Secrets your nails reveal

Changes to your fingernails and disease onset are linked, so note any new developments. - Filepic

Changes to your fingernails and disease onset are linked, so note any new developments. - Filepic

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but your fingernails may provide a peek into the status of your health.

ARE your fingernails healthy, or sending you a health warning?

Fingernails and disease don’t go together in most minds... but they should. Your fingernails can give you valuable health warnings and signal the presence of serious disease.

Take a good long look at your nails. Hold a hand level with your nose about a foot out from your face and scrutinise each one.

Look at the curves, dips, ridges, and grooves. Check out how thick or thin they are and if your nails are chipped or broken. Make a note of the colour of the nail itself, the skin under it, and the skin around the nail.

Have your nails always looked like this?

Changes to your fingernails and disease onset are linked, so note any new developments. With this fresh view, compare what you see with this list of eight potential fingernail health warnings.

Discoloured nails

A healthy fingernail should be pink, with a touch of pinkish white (moons) near the base. If your nails are a dull colour or streaked with other colours, you may have a serious hidden health problem.

  • Green nails are a sign of bacterial infection.

  • Red streaks in your nail bed are a warning of a heart valve infection.

  • Blueish nails signal low oxygen levels in your blood.

  • Dull nails mean a vitamin deficiency.

  • White nails may signal liver disease, such as hepatitis.

  • Dark stripes at the top (Terry’s nails) are associated with ageing and congestive heart failure.

Thick nails

Thick nails are not natural. You want your nails to be strong, but if they resemble talons or claws, watch out!

  • Thickened nails that are otherwise normal can signal lung disease.

  • Thick and rough-textured nails can signal a fungal infection.

  • Thick and separated nails may mean thyroid disease or psoriasis.

  • Unusual thickness may also be a symptom of a circulation problem.

Thickening nails are a change that should tune you in to other health symptoms you may be ignoring. Also watch out for allergic reactions to new medications which can show up as suddenly thick nails.

Split nails

Split nails aren’t just occasionally chipped. Instead, these nails seem to flake away in layers. Don’t blame frequent handwashing or nail polish for everything, especially since:

  • Split nails result from folic acid, vitamin C, and protein deficiencies.

  • Split nails combined with a pitted nail bed (base) can signal psoriasis, which begins in nails 10% of the time, according to WebMD.

  • Split nails may result from chronic malnutrition.

Watch what you eat and check the psoriasis connection to fight back and pay more attention to your overall health.

Concave (spoon) nails

Spoon fingernails signal a number of internal issues. To be considered full spoons, nails will be soft and curve up, forming a dip that is often big enough to hold water. Spoon nails signal:

  • Iron deficiency (usually from anaemia).

  • Haemachromatosis, a liver disorder where your body absorbs too much iron.

  • Heart disease.

  • Hypothyroidism.

Your fingernail and health challenges go hand in hand – for many people, clearing up their health issue results in their spoon nails returning back to normal.

Pitted nails

Small dips or holes in your nails can be a result of banging up your hands – or they could be a sign that you need to look more closely at your health. Nail pitting can signal:

  • Psoriasis.

  • Connective tissue disorder.

  • Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.

  • Zinc deficiency (when the pit seems to form a line across the middle of your nail).

Watch your hand to separate natural dents and dings from real, lasting pits. The first will clear up quickly, but pits linked to disease linger.


Nails should have smooth surfaces with almost imperceptible lines. Obvious ridge lines are a signal that something is up with your body. Some of the most common conditions associated with heavy ridge lines are:

  • Iron deficiency.

  • Inflammatory arthritis.

  • Lupus (for red lines at the base of your nails).

Don’t just buff away your ridges – hear their warning!

Dry, brittle nails

You don’t need lotion or cuticle oil. If your nails are dry and brittle, you should check your hormone levels and bacterial health.

  • Thyroid disease leads to brittle, dry fingernails that crack and split easily.

  • Fungus can make nails dry or even crumbly, affecting 12% of all Americans, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Both thyroid and fungal issues take time to treat, so you won’t see a difference in the look of your fingernails for a full growth cycle.

Clubbed nails

If you have plump skin that seems to swell around the nail, or if your nails seem to have puffed around your fingers, they are said to be “clubbed”. Clubbed nails can mean:

  • Lung disease, especially if you already have trouble breathing.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Liver disease.

Your fingernails won’t be the only signs of these diseases, but they can provide confirmation or motivation to seek medical care.

Nutritional deficiency and your nails

Your nails also can reflect certain nutritional deficiencies you may be suffering from. These include:

Vitamin deficiency

  • Deficiency of vitamin B and D cause pigmentation and ridges along the nail bed. The bluish black vertical lines on your nails are warning signs that you need to make immediate changes to your diet.

  • Deficiency of vitamin C causes reddish black spots to appear on the nail bed.

  • Deficiency of vitamin A and D cause a situation called hapalonychia or soft nails.

  • Deficiency of vitamin E causes nails to lose their natural colour and turn yellow.

To counter vitamin deficiency, it is imperative that you include foods like broccoli, papaya, almonds, peanut butter, hazelnut, orange, lemon, potato, banana, chicken, strawberries and kiwi fruit in your diet.

Zinc deficiency

Many people believe that white spots on the nails is due to vitamin and calcium deficiency. On the contrary, it is proven that the primary cause is zinc deficiency.

One can counter this situation by consuming good amounts of meat, dark chocolate and peanuts for healthy nails.

Iron deficiency

If you have abnormally thin nails that have become flat or concave in shape, then it’s time to add some iron supplements in your diet.

Koilonychias or spoon nails is an indication of extreme levels of iron deficiency in the body. It can also cause brittle nails and lifting of nails. This makes the nails vulnerable to infection.

To counter this problem, ensure that your diet includes enough iron-rich foods like whole grains, liver, and leafy greens like spinach.

Calcium deficiency

Transverse leukonychia of nails is associated with severe hypocalcaemia. It appears in horizontal white bands that tend to occur in the same position in other nails too.

Thin and brittle nails are also symptoms of calcium deficiency in the body.

Including dairy products like milk, cheese and curd in your daily diet will ensure strong and shiny nails.

Protein deficiency

If you find your nails cracking and breaking, then it is a sign of protein deficiency. You need to evaluate if adequate protein sources are included in your diet.

Animal products like meat and cheese are the best protein sources. For vegetarians, beans and legumes are food products rich in protein.

Include all these food items in your diet to get rid of nail problems caused by protein deficiency.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar

Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar imparts knowledge about various aspects of women's health.