What are your nails telling you? A look into digestive health and nutrient status


One of my goals as a practitioner is to give my clients the tools to recognize the little signs of what needs attention in the body before full-blown disease or life-disrupting symptoms takes over. 

One of the best parts of the body to pay attention to is your nail. Here's why:

  1. They grow relatively quickly, which allows us to get a more time-sensitive glimpse into the biochemistry of the body. Each new millimeter of growth brings a report of your internal health. You can literally see a timeline on your nails - the most recent report shows up closer to the nail bed. As you move towards the free edge of the nail, you can see farther into your history of health.
  2. Nails are made of protein (keratin) and their growth is influenced by minerals & vitamins. Nail growth is orchestrated by the thyroid, the metabolic control center of the body. Several minerals and vitamins are required for the thyroid to work properly and for keratin to be produced (think iron, zinc, calcium, copper, B vitamins...). When nails are not growing well it typically hints to an issue with protein and/or mineral status. 

    But it's not always the amount of protein or minerals you are consuming (though that is the first thing to consider). More often, it is our ability to ABSORB protein and minerals into the body. Consuming ≠ absorbing.

    Ultimately, nail health can really tell us about our digestive health & mineral/vitamin status. When digestion is impaired, we don't absorb the protein and minerals needed for nails to grow properly - or for us to feel well in the first place. Nail health is a symptom. 

nail symptoms and considerations

  • Brittle, peeling, easily-breaking nails 
    • Digestion + protein, calcium, zinc & iron status
  • White spots (other than from damage) 
    • Zinc
  • Pale nail bed 
    • Anemia or low iron status
  • Spooning nails 
    • Iron status, zinc, B vitamins
  • Pitting on nail bed 
    • Digestion + protein, calcium, zinc & iron status
  • Pronounced vertical ridging 
    • Digestion + protein, calcium, zinc & iron status
  • Yellow-tint (other than from nail polish) 
    • Immune status & gut health
  • Fungal infection
    • Immune status & gut health
  • Absence of the moon at the nail bed 
    • Iron & protein status 

Of course, this is a general over-view and a great starting point. Once you're aware that your nails are showing some of these signs, the next step is to look at how your body is working as a system. I work with clients to systematically address digestion, immunity, gut health, thyroid and adrenal health - all of which influence each other and need to be addressed for long-lasting wellness. 

Jen Unruh