Nail Health:

What Your Nails Tell You About Your Blood Circulation and Overall Health Status

By Dr. Ben Kim
DrBenKim.com

It takes about 6 months for the average adult to grow a complete fingernail. In contrast, it takes about 18 months to grow a complete toenail.

There are plenty of reasons why your toenails grow at a slower clip than your fingernails do, the main one being that your toenails are further away from your heart, and therefore receive less overall and quality blood supply - I mentioned this earlier in a post on how to promote good blood circulation in your legs and feet.

Your nails actually serve a number of helpful functions, the most obvious ones being:

  1. The ability to work with small objects, like when you're peeling an orange, tying or untying a knot, or working at removing a sliver from your skin.
  2. The ability to get a sense of an object's weight and texture; when your fingers or toes touch an object, sensory receptors in your nails register a change in resistance, and the degree of change in resistance is what gives your brain an idea of the weight and texture of the object that you are touching.

Your nails also provide a quick look at your overall health status. A simple test that I do during every comprehensive patient evaluation is the capillary refill test, performed by pressing down on a person's fingernail, maintaining this pressure until blood circulation is compromised enough to turn the nail white, and then releasing the nail and observing the length of time that's required for the nail to fill up with blood and turn a healthy pink again.

If blood circulation is reasonably strong, a person's nail should turn pink within 2 seconds or less. If blood circulation is compromised, capillary refill time increases.

If several nails are yellow, hard, and curved, this may be indicative of significant lung disease or congestion within the lymphatic system.

Brittle, spoon-shaped or ridged nails may be a sign of anemia that is caused by being deficient in iron.

Black splinter-like lesions may indicate heart or lung disease.

Nails that appear to be lifting off or separating from the nail bed is often a sign of a hyperactive thyroid gland.

Weak and brittle nails in the hands and feet may simply be a sign of malnutrition - my experience has been that this is common among strict vegans who don't get enough healthy fat, healthy protein, and certain minerals from their diet.

Why You Shouldn't Chew on Your Nails

One final note about your nails: it's best to avoid the habit of biting on your nails or cuticles - doing so can transfer bacteria from your mouth to the rich supply of blood that exists under your nails.

This is more dangerous than you'd think, since the lack of fatty tissue between your nails and the underlying bones (phalanges) makes these bones quite susceptible to getting infected.

The fatty, subcutaneous layer of tissue that exists under your skin throughout most of the rest of your body provides a layer of protection against bone infections by common bacteria like streptococci and staphylococci.

For this reason, if your work requires handling of raw meat, it's best that you wear gloves while you work to reduce the risk of infection.

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