Want an easy way to check the status of your thyroid and overall health?
All you need to do is look at your nails.
You might think that your nails are purely cosmetic but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Yes, the nails form a cosmetic and functional purpose, but they can also tell you a lot about what’s happening on the inside of your body.
This is for 2 reasons:
- The nails grow at a slow and consistent rate (about 3.5mm per month) so it takes 6 months for growth at the nail bed to make it to the end where it can get clipped off.
- Because the nails are considered non-essential, the body will frequently divert resources away from your nails to other parts of the body in times of stress and this process leaves signs in your nails to tell the tale. Signs like white marks, spots, pits, divots, or lines, all indicate that something happened to your body that impacted your nails.
Assuming your nails are growing normally (which isn’t always the case for thyroid patients (1), by the way), they can give you a 6-month history of your overall health.
And you can check for this just by touching and looking at them.
Nail problems are common among pretty much everyone but especially those with thyroid problems and we’ll talk about why that is in a second but, first, let’s take a look at your nails right now so you can determine if they are healthy or not.
Here’s how to do it.
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First: Take a look at their appearance
Physically look at your nails right now and ask yourself these questions:
- Are they uniform?
- Are they smooth?
- Do you see any marks?
- Are they discolored?
- Is your nailbed see-through (because it should be)?
- Do you see any pits or grooves?
A healthy nail should be smooth, see-through, without pits or grooves, and uniform in color. The color it should be is a pink fleshy color.
The good news is, if you see any marks on your nails you can actually reverse engineer when this problem occurred which will help you figure out what was happening in your life at that time.
Your nails grow over the course of 6 months so if you split your nail into 6 equal parts starting from the base to the end, you can sort of figure out how long ago the trauma occurred.
For instance, if you find a white mark in the middle of your nail, that indicates something happened to your body about 3 months ago.
If the mark is right at the end of your nail, about to be clipped off, then the problem happened about 6 months ago.
And if the problem is right at your nail bed, then the issue happened within the last month or so.
If you see problems throughout the entire nail then the problem is still ongoing.
Second: Check the integrity and strength of your nails
You can do this simply by pushing back on your nail to see how much it flexes.
A healthy nail should have very little give and should be quite rigid, even when pressure is applied.
The longer your nail, the more it will flex, so some flexing is definitely normal. But it shouldn’t give with only minor pressure and it should feel like it pushes back even if it’s longer.
If you find that your nail flexes very easily, feels brittle, or even looks like it’s going to crack when you press against it, then you have a problem.
If your nails failed the appearance or strength tests then your next step is to figure out what’s going on.
The chances are pretty high if you have a thyroid problem, any problem with your nails is most likely related to your thyroid.
That’s because of the connection between thyroid function and nail health, which we will discuss in just a second.
But first, here are the most commonly found nail problems in both thyroid conditions…
In hypothyroidism roughly (2):
- 70% of patients experience fragile nails
- 48% experience slow growth
- 40% experience thinning
- And 38% experience onycholysis (which is nail separation at the base)
Other less common conditions found in hypothyroidism include leukonychia (white spots), striped nails, and pitting.
In hyperthyroidism roughly (3):
- 100% of patients experience koilonychia (which is depression of the nail in the center with flaring of the nails on the side)
- 83% experience softening of the nail
- 29% experience onycholysis (which, again, is nail separation)
- And 10% experience brittle nails
Even though these are the most common types of nail problems found in thyroid patients, they are still susceptible to many other nail-related issues as well.
This is because of that thyroid-nail connection I mentioned previously.
Your thyroid regulates your nail health by:
- Impacting the absorption of nutrients that your nail needs to grow.
- Causing changes to your body temperature which impacts blood flow to the nail bed thereby slowing down growth and nutrient flow.
- Directly impacting keratinocytes which are found in the nail bed.
And for all of these reasons, even if you don’t have the nail conditions I mentioned above, you are still at increased risk for OTHER nail problems.
And these other nail problems may be more common than the specific hypothyroid nail problems I just mentioned.
As a result, thyroid patients should also be on the lookout for these nail problems:
White spots (also called leukonychia):
These are white spots or marks that appear usually in the middle of the nail (4) and they don’t do not make it all the way across the nail.
They are incredibly common and sometimes seem to appear in otherwise healthy people causing a lot of confusion regarding what causes them.
Based on research, it’s clear that they have multiple causes including trauma, nutrient deficiencies (especially calcium and zinc), inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and fungal infection.
There’s probably also a genetic component to these spots so don’t get too hung up on their cause if you can’t find one.
As a thyroid patient, you will be more prone to developing these because of the impact thyroid hormone has on the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
White lines (also called Mee’s lines):
These are white lines or bands that appear across the entire nail and are usually caused by serious medical conditions like kidney failure or heavy metal poisoning.
They aren’t that common in thyroid patients but because they can be confused with leukonychia, I’ve included them here.
Pits in the nails:
Nail pitting is seen in around 1% of thyroid patients and is usually caused by psoriasis, eczema, or joint inflammation (5).
Pitting of the nails is not usually caused directly by the thyroid but there is a connection between psoriasis and hypothyroidism which means that thyroid patients are at increased risk for this nail problem as well.
Brittle nail syndrome:
Brittle nail syndrome affects about 20% of people (women 2x more than men) and results in horizontal ridges in the nails as well as splitting of the nails.
Roughly 90% of patients with thyroid problems report issues with their nails and because the exact cause of brittle nail syndrome isn’t known, it’s possible that the thyroid plays a role.
Nails can sometimes experience vertical lines that run from the base to the tip and these are often completely normal.
There are some conditions that result in pathogenic vertical lines, but very small vertical ridges are usually nothing to worry about.
Horizontal lines, on the other hand, often indicate a problem.
These lines, referred to as beau’s lines, indicate an illness, injury to the nail, or some other skin condition that is impacting nail growth.
No matter what type of nail problem you have, there are a few things you can do to make your healthier.
Step #1. Make sure you avoid trauma.
Trauma can come in the obvious form of slamming your finger in a door but it can also come in the not-so-obvious form of frequent hand-washing, the use of chemicals, and even manicures.
These can all disturb the keratin cross-linking found in your nail which weakens the nail, causes brittleness, and makes it susceptible to splitting.
This is the most obvious and easiest first step.
Step #2. Make sure you optimize thyroid function.
If you have a thyroid problem then you must address thyroid function!
This sounds obvious but it’s missed by many thyroid patients because most of them are walking around with sub-par thyroid function without realizing it.
A quick and easy way to tell if your thyroid is optimized is by the presence or absence of thyroid symptoms.
If you do, then that’s a pretty clear sign you need to adjust your thyroid medication.
Taking the right dose of thyroid medication will increase the rate at which your nails grow and can improve the quality of the nails quickly.
Oftentimes, just taking thyroid medication is not enough which is why we have the next steps.
Step #3. Take a multivitamin.
There’s no question that many nutrients are involved in the regulation and health of your nails but it can be very difficult to figure out which one is causing the problem.
Taking a multivitamin will help bring all vitamins, nutrients, and minerals at least up to an acceptable level that should allow your nails to grow.
It will probably also provide some benefit to your thyroid, by the way!
Step #4. Reduce your intake of excess calcium or take vitamin K2.
Some people report that taking calcium increases the strength of the nails.
Given that the nails contain a small amount of calcium, this may make sense.
On the other hand, some people have also reported that excess calcium results in white spots on their nails.
So there’s definitely a balance that must be maintained.
One easy way to balance calcium levels is not by adjusting your calcium intake but by taking vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 is critical for thyroid patients because it helps direct the very important calcium in your body to the places it needs to be (like your bones and teeth) and away from the places it shouldn’t be (like your arterial walls).
If you find persistent white spots on your nails to be a problem and you suspect that calcium may be involved, then taking vitamin K2 is a potential option.
Step #5. Take collagen peptides.
One of the easiest ways to improve your nail health is with the use of collagen peptides.
One study showed that taking 2.5 grams of VERISOL (a bioactive collagen peptide blend) in patients with brittle nail syndrome increased nail growth by 12% and decreased the frequency of broken nails by 42% (7).
Additionally, after 24 weeks, 64% saw a global improvement in brittle nails and 80% agreed that the appearance of their nails improved and were satisfied with the treatment.
Collagen works by stimulating the keratinocytes which upregulates the production of proteins that provide strength, integrity, and hydration to the nail.
Because of this mechanism of action, collagen will most likely provide some benefit to just about anyone, regardless of what type of nail problem they have.
Step #6. Take silicon.
Another great nail supplement for just about any nail problem is silicon.
This is because silicon is found in high concentrations in the nail and a deficiency has been shown to cause soft and brittle nails (8).
There’s a debate about whether or not silicon is essential which is why most people aren’t aware of it but one thing is for sure:
Most people who take it in supplement form do see improvement in their hair, skin, and nails.
I personally take silicon every day because of its impact on arteries and there’s no question that my hair and nails grow like crazy as a result.
Your mileage may vary, but it’s worth looking into if you are struggling with nail problems.
For best results, use monomethylsilanetriol at 10-20 mg each day as your source of silicon.
If the health of your nails is important to you then you’ll probably also be interested in your hair and skin health as well.
In that case, I’d recommend checking out this article next which outlines one of the best ingredients to improve all 3.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you suffering from nail-related problems?
Do you feel your thyroid is at least partially responsible?
Are you planning on making any changes to try and fix the problem?
Leave your questions or comments below!