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Natural Remedies: Nail Care

All you need to know: Nail Care

By Hedieh Ghavidel

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the nails hold clues to one's health and even personality. A substructure of the outer layer of the skin, nails are diagnostic tools providing the initial signal of the presence or onset of systemic diseases.

Nails are mainly composed of the protein keratin; when healthy they are smooth and without ridges and discoloration. Healthy nail beds - the skin on top of which the nail grows - are pink.

Nutritional deficiencies generally show up in the nails, causing them to easily chip, peel, crack or break. For instance, a lack of protein, folic acid and vitamin C causes hangnails while a lack of vitamin A and calcium causes dryness and brittleness.

Vitamin B deficiency causes fragility with horizontal and vertical ridges. Insufficient vitamin B12 intake leads to excessive dryness, rounded and curved nail ends and darkened nails.

Iron deficiency causes spoon nails -- nails with a concave shape -- and vertical ridges while zinc deficiency can lead to the appearance of white spots on the nails.

Nails- Diagnostic tools

While some nail conditions are harmless, changes or abnormalities in the nails often point to an underlying disorder before other symptoms begin to present themselves.

Thick nails may indicate the weakening of the vascular system, poor blood circulation or thyroid disease. Thick toenails, on the other hand, can be the result of fungal infection.

Red moons may indicate heart problems. When the moons turn slate blue it can be the sign of lung trouble or heavy metal poisoning -- such as silver poisoning.

White lines show possible heart disease, high fever or arsenic poisoning. White lines across the nails may indicate liver disease.

White-colored nails indicate possible liver or kidney disorders or anemia. White nails with pink tips are a sign of cirrhosis.

Yellow nails with elevation of the nail tips can signal an internal disorder before symptoms present themselves, such as lymphatic system problems, respiratory disorders, diabetes and liver disorders.

Vertical ridges indicate poor general health, poor nutrient absorption and iron deficiency. Horizontal ridges can be the result of severe stress. Ridges running up and down the nails can also indicate tendency to develop arthritis.

The development of bumps on the surface of the nails, a condition known as nail beading, is a sign of rheumatoid arthritis.

Downward-curved nail ends may show heart, liver or respiratory problems.

Nail separated from the nail bed denote a thyroid disorder or local infection.

Brittle, soft, shiny nails without moons may indicate an overactive thyroid. Brittle nails also show iron deficiency, thyroid problems, impaired kidney function and circulation problems.

Tips for strong and healthy nails

Alfalfa, black cohosh, burdock rot, dandelion, gotu kola and yellow dock are rich in nail-strengthening minerals, such as silica, zinc and B vitamins. Horsetail is good for the flexibility of nails.

Borage seed, flaxseed, lemongrass, parsley, primrose and pumpkin seed are good sources of essential fatty acids.

Butcher's broom, chamomile, ginko biloba, rosemary, sassafras, and turmeric are good for circulation which nourishes the nails.

Avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. Include plenty of quality proteins, grains, legumes, oatmeal, nuts and seeds in your diet.

Eat foods rich in silicon and sulfur, such as apples, cucumbers, grapes, garlic, asparagus, broccoli, sea vegetables, fish and onions. Include biotin-rich foods like soy, whole grains and liver in your diet.

Eggs, liver, green-leafy vegetables, poultry, almonds, avocados, beets, dates, lima beans, pumpkins, peaches, pears, prunes, and raisins are rich in iron.

Fresh carrot juice is rich in phosphorous and calcium and helps strengthen the nails.

Excessive intake of citrus fruits, salt and vinegar can cause a protein/ calcium imbalance that can affect nail health. Cuts and cracks in the nails may indicate a need for more liquids; therefore, drink plenty of water.

Helpful nail tips and remedies

Like the skin, nails need moisture therefore applying hand cream each morning and evening can help prevent nails from drying out.

Nails are not tools for picking, scraping, poking and prying. Protect your hands with cotton-lined gloves when doing housework, as repeated immersion in water containing bleach or dishwashing liquid can cause the nails to split.

Soaking the nails in warm olive oil or cider vinegar for ten to twenty minutes a day can help strengthen them. Taking 2 tablespoons of wheat germ oil daily can help prevent splitting nails or hangnails.

Soak the nails before cutting them, as they are more likely to split and peel when they are dry.

Do not cut nails too short or wear shoes that are too tight, as this can result in ingrown nails or toenails.

Avoid cutting the cuticles as it may lead to infection; instead use baby oil or cream to gently push them back. Inflamed cuticles in diabetics often signal infection.

Discolored nails can be the result of prolonged illness, stress, nicotine, allergies, or diabetes. Green nails indicate bacterial or fungal infection between the nail and the nail bed. A mixture of equal parts of water and vinegar applied to the nails with a cotton swab can treat fungal infection.

To restore color and texture to brittle and yellowed nails, make a mixture of equal parts of honey, avocado oil and egg yolk, and add a pinch of salt. Rub the mixture into the nails and cuticles, and leave it on for half an hour before rinsing. If the treatment is repeated daily, results will begin to show in 2 weeks.

Use nail polish removers as little as possible, as they contain solvents that make the nails brittle. These solvents are also highly toxic and are absorbed through the skin. Use only oil-based nail polish removers containing acetate instead of acetone.

Do not use artificial nails, as they cause fungal infection of the fingernails in some cases and often destroy the underlying nail. The glue used in attaching these nails is also absorbed through the skin and is dangerous for the body.  

Article originally published on Press TV (February 24, 2009). Reprinted with permission.

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