1.Nails reflect the condition of the inner body. It is true that abnormalities of the nails can often provide early clues to common medical problems or severe systemic diseases. Take a few moments and examine your unpolished fingernails under a good light. You will gather a new appreciation for how your lifestyle affects your nails and overall health.

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Nails grow at different rates due to age, nutrition, and health factors. Under the best of conditions, a nail grows about .004 inches a day or 1/8 of an inch each month. It takes about six months for a new nail to grow from cuticle to tip.

Use this diagnostic chart to look at and understand the condition of your nails:


Injury; nail psoriasis; fungal or bacterial infections; medicines; chemotherapy; thyroid disease; Raynaud’s phenomenon; lupus

Injury or disease

Poor circulation; fungal infection; heredity; mild, persistent trauma to the nail

Eczema or psoriasis; hair loss condition

Contact with strong alkali; malnutrition; endocrine problems; chronic arthritis

Iron deficiency; thyroid disease

Chronic respiratory or heart problems; cirrhosis of the liver

Injury; infection; nutrition

Aging, poor absorption of vitamins and minerals; thyroid disease; kidney failure

Nail dryness; nails in contact with irritating substances (detergents, chemicals, polish remover); silica deficiency

Bacterial or yeast infection

Overactive thyroid; genetics; self-induced trauma (habit tick)

Underactive thyroid; genetics

Colorless: May indicate anemia

Red or deep pink: Can indicate a tendency to poor peripheral circulation

Blue: Blood may not be receiving adequate oxygen due to respiratory disorders, cardiovascular problems, or lupus erythermatosus.

Yellow: Could indicate fungus, diabetes, psoriasis, use of tetracycline, or heredity.

White, crumbly, soft: May be a result of a fungus infection

Half white/half pink: May indicate fungal infection or, more seriously, kidney disease

Small white patches: Usually a sign of injury to the nail matrix

Purple or black: Usually due to trauma, or may also be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. A brown or black streak that begins at the base of the nail and extends to its tip could be a diagnostic clue to a potentially dangerous melanoma. See your healthcare provider.

This is probably more information then you want to know about fingernails but it will help in answering your question. Our fingernails are basically made up of a hard, curved plate of keratin. Keratin is a protein and it is also what makes up hair and the outer most layer of skin. At the base of a nail is what is called the matrix.

The matrix is where the nail forms from; this is what most people call "the moon" of the nail. This "moon" appearance is due to the nail bed being so tightly packed with keratin, that the capillaries (where the blood flows through) is covered by the amount of keratin. The rest of the nail that is actually attached to the skin appears pink due to the capillaries running underneath (the blood running through them gives them the pink color). Nails that extend beyond the tip of the finger are white in color because there is no pigment in the nail to give it color. 

Nails start in the nail bed, a flat surface that is under your nails and extends about � inch beyond where you can see them. When cells at the root of the nail bed grow together to form keratin, a nail is formed. Layers of keratin bind together and the nail slowly grow out from the root of the nail bed towards the end of your finger. Nails grow very slowly. The nails you see now won�t be fully replaced by entirely new nails until 6 months or more from now.

White spots on the nails are very common and usually recur. These small, semi-circular spots result from injury to the base (matrix) of the nail, where nail cells are produced or imperfections when the nail is formed. As the nail grows these blemishes are pushed outward. Frequently the culprit of these spots is careless manicuring. These spots are not cause for concern and will eventually grow out.

Another leading cause of these white specs is a diet that is deficient in zinc. You could try taking a zinc supplement and see if this clears up the problem.

I'm not sure you want to know the anatomy of the fingernail structure or the physiology of how the nail grows (how they replenish 
themselves) but I will focus primarily on the anatomy since the area of science chosen was anatomy.  I will print the scientific terms that apply 
to the nail in CAPS the first time I use a new term and try to explain what various scientific terms mean in (parentheses) throughout my answer.
The nails are flattened, elastic sturctures of a horny texture (mainly protein) that appear in the uterus during the third month of human 
They are found on the distal (further out on the limb and opposite of proximal which would be closer in or toward the midline of the 
body) parts of the dorsal (back side rather than front side) surfaces of fingers and toes.  
The proximal part of the nail, called the ROOT, is implanted into a groove in the skin; the exposed part of the nail is called the BODY of the nail; the distal end forms the FREE BORDER under which you clean when you scrape the dirt from under your nails with a sharp object, and a little proximal to the free border, the skin is attached to the under  surface of the nail body forming the HYPONYCHIUM.  
If you happen to have ever gotten a splinter of wood under you nail it went into this hyponychium layer and will also hurt like as if a hundred bees stung you all at once under the nail, a very rich nerve supply here!  The root of the nail is overlapped by a fold of skin, the NAIL FOLD, the stratum corneum (cornified = dead; stratum = layer) of which is prolonged distally as a thin cuticular fold, the EPONYCHIUM (cuticle in laymen's terminology, which women like to push back and trim off before applying polish because it makes the nail "look" longer).  
This eponychium covers completely or partially the white opaque crescentic part of the nail called the LUNULE.  
If you look at your own nails you will probably see that some of them show the lunule and some don't; more on the thumb and getting successively less as you go toward the little finger.  If they don't show, just push back the cuticle and you will see them.  The greater part of each collateral border (sides or edges) of the nail is overlapped by a fold of skin, termed the NAIL WALL, which forms due to the fact the the nail grows much more slowly than the epidermis (skin) and thus the nail wall is formed by the faster-growing skin bulging up over the nail body.  
If you clip the edge of your nail toward the nail wall, but don't clip it all the way off, and then pull it off you may experience another form of pain, not so sharp as the splinter type above.  
What you have done is pull some of the living skin off of the nail wall where it joins the hyponychium and lamen say "I have pulled the nail into 
the quick".  Of course this word quick is an old English word meaning alive, thus pain.  
Finally, the germinative (growing) zone of the nail bed consists functionally of two parts.  The part beneath the root of the nail and the lunule, called the GERMINAL MATRIX, is thicker and actively  proliferative (dividing), and is concerned with the growth of the nail, the epidermal cells being gradually converted into the nail substance.  
On the other hand, the part beneath the rest of the nail, called the STERILE MATRIX, is thinner and is not concerned with nail growth but provides a 
surface over which the growing nail glides.  
All growth of the nail therefore occurs at its root; the nail increases in thickness from its root to the distal edge of the lunule and the remainder is of uniform thickness. 
Therefore, when you happen to miss when using a hammer to drive a nail into a piece of wood and instead hit your thumbnail for example, if you don't 
damage the germinal matrix you will get a new nail even though the old one might fall off if you hit it hard enough (Ouch!).  The average finger nail 
grows about 0.5 mm per week with faster growth in the summer than the winter and fingernails grow about 4 times faster than toenails.
This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about nails but I hope you enjoy learning more about your wonderful body.  If you want to see a 
picture of a cross section of the tip of the finger with nail in place you can go the the library and check out any anatomy book, Gray's Anatomy is 
the "Bible" of anatomy books, if your library has it, and you should be able to find a picture or drawing of what I have described.




Fingernail Health


What do your fingernails tell about your health?

Your nails are a reflection of the health and wellness of your body. You can tell you a lot from looking at fingernail about whether you have a heart, digestive or even fungal disorder

Self-care for fingernail problems

* Pale, pale/brittle nails, spoon-shaped or with ridges down the length - can signify anemia; this lack of iron can be due to inadequate nutrition (eat more iron-rich foods such as eggs, liver, green-leafy vegetables, blackstrap molasses, almonds, poultry, whole grain breads and cereals, avocados, beets, dates, lima beans, pumpkins, peaches, pears, prunes, watercress, soybeans, raisins), bleeding (menstrual, hemorrhoids or because you take aspirin), or that your bone marrow simply isn't making the right kind of blood; if changing the way you eat doesn't help, see your health care practitioner.

*Thick, distorted fingernails - can signify a fungal condition: tea tree oil applied externally and taking probiotics (either acidophylis or bifidus capsules from your health food store) may help; the condition could also be due to a vitamin deficiency, make sure you're eating 5-10 fruits and veggies a day and take a daily multivitamin; soak fingers in a mixture of warm pacu d'arco and goldenseal tea for 15 minutes a day; avoid all foods that contain sugar or refined carbohydrates because fungi thrive on them; avoid meat, dairy products, cola drinks, grains, processed foods, and fried greasy foods; apply crushed raw garlic or honey on the nails; take two garlic (Kyolic) capsules 3 times daily with meal to neutralize fungi; take acidophilus as directed on the label to supply the friendly bacteria usually deficient if you have a fungal infection distorted fingernails could also be due to arterial sclerosis, so see your health care conditioner to rule that out.

*Clubbed fingernails- can signify a problem with your blood flow. See your health care practitioner.

*White spots on your nails - are often due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Check your diet and eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts and cut out fried foods, and anything with sugar in it, including artificial sweeteners.

*Nails that are brittle and separate easily from your nail beds, along with dry skin, always feeling cold and hair falling out - could indicate a problem with your thyroid gland; eat kelp to replace iodine, the basic substance of thyroid hormone; take Brewer's yeast (as directed on the bottle) unless you're prone to yeast infections, then take extra vitamin B complex (follow directions on the bottle) to aid thyroid function; take essential fatty acids (as directed on the bottle) for aid functioning of your thyroid gland; if symptoms are severe eliminate the following foods, Brussel sprouts, peaches, pears, spinach, turnips, cabbage, broccoli, kale and mustard greens, or just cut back if your symptoms aren't severe; avoid white flour and sugar; avoid sulfa drugs or antihistamines unless ordered by a physician; avoid fluoride in toothpaste and tape watery drinking distilled water only because fluoride block iodine receptors in your thyroid gland; for more information, click on Healthy Thyroid

*Excessively flexible nails - may signify deficiency of calcium and sometimes protein.

*Whitish hue at base of fingernails - may signify liver trouble. If it's a matter of cleansing your liver, taking milk thistle (silymarin) capsules, available at your health food store; take additional vitamin B-complex (100 mg 3 times a day); take 2 garlic (Kyolic) capsules 3 times a day to detoxify your liver and bloodstream; drink ¼ cup of aloe vera to cleanse and heal the digestive tract; eat kidney beans, peas, soybeans and seeds to help detoxify ammonia, a byproduct of protein digestion; avoid all fats except olive oil as a salad dressing; avoid insecticides,


Preservatives and other toxins that can accumulate in the liver; avoid saturated (animal) fats, fried foods and hydrogenated fats, junk foods, refined white flour products, white sugar products and processed foods that either don't provide the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy or that are damaging to the liver; avoid overeating and thereby liver fatigue.


Whenever possible, avoid drugs, alcohol, caffeine and oral contraceptives that strain the liver; avoid cod liver oil and eating fish more than twice a week; take 1 teaspoon of psyllium husks (health food store) in a a glass of water (stir quickly and drink right away before it gels) to cleanse your colon of toxins accumulated in the liver and excreted by the colon; If you have cirrhosis or hepatitis, see your health care practitioner.

*Splinters that don't hurt - could be subacute bacterial endocarditis, a very serious condition. See your health care practitioner immediately!

*Bluish nails - probably means you aren't getting enough oxygen; combined with a cough and shortness of breath means heart failure or chronic lung trouble and you should see you health care practitioner; if you don't have a cough or shortness of breath, you may have been exposed to a toxic chemical; with a minor exposure, taking silymarin capsules may help, as well as drinking a couple of cups of red clover leaf, dandelion root or chamomile (if not allergic to flowers) tea; if you had a major exposure call the health department, a poison control center or go on line for information.



Minerals and Absorption:

Health and strength in nails (both human and equine) depend on a good balance between calcium and silica in the diet and a system, which can metabolize and make good use of these minerals efficiently.

In my equine treatments I prescribe internal supplements based around Millet, Linseed, Comfrey and Yarrow which provide the ideal nutrition to grow healthy bones, ligaments and other hard tissue like hooves. Horses have diets which are usually very high in Silica (found in all dried feed in abundance) and there is usually sufficient Calcium as well (also found in dried and fresh feed and grains).


Sometimes there is a deficiency in other minerals like Magnesium, which is also involved, in structural health and this is the reason that a little Dolomite is useful to ensure sufficient Magnesium (and Calcium). Most horses have healthy enough metabolisms even if restricted to poor pasture as they are not nearly as likely to abuse their metabolism through bad eating habits or stress as we do.

Humans often don't have enough Silica in their Diets and they often have far too much Calcium. We are told that we must drink milk to grow strong bones and all the rest but in fact westerners mostly have too much Calcium and not enough of the other minerals required and are actually worse off than we would have been without milk at all. In my internal treatments for human nails I use the herb Equisetum (also called Horsetail) which is extraordinarily high in Silica and I also use Yarrow and Comfrey just like in the Hoof treatments. The whole issue of diet of course enters into any discussion of health with my human patients and I often make recommendations on diet where this is an issue.

Sometimes in humans these herbs on their own are sufficient, but my patient's report that she has healthy nails during pregnancy and breast feeding tells me that there are metabolism issues at work here also. A foetus is programmed to ensure that its mothers system is working at peak while it is growing inside her and her metabolism is given a tune-up to make sure this is so. In my patients case there are obviously metabolic inefficiencies, which need to be addressed as well as mineral intake, discussed above, and circulation and stress, discussed below.


When the correct herbs and supplements alone don't seem to make much difference to a horses hoof health it is generally because the circulation all the way down to the hoof is pretty limited and the problem is really a delivery problem. The ingredients are in the diet and carried within the blood but the blood supply is not sufficient to get enough of the minerals down to the hoof. I address this problem by making up an hoof oil preparation containing herbs which dramatically stimulate both the circulation within the hoof and the healing potential for any damaged or weakened structures.

There is much more blood down in our fingertips than there is in a horses hoof. However there are many people who suffer from cold hands and feet or even circulation problems specific to the fingertips like Reynard's disease and for these I include herbs like Nettle, Rue and Prickly Ash to improve peripheral circulation. I also prescribe the equine hoof oil preparation because of its ability to stimulate normal growth and healing, as there is commonly a problem right at the root where the nails are formed.

A simple dietary, circulation and metabolic tonic is Rosehips tea, which also contains biotin, another ingredient essential to healthy nails.


Horses hooves can be stressed due to the surfaces they are walking on, their shoes and the skill of their farriers. Their circulation can be stressed by limiting them to small stables and yards where they cannot move freely and therefore cannot pump blood up from the hoof. This pumping action works through the pressure of the pedal bone on the blood vessels in the hoof and requires plenty of movement. In the wild as grazing animals the horses would be moving about constantly as they feed, not standing in a stable feeding from a fixed receptacle. Emotional stress however seems not to play any significant part in hoof health.

Humans don't normally place physical stresses on their nails apart from those that chew or pick at them constantly. Humans certainly do affect both their metabolism and their circulation often enough through their stress handling habits.

Reynard's disease mentioned, is a particular condition where the circulation at the fingertips is restricted through the action of stress on blood vessels serving the fingertips. This restriction can be so severe that the tips even die like in cases of frostbite.

More commonly in humans, the effect of stress on their metabolic efficiency is a more important factor in fingernail health. This is where eating patterns and habits again feature in my recommendations for patients worried about the health of their fingernails.


Whether your fingernails are long or short, strong or weak, they are still made out of the same thing. Our fingernails are basically made up of a hard, curved plate of keratin. Keratin is a protein that is also a main ingredient of hair and skin. At the base of a nail is what is called the matrix (and no, we are not talking about the movie).


The matrix is where the nail forms from; this is what most people call 'the moon' of the nail. This 'moon' appearance is due to the nail bed being so tightly packed with keratin, that the capillaries (where the blood flows through) is masked by the amount of keratin. The rest of the nail that is actually attached to the skin appears pink due to the capillaries running underneath (the blood running through them gives them the pink colour). And of course if you are lucky enough to have longish nails, then the ends (called the free edge of the nail) are usually white in colour, as there is no pigment in the nail to give it colour.

Now that you know a little about the anatomy of the nail, I will begin to tell you some helpful ways to look after them.

Keep them moisturised

We use our nails all the time, but it's when they are in water, that they get the most damage. This is due to a specific type of cell in the nail bed of keratin which acts like an adhesive, holding the keratin closely together to give the nail it's hardness. However, if the nail receives repetitive soaking in water, or contact with soaps, dishwashing detergents, and household cleaners etc. it will damage these adhesive cells. So in order to combat this problem use a good moisturiser - one that absorbs really well.


Rub it in as often as you can, especially when you come into contact with water and other abrasive products. If you already suffer from brittle nails, this is a must, if you want to protect what you already have, even if it's not much (but it is a start). What you want to achieve is a seal on the surface, and on the ends of your nails, along with soft, but firm cuticles. This will also prevent dehydration of the skin on your hands, and lessen the chances of dry, cracking nails, along with dry nail beds.

Things that cause cracks & splits

Doing normal things with your nails such as picking things up, drumming them whilst thinking, scratching your itches cause cracks and splits. There are other things that cause slight trauma to the nails, and these do build up and cause nail damage.

Picking at your nails. This obviously weakens the nails, as it tends to crack or peel the top layer off the free end of the nail. So lets try not to do that one, if you find you do this under stressful times, buy a stress ball, these are also lots of fun and feel good.

Biting your nails. Well you couldn't get a more damaging habit (well maybe dipping your fingers in some kind of acid!), so I'm sure if you are a nail-biter you are already aware that this habit is destroying your nails. Again, try something like a stress ball. Or try the simple trick of placing a rubber band on your wrist, and every time you find yourself nibbling 'flick yourself'. After a while you will find this pain rather annoying, and may reduce that biting. You can also try that horrible tasting stuff that you can put on the end of you fingernails, so that every time you go to bite, you taste this bitter stuff, which is meant to be a great nail biting or nail chewing deterrent.

Picking off nail polish. Now this habit one of my favourite pasts times, I drive my friends crazy with my half chipped nail polish, while they beg me politely to just remove it with nail polish remover. But I even more politely insist that I enjoy picking it off (I guess it's my equivalent of nail biting). This is not good for your nails; it will only weaken the outer layer of the nail and peel or split the free nail.

How to improve your nails

Cut your nails after bathing. If your nails are dry and brittle, cutting them when you nails are dry can cause further cracking. So when it's time for a cut, do it when your nails are soft from bathing.

Carry an emery board with you. This is so any potential cracks can be smoothed out, preventing further damage to the nail, and reducing snapping.

If you have fragile nails, the best thing to do is to keep them short. This reduces damage, as the longer your nails are, the more they stick out and the more they are at risk of cracking and splitting.

Don't push your cuticles back, they are there to protect your nails for a reason, pushing them back can impair the health of your nails. It can also leave the base of the nail open to a potential infection.

Reduce the amount of nail polish remover used. If there is a chip, touch it up with more nail polish, rather than removing it from the whole nail. Try to keep the use of using nail polish remover down to once a week, as it is just really bad for your nails, causing them to dry and potentially split.

Keep your nails curved at the top if you like, but don't cut the edges into a curve. Squaring them at the corners will help to provide strength, along with helping to avoid the chances of an ingrown nail.

Some interesting facts about nails

Nails grow at the rate of 0.1mm per day
If you are right handed your nails will grow faster than your left hand. If you are left-handed your nails will grow faster on your left hand than your right.
Your nails can reflect the state of your health.
Light trauma such as piano playing or typing on a computer keyboard can actually stimulate the growth of your nails.


You may not realize it, but your fingernails reveal a lot about your general health. Take a look. Are your nails strong and healthy looking? Or do you see ridges or areas of unusual color or shape? Many less-than-desirable nail conditions can be avoided through proper care, but some actually indicate an illness that requires attention.

Whether you see your nails as decorative or functional, here's what you need to know to keep them in tiptop shape.


Anatomy of a fingernail


 Your nails are made up of layers of keratin — a protein that's also found in your hair and skin. Each nail is comprised of several parts, including:

Your nails grow from the area under your cuticle (matrix). As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out toward your fingertips. Nails grow at an average of one-tenth of an inch a month. The nails grow faster on your dominant hand, and they grow more in summer than in winter. Nails are also permeable, which means they let in liquids that come in contact with them.

Proper nail care


To keep your nails healthy and looking their best, treat them gently and moisturize them regularly.

If you rely on manicures to make your nails look good, keep a few things in mind. Don't have your cuticle removed — it can lead to nail infection. Also, check to be sure that your nail technician properly sterilizes all tools used during your manicure. Using unsterilized tools may transmit viral infections, such as hepatitis B or warts.


Weak fingernails can be a challenge to toughen up. If you have weak fingernails, the following tips can help you protect them, making your nails less likely to split or break.

Avoid dietary changes that supposedly strengthen nails. They won't work. Unless you're deficient in protein — rare among people in the United Statesadding protein to your diet won't strengthen your nails. Similarly, soaking your nails in gelatin won't help, either.


Reading the signs


Your fingernails hold clues to your health. Learn to recognize the signs that might indicate a health issue. But know that some nail conditions are harmless. These include vertical ridges, which tend to worsen as you get older, and white lines or spots. Spots usually result from injury to the nail plate or nail bed. In time, they'll grow out.

Other nail conditions can indicate disease. Remove your nail polish before you see your doctor — he or she may check your nails for signs of an underlying condition.

If you suspect you have a problem, talk with your doctor. He or she will likely examine you or refer you to a doctor who specializes in skin conditions (dermatologist) . The doctor's visit will include an examination of your nails along with other observations and tests to make a diagnosis

The fingernail is an important structure made of keratin that has 2 purposes. The fingernail acts as a protective plate and enhances sensation of the fingertip.

The protection function of the fingernail is commonly known, but the sensation function is equally important. The fingertip has many nerve endings in it allowing us to receive volumes of information about objects we touch. The nail acts as a counterforce to the fingertip providing even more sensory input when an object is touched.

Nail Growth
Nails grow all the time, but their rate of growth slows down with age and poor circulation. Fingernails grow faster than toenails at a rate of 3mm per month. It takes 6 months for a nail to grow from the root to the free edge. Toenails grow about 1 mm per month and take 12-18 months to be completely replaced.

Nail Structure
The structure we know of as the nail is divided into six specific parts - the root, nail bed, nail plate, eponychium (cuticle), perionychium, and hyponychium.

Each of these structures has a specific function, and if disrupted can result in an abnormal appearing fingernail.

Nail Root
The root of the fingernail is also known as the germinal matrix. This portion of the nail is actually beneath the skin behind the fingernail and extends several millimeters into the finger. The fingernail root produces most of the volume of the nail and the nail bed. This portion of the nail does not have any melanocytes, or melanin producing

Nail Plate
The nail plate is the actual fingernail, made of translucent keratin. The pink appearance of the nail comes from the blood vessels underneath the nail. The underneath surface of the nail plate has grooves along the length of the nail that help anchor it to the nail bed.

The cuticle of the fingernail is also called the eponychium. The cuticle is situated between the skin of the finger and the nail plate fusing these structures together and providing a waterproof barrier.

The perioncyhium is the skin that overlies the nail plate on its sides. It is also known as the paronychial edge. The perionychium is the site of hangnails, ingrown nails, and an infection of the skin called paronychia.

The hyponychium is the area between the nail plate and the fingertip. It is the junction between the free edge of the nail and the skin of the fingertip, also providing a waterproof barrier.