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Nails aren’t just there to look pretty; there is a much deeper story lying beneath their appearance. In fact, the exact appearance of your nails can reveal the current state and functionality of your inner organs. As your skin is the largest organ, your fingernails and toenails are the protective tips of your skin endings from which blood is constantly flowing out from the veins in your hands towards your tips and circulating back towards the body. Due to their respective location, it is no wonder your nails are often the first signs of inner bodily dysfunction.
The color of your nails can be one of the first signs of organ failure or severe dysfunction within your body. Similar to the thick nail diameter in yellow nail syndrome, the state of these nails hints towards blockages and a lack of sufficient lymphatic drainage in the body, such as in sinusitis, bronchiectasis, and immunodeficiency. On the other hand, dark longitudinal bands spanning a width of at least 3 mm, changing appearance sporadically, and occurring in older age should be checked out by a doctor immediately for possible melanoma. In other cases, the lunula area (crescent shape at the end of the cuticle) can turn brown from renal failure, blue-gray from silver poisoning, and red from heart failure. Completely white nails are seen in those with Terry nails, which are caused by a decrease in vascular function and increase in connective tissue growth (1). Then there are Lindsay’s nails, which are nails that are half white and half brown due to chronic anemia and increased melanin production in kidney disease (2).
The texture of your nails can indicate severe digestive issues or mineral deficiencies. Clubbed nails develop from excess soft tissue creating a spongy “pillow” in the middle of the nail, leading to a curved, inward appearance. These nails can indicate gastrointestinal issues or lung problems. On the other hand, spoon-shaped nails that curve outwards indicate blood iron imbalances in anemia or hemochromatosis (excessive iron). Separated nail beds with brown discoloration indicate hyperthyroidism, and splinter hemorrhages from burst blood vessels resembling dark red splinters indicates heart issues. Those with connective tissue disorders will show severely impaired nail production, in the case of pitting nails and separation of the nail from the nail bed. Particularly, pitting nails appear in up to 50% of patients with psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune skin disorder with characteristic red, scaly patches and white flakes (1).
Nail disorder etiology can span from hereditary autoimmune disorders to developed inflammatory responses and gland dysfunction. Genetic disorders almost always appear in a characteristic nail appearance that can be used to diagnose underlying medical conditions that may or may not be life-threatening. For non-inherited disorders, papulosquamous disorders are inflammatory skin disorders that create nail changes due to systemic inflammation causing inner bodily dysfunction. In more rare cases, inflammation from immune dysfunction can lead to bullous disorders, in which the skin and mucous membranes blister and lead to changes in the skin around the nail or Beau’s lines and nail bed separation. Nail changes can also be indicative of endocrine disorders, and specifically those with diabetes, thyroid disorders, and pituitary disorders should closely watch for any signs of extreme dryness, breakage or discoloration in their nails (2).
Changes in nail color and general nail health can be an indicator of a more serious health issue, but this is not always the case. Often common causes such as iron deficiency, nail fungus that can lead to brittle nails, and general nail infections caused by damage to the nail can cause changes to the nail color and can be easily treated. For fungal nail infections we suggest using our very own Clear + Restore to help rejuvenate your nails.
1. Fawcett, R. S., & Linford, S. (2004). Nail abnormalities: clues to systemic disease. American Family Physician, 69(6), 1417-1424. Retrieved from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0315/p1417.html.
2. Gopal, V., & Shenoy, M. M. (2017). Nail evaluation in internal diseases: an indispensable exercise. Archives and Medicine and Health Sciences, 5(2), 269-274. doi: 10.4103/amhs.amhs_124_17.