25 mg twice per day. Doses of 2.5 mg per day of biotin taken over several months have been clinically demonstrated to improve the strength and condition of the nails. Ideally, choose a formula that also contains other ingredients that support nail health, such as zinc, silica, and fatty acids from fish and evening primrose oils
  • If your nail problems are due to infection, take a multivitamin that's been specially formulated to promote Immunity. Look for a product combining a broad spectrum of nutrients with immune-boosting herbs such as olive leaf, andrographis, echinacea, Siberian ginseng, and shiitake mushroom
  • Garlic has potent antifungal and immune-boosting properties, and has traditionally been used to boost resistance to infection and relieve symptoms of tinea (athlete's foot). Look for a product containing the equivalent of 3 g of fresh garlic bulb. Parsley is sometimes taken at the same time to reduce the odour of garlic
  • For nails with cloud-like white spots, try taking zinc tablets or calcium supplements; you will need to persist for several months (while your nails grow out) before you can determine whether the treatment has been effective

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritionally varied diet, with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lean high quality protein
  • Don't expose your hands or nails to harsh detergents, nail polish or other chemicals. Wear gloves when washing up or exposing your hands to water for long periods
  • Use barrier cream or hand cream to protect hands and keep the skin moist and supple, and apply the cream to the nails and nail beds as well as to the hands
  • Apply tea tree oil to bacterial or fungal infections, diluting it first to avoid stinging or further irritating the infected tissue
  • Use care when manicuring and maintaining your nails. Don't bite or tear off hangnails, and avoid chewing or tearing at the adjacent skin, which can easily become infected
  • Dry your feet carefully, patting the skin dry with a towel, especially between the toes
  • Wear sandals in public bathing areas (e.g. at the gym or pool) and comfortable, well-ventilated shoes at other times

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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