Spring 2013 True Natural Health Magazine – Your Questions Answered
By Roger French
QUESTION: My fingernails began ridging quite rapidly in the last year. The ridges run along the nails and the nails have gone soft at the tips whereas they used to be strong. A doctor thinks it might be Candida albicans and has given me a fungal cream. I am wondering if keratin protein would help and where can I get it. I am aged 80. Can you help me?
Fingernails can to some degree be a barometer of overall health in that changes in their appearance can be the first signs of a health problem, such as a circulatory disease, respiratory disorder, iron deficiency anemia or thyroid problem.
Ridges can be horizontal or longitudinal. The more significant are horizontal ridges (across the nail), which can be the result of a previous injury to the nail bed, malnutrition, certain medications or diabetes. Interruptions to nail growth, by factors such as brief changes in nutritional status or slight trauma to the nail matrix, can result in horizontal ridges.
The longitudinal (or vertical) nail ridges that you have are quite common and usually don’t indicate poor health or a serious illness. In rare cases, these ridges can be associated with alopecia areata (hair falling out – an autoimmune disease), lichen planus (there is a ‘lichen-like’ appearance of affected skin or nail bed), rheumatoid arthritis or peripheral vascular disease
It can be challenging to keep fingernails and toenails healthy, especially as we get older. Because the natural moisture in our skin tends to dry up as we age, fingernails and toenails are often the first parts of the body to reflect lack of moisture. Longitudinal ridges on fingernails and/or toenails or brittleness can be a sign of moisture depletion. Sometimes the remedy is quite simple.
Because nails grow lengthwise from the cuticle, subtle vertical ridges are normal, but when the vertical ridges are quite noticeable, the first thing to do is rehydrate the fingernails both from the inside and the outside.
Make sure that you drink adequate water. This hydration should also help your hands, feet, hair, skin and your face.
For moisturising your fingernails (and toenails) from the outside, products based on oils that include Jojoba and vitamin E could be ideal. Apply the oil liberally to the nails, especially to the cuticle areas, and do this twice daily.
With diligence, you may find that the longitudinal ridges decrease and the fingernails and toenails become healthier.
The source of part of the above information is Cosmetology Today, 2008: pp. 78-83.
Now to the question of keratin. Keratin is an insoluble structural protein found in skin, hair and nails. Having plenty of it can make nails stronger and healthier. But eating edible animal skins (like pork rind!) is definitely not recommended, and, in any case, we don’t need to consume keratin in order to have keratin. All the proteins we eat are digested down to their building blocks, amino acids, and from this pool of amino acids our bodies make the thousands of different proteins that they need, including keratin. All we need to do is consume adequate protein, including the right amino acids, namely, lysine, histidine and arginine. Sources are:
Lysine. Best vegetarian sources are dried beans, particularly black beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and soya products (including tempeh), wheatgerm, cheese, eggs, quinoa, pistachio nuts, cashews and spirulina.
Histidine. Readily available in a wide variety of foods, including dairy products, soybean products, other beans, some grains including rice, wheat and rye, eggs, buckwheat, corn, mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
Arginine. Plant sources are the richer in this amino acid (in descending order): peanuts, , sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, lentils, flax seed, kidney beans, French beans, tofu, whole-wheat flour and garlic. Eggs are also rich.
In reality, the thing to do is have a healthy, balanced diet that supplies adequate (not excess) protein in wide variety, and also supplies abundant vitamin C, B-vitamins, especially B12, carotenoids, iron, zinc, folate and essential fatty acids (as in nuts and seeds). Vitamin D needs to be obtained from safe sunbathing (essentially no sunburn and build up sun exposure gradually).
What about keratin-based creams applied directly to the nails? The nail is not an impermeable barrier; in fact, it is much more permeable than the skin. One brand of nail conditioning lotion proclaims that it “is infused with a keratin-enriched formula that penetrates deeply into nails, making them at least 30 per cent stronger, so they are less likely to split, chip or crack.” This may well be true or it may not, but in any case, at the very least it is likely to be harmless.