If you have brittle nails, you may be suffering from the most common form of anemia: iron deficiency. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 percent of all women, 50 percent of pregnant women and 3 percent of men lack the right amount of iron. Your treatment program depends upon the cause of your iron shortage.
Iron & Your Nails
Your fingernails and toenails, consisting of hardened layers of protein called keratin, serve to protect the soft tissue of your fingers and toes. The Mayo Clinic says that when you suffer from anemia caused by iron deficiency, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin--the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your system. This lack of oxygen prohibits the healthy growth of your nails.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says iron deficiency is the result of two main causes: increased need and decreased absorption. Increased need occurs in infants and toddlers, pregnant women, those experiencing blood loss due to menstruation, frequent blood donors, those suffering an injury or adults with certain stomach and intestinal ailments. Decreased intake and absorption generally stem from your dietary habits. If you're a vegetarian, heavy coffee or tea drinker, overuse antacids or over-consume milk and dairy products, you may prevent your body from getting the proper amount of iron.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health explains that beyond giving you a standard physical, your physician can conduct additional tests to determine if you have anemia stemming from iron deficiency. These tests may include a complete blood count, or CBC, a reticulocyte count, a peripheral smear, serum iron test, serum ferritin test, a transferrin level and tests to check your hormone levels. If he suspects internal bleeding, your doctor may also recommend a fecal occult blood test.
The treatment for iron deficiency is generally iron supplements and dietary adjustments, but your treatment depends upon the cause of the problem. In extreme blood loss cases, for example, a blood transfusion may be required. The National Institutes of Health, however, warns that over-consumption of iron supplements can be detrimental. It suggests that you strictly adhere to your doctor's prescribed dosages and keep all iron supplements away from children to avoid accidental overdose. To treat your brittle nails themselves, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends avoiding nail polish and treating the nails with skin softening cream--especially after bathing.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine also lists zinc deficiencies, thyroid problems and a natural effect of aging as reasons for brittle nails to develop. Before assuming that your brittle nails are a result of poor iron levels, consult your physician for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment.