The appearance of the fingernails can be quite a surprising indicator of health or disease.
Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.
Tradition has it that in ancient Egypt it was illegal for a man to see a woman who was a member of another man’s harem. When a harem member fell ill, the physician was sent for. His assessment of the woman’s problems had to be done based on what he could learn from her hand as she revealed it between the breaks in the curtains.
While fingernails may not provide the complete and thorough diagnostic base of more modern, scientific and holistic methods, they can certainly point us in the right direction. Medical doctors even learn a few select fingernail symptoms in medical school (as outlined in Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking1), so we, as people who have a holistic bent, certainly can’t be accused of being archaic or unscientific! Nails are simply a specialized extension of skin.
Fingernails are dead keratinaceous/epithelial material that is firmly attached to richly vascular nail beds. Because they grow rapidly in healthy people – up to .1 mm daily, toenails less quickly – they can provide fairly good recent history of physiological imbalances throughout the body. Also, changes in the vascularity of the nail bed will change the color of the nails and indicate other clinical problems in various areas of the body. Fingernails that grow slowly and/or have deformities indicate potential problems.
Let’s look at fingernail symptoms in categories of color change, texture change, and combination changes. Obviously, when an organ system or specific disease process is listed below, the way to correct the accompanying fingernail problems is to address the organ system or disease process directly. This information is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Please seek the services of qualified health professionals if you feel you need to.
First of all, let’s look at how a normal fingernail should appear. The nail itself should be smooth, with a satin gloss and white tip. The lunula, or half-moon that should appear at the base of each fingernail, should be white. The color of the nail itself is pinkish-white, regardless of ethnicity.
Color changes can be the result of changes in blood supply to the nail bed, changes in organ chemistry, or toxic infiltration from the surface of the nail. Color changes may be in the nail bed (the part directly beneath the nail – what we see through the nail) or in the nail tissue itself.
White nails can indicate liver diseases, kidney diseases, and anemia. Anemia can be caused by iron deficiency in the diet, inadequate digestion of iron bearing foods, or poor absorption of iron in the gastrointestinal tract. Adding digestive enzymes and increasing iron-rich herbs are possible solutions for anemia.
Swelling in the hands; respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis; lymphatic problems; diabetes; and liver disorders can all cause nails to appear yellow, especially at the nail bed.
If the white tips of nails appear yellow it can be tinting from using nail polish frequently. Massaging the fingernails with lemon essential oil will help to prevent polish-induced yellow tinting.
Pink and White
When nails appear partly pink \ partly white, suspect kidney diseases.
Red nail bed
The nail bed is directly beneath the nail – what we see through the nail. When this appears red, heart conditions may be present or building in the body.
Pale nail bed
Pale anything almost always means poor blood supply or poor oxygenation of the blood. The same is true here. Anemia is often the cause of a pale nail bed. Consider using digestive support and iron-rich herbal supplements.
Yellowish nails with a slight blush at the base
This is a potential indicator of diabetes. Consider using supplements that support the body in balancing blood sugars.
“Terry’s nails” are opaque white nails with a dark band at the end of the finger. This is a somewhat ominous sign. It often indicates that a serious illness is in progress. Possibilities include cancer, cirrhosis, congestive heart failure and diabetes. But don’t panic – simple aging can also be the cause of Terry’s nails. Consider using supplements to nourish the entire body.
Slate blue lunula (the white half-moon that should appear at the base of each fingernail)
This indicates potential lung problems or over-exposure to silver, including colloidal silver. (Note: Nature’s Sunshine Products contain nano silver, not colloidal silver.)
Deep blue nail beds
Pulmonary obstruction, asthma, and emphysema – all conditions that reduce oxygenation of the blood – can create deep blue nail beds.
Half white with dark spots on tips
This type of coloring is yet another indicator that the kidneys may be in serious trouble.
White with pink near tips
This color combination can indicate cirrhosis.
Nails pitted with red-brown spots, splitting at tips
This complex set of symptoms can indicate a broad range of potential conditions. Consider psoriasis, nail injuries, dish soap, vitamin C deficiency, folic acid deficiency, and protein deficiency.
These white lines run across the nail following the shape of the lunula. These do not resemble white spots at all. The nail bed appears white and opaque in a band or stripe across the nail. They are a strong indication of arsenic poisoning or acute or serious illness. They will generally grow out when the problem is corrected.
White lines that don’t necessarily follow the shape of the lunula can indicate heart disease, liver disease, or history of a recent high fever. These look like the traditional ‘white spots’ that run together across the nail.
Traditionally, holistic practitioners have recognized white spots on fingernails as being an indication of low zinc. Additionally, white spots can indicate low calcium or injuries to the fingernail.
White, square nails
When the nails are very white and square, look towards hormonal disorders as the cause.
When the nails separate painlessly from the bed, it is called onycholysis. This, again, is a broad symptom that can be indicative of any one or more of several potential problems. Injury, psoriasis, drug reactions, fungal infections, reactions to nail hardeners or acrylic nails, and thyroid disorders are on the list.
When nailbeds bulge and the nails curve down around the fingertips, this is a potential indication of oxygen deprivation, lung disease (including lung cancer), heart disease or liver disease.
Nail growth is susceptible to stress. When a body undergoes severe illness or trauma, including major surgery, general anaesthetic, or even a serious flu, the nails may stop growing. The result is a crosswise indentation in the nails. This generally will grow out with time.
When nails create upward spoons as they grow out, an iron deficiency can be suspected. Good sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, red meat, and poultry.
Raynaud’s disease can cause flat nails. As mentioned in a previous article, Raynaud’s can be controlled/corrected with strong adrenal gland support.
Dark, thin, flat, or spoon-shaped
These symptoms can indicate a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Hawthorn Berries and spirulina are great sources of B12. Of course, B12 can also be found in beef, chicken, and egg yolk.
Thick, discoloring nails
This is often an indication of psoriasis. Doing cleanses alternated with building programs, and focusing on reducing the acid levels of the blood and body through diet, are usually very helpful in correcting psoriasis.
This is a cardiovascular indicator. It indicates a weakening of the vascular system and poor circulation. Using MC (mega-chel), HSII, CoQ10 and other cardiovascular supporting supplements would be wise.
Kidney disorders, aging, and iron deficiency can all contribute to lengthwise grooves. For aging concerns, use IGF-1 or colostrum.
This is a strong indication of arthritis. Lowering the acid levels in the diet and supporting the kidneys and adrenals are very helpful in controlling arthritic symptoms.
This is a strong indication of rheumatoid arthritis. This is apparent when lengthwise ridges look like rows of tiny beads. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder that creates inflammation throughout the body. Omega 3 is a well-documented anti-inflammatory.2 Vitamin D has also been shown to be anti-inflammatory and may be helpful here.3
Pitted and dented
Nails that resemble hammered brass portend of total or partial hair loss, or may be the result of having your hands in detergent frequently or for long periods of time.
Chipping, cracking, peeling, breaking easily
Nails that are this fragile indicate general nutritional deficiency, insufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and deficient minerals and protein in the diet. Poor digestion has a major impact on total body wellness. Improve the digestion and you’ll often fix many other symptoms.
Brittle, soft, shiny, no moons
These symptoms point to an overactive thyroid. Since the thyroid is controlled by the pituitary, working with the pituitary is often helpful. Parsley and alfalfa are good choices here.
Thinning nails accompanied by itching skin
These are symptoms of lichen planus, a skin condition with itchy, purple, angular bumps. Medical science reports that causes can include drug reactions, color film developers, polymyositis, malabsorption syndromes and lymphoma. Cleansing and general nutrition support are indicated. Liver support is also important.
Raised at base with small white tip
This can simply be hereditary, or it can be an indication of respiratory disorders.
Red skin at base of nail
While this is not really a fingernail symptom, red skin around the base of a nail can indicate connective tissue disorders. Collatrim and colostrum are key therapies here.
Fingernails are more than just jewels or tools. As you can see, the appearance of the fingernails can be quite a surprising indicator of health or disease.
What do your nails say about your health?
If you have concerns about your nails or your health in general, or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available.
Products referred to in this article:
|Category of support||Nature’s Sunshine Products CANADA||Nature’s Sunshine Products USA|
|Digestive Enzymes||Digestive Enzymes||Food Enzymes|
|Garden Essence Enzymes||Proactzyme|
|Three Combination Herb||Herbal Trace Minerals|
|Kidney Support||KB-C||KB-C Chinese|
|K-C||Kidney Activator TCM|
|Heart Support||Hawthorn||Hawthorn Berries|
|Blood Sugar Balance||GlucoReg||SugarReg|
|Heavy Metal Detoxifiers||Heavy Metal Detox||Heavy Metal Detox|
|Calcium-rich||Herbal CA||CA, Herbal|
|Respiratory support||AL-C||Breathe Activator TCM|
|LH-C||Lung Support, Chinese|
|Liver supporting||LIV-GD||Milk Thistle Combination|
|Hormonal support||Master G||Master Gland|
|Zinc-rich||Zinc & C Lozenges||Zinc Lozenge|
|Essential Oils||Lemon Essential Oil||Lemon Essential Oil|
|Symptom||Category of support||Nature’s Sunshine Products CANADA||Nature’s Sunshine Products USA|
|Onycholysis||yeast/fungal issues||YF DTX||Yeast/Fungal Detox|
|Tea Tree Oil||Tea Tree Oil|
|Olive Leaf Extract||Olive Leaf Extract|
|Silver Shield Gel - topical||Silver Shield Gel - topical|
|low thyroid function||TS II||Thyroid Support|
|Clubbing||low oxygen||Vitamin E with Selenium||Vitamin E with Selenium|
|lung support||LH-C||Lung Support Chinese|
|heart/circulation support||HS-C||Nervous Fatigue TCM Conc.|
|Spoon nails||low iron||Three Combination Herb||Herbal Trace Minerals|
|digestion||Digestive Enzymes||Food Enzymes|
|absorption||UC3-J||Intestinal Soothe & Build|
|Flat nails||adrenals||Adrenal Support||Adrenal Support|
|AD-C||Mood Elevator, Chinese|
|Dark, thin, flat, or spoon-shaped||low B12||Vitamin B12 Liquid||Vitamin B12 Complete, Liquid|
|Thick nails||cardiovascular support||MC||Mega-Chel|
|Arginine Plus||Solstic Cardio|
|Lengthwise grooves||kidney support|
|Lengthwise ridges||kidneys||KB-C||KB-C Chinese|
|adrenals||Adrenal Support||Adrenal Support|
|AD-C||Mood Elevator Chinese|
|Beading||omega 3||Krill is available through the|
Sunshine Direct program (contact Nature’s Sunshine
Canada at 1-800-265-9163 for instructions)
or by special order from Cobblestone Health
firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-850-5503)
|Krill Oil w/K2 (stronger than other omega 3)|
|Vitamin D||Vitamin D3||Vitamin D3|
|Pitted and dented||hair loss||HSN-W||HSN-W|
|Protein Digestive Aid||PDA|
|household/dishwashing cleanser that won’t eat your fingernails||NSP Concentrate||Sunshine Concentrate Cleaner|
|Chipping, cracking, peeling, breaking easily||general nutritional support, mineral support, protein support||GreenZone||GreenZone, Ultimate|
|low stomach acid||Protein Digestive Aid||PDA|
|Brittle, soft, shiny, no moons||hyperthyroid||UC3-J||Intestinal Soothe & Build|
|Thinning nails accompanied by itching skin||general nutrition support||GreenZone||GreenZone, Ultimate|
|Garden Essence enzymes||Proactazyme|
|Raised at base with small white tip||respiratory support||LH-C||Lung Support Chinese|
|Red skin at base of nail||connective tissue support||Collatrim Plus||Collatrim Plus|
1. Bickley, Lynn, MD, Bates Guide to Physical Exam and History Taking, 7th edition, Wolters Kluwer, 2012
Copyright © 2018 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).