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7 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health

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You spend so much time trimming, shaping, buffing, and painting your nails and ignore how it looks naturally, do you know you may be ignoring spots, stripes, and odd colors which signifies that you are not healthy. “Your nails are a very good reflection of your health. Many things can occur in the nails that can signify systemic or skin problems,”  says dermatologist Christine Poblete-Lopez, MD.

“Anemia resulting from low levels of iron can lead to inadequate oxygen in the blood, which causes the skin and tissues to become pale, particularly the tissues under the nails,” says Shilpi Agarwal MD. Rimmed or long, polished or plain, one thing is for sure, healthy nails mean a healthy you. Here are signs of what your nails tell about your health.

1. Spoon Nails

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It refers to abnormally thin nails which have lost their convexity, becoming flat or even concave in shape. This is a nail disease that can be a sign of hypochromic anemia, especially iron-deficiency anemia and low blood oxygen levels from not taking in or absorbing enough iron. Spoon nails can also occur in people with heart disease, thyroid problems, or the autoimmune disease lupus.

2. Pale Nails

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The problem isn’t so black and white when it comes to white nails. If your fingernail beds are looking a little ghostly, you may have anemia, a blood disorder characterized by a low red blood cell count. Pale nails could also be a sign of early diabetes or liver disease, both of which can lead to impaired blood flow. “When diagnosed early, diabetes can often be controlled with dietary changes,” Dr. Agarwal says. Avoid processed foods with refined sugars and carbs, and eat more fiber, vegetables, and whole grains. “These will help stabilize blood sugar levels and limit circulatory damage caused by uncontrolled sugar levels,” she says.

3. Yellow Nails

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One of the most common causes of yellow nails is a fungal infection. As the infection worsens, the nail bed may retract, and nails may thicken and crumble. In rare cases, yellow nails can indicate a more serious condition such as severe thyroid disease, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis. “Thickened nails, with or without a yellow-ish tone, are characteristic of fungal infections that generally traverse the entire nail bed,” Dr. Agarwal says. She adds that topical medication is often no help since the infection is in the nail bed and underlying nail plate. Your doctor can prescribe an oral medication, which will reach the entire breadth of the infected nail.

4. Dark Lines

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A darkened nail can mean a few things, says Dr. Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, a board-certified dermatologist. First, it could be just a natural, genetic pigmentary change, like a freckle. But if there is a dark streak along the nail from cuticle to tip and there is only one, or it is changing fast, it may mean something more ominous: melanoma of the nail, says Dr. Krant. This is a form of skin cancer and potentially deadly. Some nail fungus infections can also have dark gray or green colors, so when in doubt, see your dermatologist.
“Dark brown or black vertical lines on the nail bed should never be ignored,” Dr. Agarwal warns. “These can be a hallmark sign of melanoma, which requires early detection and treatment.” Leave your nails bare periodically so you can examine them, then go get a manicure. “Sunlight is unable to penetrate through polish, so any shade other than a clear coat will provide an adequate barrier from the sun,” Dr. Agarwal says.

5. Pitting And Grooving

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Depressions and small cracks in your nails are known as “pitting” of the nail bed and are often associated with psoriasis, an inflammatory disease that leads to scaly or red patches all over the body. “Individuals who suffer from psoriasis develop clusters of cells along the nail bed that accumulate and disrupt the linear, smooth growth of a normal nail,” Dr. Agarwal explains. “As these cells are sloughed off, grooves or depressed areas are left behind on the surface.”

6. Bluish Nails

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Nails with a bluish tint can mean the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This could indicate a lung problem, such as emphysema. Some heart problems can be associated with bluish nails. This could be caused by respiratory disease or a vascular problem called Raynaud’s Disease, which is a rare disorder of the blood vessels, according to Dr. Agarwal. Some people just have slower blood circulation, especially when exposed to cold temperatures, she says, but have a physician check your blood and oxygenation levels if your nails are persistently blue.

7. Brittle, Thin Or Lifted Nails
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Breaking a nail can be a bummer, but if your tips seem to crack at the slightest touch, it could mean your thyroid is amiss. This gland in your neck regulates metabolism, energy and growth, and too little thyroid hormone often leads to hair loss, brittle and thin nails and nails that grow slowly, Dr. Agarwal says. Thyroid disorder also manifests itself by causing your nail plate to separate from the nail bed in a noticeable way. “Lifted nails are thought to occur because the increase in thyroid hormone can accelerate cell turnover and separate the nail from its natural linear growth pattern,” Dr. Agarwal explains.


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