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Flaking Nails

How can I stop my nails from flaking?

Question

Can you give me any advice about paper-thin, flaking nails? I follow a fairly low-fat diet because of cholesterol problems but I don’t think it is extreme, and have other health problems including vitiligo. My nails are so bad that they make everyday activities a problem and playing the piano is impossible.

Answer

Nails reflect the state of one's general health. In fact, traditional physicians look at nails to diagnose various internal problems. Normally the nail takes four months to grow from the skin fold (cuticle) to the edge of the finger. Serrations or lines across the width of the nails show that there has been an inflammation or illness in the body. So if you have a single line across the nail around the midway line, you can trace its origins to an inflammation (such as joint ache, bad injury or fracture) or infection (such as sinus, tonsils, bladder) about two months before.

White spots on the nails indicate zinc or calcium deficiency. Ridges along the length of the nails testify to chronic inflammation of the body (such as sinusitis, colitis, gastritis, eczema). Clubbing or drumstick-like appearance of the fingertip suggests chronic lung disease (such as bronchitis or asthma) or a long-term inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Pitting and uneven surface of the nails indicate some soft of fungal infection or psoriasis. Flaking nails, however, suggest that there is chronic malabsorption of calcium or a calcium deficiency in the blood. Calcium acts as the cement for the elastic fibres that fortify and roughen the nails so a deficiency will leave them loose and the nails will flake.

Lack of calcium is caused by:

  • Poor synthesis of vitamin D, which facilitates calcium absorption in the colon.
  • Lack of calcium in the diet, often due to a vegan or strict vegetarian diet (no animal protein means a poor level of vitamin D which is present in animal products).
  • Poor absorption of calcium in the colon, usually caused by chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic diarrhoea or inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis.

All your muscles need calcium to contract. A calcium deficiency will cause inactivity in the muscles. The body needs to move all the time and the heart muscles have to contract rhythmically 24 hours a day. If there is a chronic deficiency, the muscles of the calves and toes go into a cramp to prevent any activity in them. So the demand for calcium is high and its presence in your blood is crucial. If your body detects a drop in the calcium level in your blood, it "steals" it from the bones (leading to osteoporosis) and stops supplying it to less essential areas including joints, walls of blood vessels, teeth and nails. So someone with calcium deficiency may suffer from flaky nails, weak teeth or tooth enamel and bruising under the skin, as well as, potentially, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

To prevent your nails flaking, do the following:

  • Make sure you are nor constipated: drink 1.5 to two litres of water daily, eat papaya, prunes and figs for breakfast, and take lsabgol psyllium husks with two tablespoonfuls of warm water or milk, and two tablets of Herbolax at bedtime for one month.
  • Take breaks in the sun, either in a garden or park or at a window; sit near windows whenever possible and get as much sun as possible on your face, body and arms.
  • Home-made chicken broth contains gelatine, calcium and other important minerals. Boil baby chicken, cut into pieces and seasoned with garlic, ginger, bay leaves and a cinnamon stick, in five to six pints of water, for 90 minutes on a slow heat. Strain and drink one cup of the broth an hour before your evening meal.
  • Eat organic cottage cheese with manuka honey and crushed walnuts to boost your protein and calcium levels.
  • Soak whole fresh almonds and hazelnuts in water at room temperature for 24 hours and eat ten of each daily. Their zinc content is also essential to healthy nails.
  • Take a supplement of Coral Calcium: mix two sachets in 1.5 litres of water and drink the water throughout the day. This is an easily absorbed source of calcium.
  • Eat organic chicken, fish, eggs and meat which are good sources of fat-soluble vitamin D.
  • Take 400ius of vitamin E daily for three months, to encourage healthy nail growth.
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