What your fingernails signal about your health

Brittle nails can occasionally be a symptom of an iron shortage or hypothyroidism. Picture: Reuters

Brittle nails can occasionally be a symptom of an iron shortage or hypothyroidism. Picture: Reuters

Published Feb 2, 2023


According to naturopathic physician Dr Sara Norris, nail health is frequently a sign of low dietary intake or poor digestion in the general population.

The most frequent issues I encounter in my clinic are brittleness, weakness, and peeling nails; these symptoms are frequently caused by a poor diet rather than a systemic illness.

Family physician Dr Mark Benor concurs: “My role is reassuring them that their nail concerns typically don’t speak of a major underlying ailment,” he says.

There are many patients in the family medicine clinic who have nail results that are meaningless outside the concern they cause.

While smooth, discoloured nails are said to be indicative of healthy nails, if there is a problem with the appearance and colour of yours, this article can help you discover a solution. Additionally, we'll let you know which signs and symptoms should be discussed with a medical expert.

What is causing the textural change in your nails?

You should wear gloves whenever getting your hands wet, such as while cleaning dishes, because doing so can lead to onychoschizia, the medical term for brittle nails that are typically brought on by repetitive soaking and drying of your fingernails.

Brittle nails can occasionally be a symptom of an iron shortage or hypothyroidism.

The solution: Try putting on gloves and using lotions with lanolin or alpha hydroxy acids while washing dishes or performing other water-intensive duties.

Weak or soft nails

These nails crack or flex before breaking easily. Overexposure to chemicals or moisture may result in soft nails; consider detergent, cleaning agents, nail treatments, and nail polish remover.

A lack of fatty acids, calcium, iron, or B vitamins may also be linked to weak nails.

The solution: Keep chemicals away from your nails. Give your nails a chance to heal by going natural. In the absence of a known iron deficiency, Norris cautions against using iron supplements. Start consuming a multivitamin that contains calcium and B vitamins instead.


This is most usually the result of external nail damage, such as using your nail as a tool, pushing too hard, or removing artificial nail lacquer. If your hands are left in sudsy water for too long, your nails may also peel.

Here's a tip for distinguishing between internal and external causes: Are your toenails peeling as well? If so, an internal issue like a lack of iron may be to blame. Otherwise, it's likely external.

If you believe it to be internal, consider including more iron-rich foods into your diet. If the reason is external, moisturise your nails by applying lotion after any activity that can dry them out if the cause is external. If symptoms persist, especially if you also detect peeling on your toenails, consult a medical expert.


Have you ever seen ridges on your fingernails that resemble tiny horizontal or vertical waves? Vertical ridges that extend from the tip of your fingernail to the cuticle typically develop later in life. They often don't raise an alarm as long as they don't come with other symptoms like colour changes.

Beau's lines, or horizontal ridges, can indicate renal disease or some underlying problem.

The solution: Lightly buff the nail's surface to get rid of vertical ridges. In order to ascertain the underlying cause of horizontal lines, speak with a healthcare professional.


Yellow nails are rather common and are usually caused by a disease or a bad response to anything you’ve been using, such nail polish. Rarely, yellow may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, thyroid problems, or psoriasis.

The solution: Your new nails should grow in clear once again, but there are several all-natural remedies, such vitamin E or tea tree oil, to help fight infections. A multivitamin might be useful in this situation. If after a few weeks you still don't feel better, consult a medical expert.

Black lines

Black lines, which can also be brown or dark red, resemble splinters and are also referred to as splinter haemorrhages. They can show up repeatedly. The damage to your nail, such as unintentionally slamming a door on your finger, is the most likely reason.

Rarely, the lines may be a symptom of a deeper problem, such as psoriasis, endocarditis, or nail melanoma.

If the lines are the result of an injury, they should go away as your nail develops. But if nothing changes after a few weeks, get medical attention, especially if you experience any additional symptoms like swollen or irritated skin, night sweats, or bleeding under the nail.

White flecks

Insufficient zinc can manifest as sporadic white patches on the nails, which often first show during middle school age, according to Norris. White patches on your nails might indicate an allergic response, a fungal infection, or a nail damage.

The solution: Take a vacation from polish or other cosmetics on your nails and let the nail develop. Speak to a medical expert if the spots persist or return.

No half-moons

Your nail's base doesn't have any half moons. Most of the time, this is meaningless, and they may just be concealed behind your skin.

If they appear to have vanished, it may indicate: starvation; despondency; or anaemia. Normally, not having half moons is nothing to worry about, but if they start becoming red or vanish after being visible for a while, you should consult a healthcare provider.

How can I maintain healthy nails?

According to Norris, "Our bodies are smart, so when we're deficient in vitamins and minerals, our nails and hair will reveal it." You can often acquire all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your nails require by eating a range of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

You can also take a multivitamin, however Norris does not recommend taking a pill every day: Our bodies find it challenging to absorb huge compacted pills.

She advises choosing a product that comes in soft-gel capsules as an alternative. Why? Gelatin is often used to make capsules. Norris claims that gelatin is considerably simpler for our systems to break down in order to access the vitamins and minerals it contains.

You can also attempt horsetail and biotin pills. If you decide to take biotin, Norris suggests stopping use two weeks before any test work is done since it might affect the findings.

It's typically not a problem if your nails are acting strangely on their own, without any other symptoms. But if you have any other strange symptoms, think about consulting a medical expert about possible explanations. Once they are discovered, the majority of underlying reasons for nail problems are simple to address.