Your nails are an outward show of your inner health, and they may display malnutrition or signs of disease, such as heart disease or diabetes. Nails are important as they protect and support the tissues of your fingers. Dry nails can indicate a few different problems and may suggest a diet lacking in certain nutrients.
While washing too many dishes can lead to dry nails, so can a diet lacking in certain nutrients, such as protein, vitamin A, iron and calcium.
About Your Nails
The nail is made up of laminated layers of protein called keratin, according to the Mayo Clinic. They grow from the area at the base of the nail. From under the cuticles, new cells grow and old cells become hard and compact, forming your visible nail.
A healthy nail is smooth, uniform in color and consistent and doesn't have ridges, grooves, spots or discoloration. Vertical ridges are harmless and may become more pronounced with age.
Read more: Causes of Vertical Ridges on Fingernails
Signs of Unhealthy Nails
Dry, brittle nails may just be a sign of aging, according to MedlinePlus, but could also indicate underlying health conditions:
Brittle nails or the separation of a nail from the nail bed, a condition called onycholysis, may be caused by thyroid diseases such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Dry, brittle nails that split vertically may be inherited or caused by exposure to household cleaning solutions or other harsh chemicals.
Nail psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that's characterized by raw, scaly skin and causes the nail plate to dry and crumble.
Malnutrition or vitamin deficiency can lead to unhealthy nails from a lack of moisture.
Nutrition and Your Nails
The state of your nutrition affects your fingernails and surrounding tissues. And nails grow rapidly, making them easy to measure for growth rate, which may be impacted by certain health conditions. A change in the nails could provide information on nutritional deficiency states, according to WebMD.
Read more: Factors That Affect Nail Growth
Changes in the nails thought to be associated with nutrition include transverse, longitudinal ridging; brittleness; and spoon nails, a condition indicated by very soft nails that are concave or scooped-out in appearance as the name suggests. Nutrients associated with a change in the look of nails are vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, fluorine, protein and unsaturated fats.
Although nails are composed mostly of keratin, a type of protein, the way the tissue is formed suggests that nail development also involves cholesterol, various metals and at least 11 other nutrients.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Brittle Nails
Dry, brittle nails that peel and break could indicate a deficiency in calcium, vitamin A, protein and iron, suggests the Nestle Family website. Biotin, most commonly associated with nail health, is often used to treat brittle nails. Minerals such as zinc, selenium and silicon are also good for nails.
Biotin-rich food sources include egg yolks, yeast, nuts and soybeans. Milk and dairy products are great sources for protein, calcium and zinc. Lean meats, fish and poultry provide protein, iron and zinc, as do legumes. Vitamin A-rich foods include green, leafy vegetables and yellow or orange vegetables.
Other Potential Health Issues
Nails can reveal a lot about a person, so contact your doctor to determine whether the reason for your nail problems is an underlying health issue before you start taking any vitamin supplements.
In the meantime, healthy eating and overall good nutrition will help you grow healthier nails. Drinking plenty of water will help keep them hydrated as well.
Read more: What Makes Nails Grow Long, Strong & Fast?