How to get strong, healthy nails

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Strong, healthy nails are on most women’s wish list. Usually that’s because they look good. However, the strength and quality of your nails is a good indicator of your overall state of health; in particular how well your digestive system functions, and whether or not you have nutrient deficiencies. If you’re unhappy with the state of your nails, there’s a lot you can do about it.

Your nails are basically comprised of layers of keratin. This same protein is a component of your hair and skin. Therefore it’s important to ensure there’s adequate protein in your diet. Unless you’re a vegan, the average person will not lack protein in their diet. Protein is found in animal foods like eggs, seafood, poultry and red meat. It’s also widely found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils and grains, but can be more difficult to digest in those foods. Whey protein powder is a concentrated source of protein where the building blocks (amino acids) are easy to digest and absorb.

If you have weak digestion, this can compromise your ability to absorb protein. This can make your nails excessively soft, fragile and prone to breakage. It can also cause ridges to form on your nails, which are a classic sign of malabsorption.

The following tips may help to strengthen your nails

Add some apple cider vinegar to your diet. This will help support protein digestion in your stomach, by encouraging the production of stomach acid. As we get older, our stomach’s production of acid declines, and this also happens if you eat while stressed or hurried. You can use apple cider vinegar as a salad dressing or have a tablespoon in a little warm water before meals.

Limit contact with water. Unfortunately many household tasks require putting your hands in water, or washing your hands. This softens your nails and makes them more prone to breakage. It can also reduce the beneficial fats in your cuticles and dry your nails out. Try to wear gloves as much as possible. This will also protect your hands from coming in contact with harsh cleaning detergents.

Ensure there are adequate good fats in your diet and use a natural moisturiser on your cuticles and nails regularly. Good fats are found in foods such as olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocado and animal fats, preferably from free range or organic sources.

Supplement with nutrients required for healthy hair, skin and nails. Collagen Food powder is a blend of MSM (natural sulphur), vitamin C, biotin, zinc and silica. All of these nutrients are building blocks for collagen, elastin and keratin. They can make a real difference to your health and your appearance, particularly if your diet isn’t always as good as it could be.

Nail polish, nail polish remover and manicure treatments used in salons all reduce the quality of your nails and make them more prone to splitting. We all know this, but still may choose to use these products. That’s fine of course, but if your nails are really in bad shape, it may be good to have a break for a month, or use nail polish without harmful ingredients. All natural brands are becoming increasingly available.

Your digestive system might be the biggest problem. If you regularly experience digestive discomfort, or you have coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, reflux or you take stomach acid blocking drugs, improving your gut health will definitely help improve your nails. You could be eating healthy food and taking good quality supplements, but conditions such as leaky gut, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and digestive enzyme insufficiency can mean you don’t absorb nutrients properly. Glutamine is an excellent remedy for soothing the gut lining and improving leaky gut, but these conditions may require personalised help via a consultation with a healthcare practitioner.

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