While the thickness and strength of nails are largely hereditary, there is much that can be done to naturally improve the condition of your nails, optimizing their durability, look and longevity.
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Reflection of Health
Strong nails are healthy nails. The condition of your nails broadly reflects the state of your physical health. Your nails, like the rest of your body, depend on sufficient supplies of protein, minerals and vitamins to function. When your body does not receive enough of these nutrients or does not utilize them properly, it is reflected in the condition of your nails. Establishing and maintaining strong, healthy, natural nails, then, relies on the consistent intake of proper nutrition via your diet and/or vitamin and mineral supplements.
Eating Your Way to Optimal Nail Strength
Seek to improve the state of your nails, including their strength, first by consistently consuming a varied and nutritious diet of fresh, minimally processed foods. Vegetables and whole grains are particularly beneficial for strong, healthy nails. Note that whole grains differ greatly from refined grains, which, in the milling process, are depleted of their nutrient-packed outer layers (called the bran) and germ.
Foods for Nail Health
In addition, integrate the following into your daily diet to optimize your nail health:
Essential fatty acids moisturize the nail bed, increasing the suppleness of thin, brittle nails. (Fatty acids are found in omega fatty acids from fish oil, flax seed oil, evening primrose oil and borage seed oil.)
Phosphorus-rich foods, such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and whole grains, aid in the growth, maintenance and repair of all tissues and cells, and hardens nails.
Protein is important. Your nails, composed mainly of the protein hard keratin, are continually forming and pushing forth from the matrix--the hidden base of the nail, tucked beneath the cuticle. Aid the process by consuming tissue-building sources of protein found in eggs, milk, cheese, poultry and seafood.
Silica is a trace mineral that helps the body utilize calcium properly and improves the strength of nails. Whole grains, such as wheat, barley, oats and millet, are excellent sources of silica. Natural silica is found in horsetail, nettle and oat straw, which can be consumed as herbal tea preparations.
Finally, sulfur-rich foods, which help in the formation of keratin, include eggs, garlic, fish (good for its stores of omega fatty acids) and lean beef.
Vitamins for Greater Nail Strength
Several vitamins are notable for their support of strong, healthy nails, so seek these out in the foods you eat or as supplements. Vitamin A helps the body process protein, needed to sustain the nail bed and ward off hangnails. A lack of vitamin B may cause ridges and fragile nails. Biotin (also known as vitamin B7) is notable for its treatment of weak, split-prone nails, a condition known as onychoschizia. Persistent hangnails usually indicate an inadequate intake of vitamin C, folic acid and protein. Finally, vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which improves the strength and growth of nails.
Minerals for Greater Nail Strength
Several minerals are notable for their support of strong, healthy nails, so seek these out in the foods you eat or as supplements. Calcium is needed to prevent dry, brittle nails, and is especially beneficial for nail growth. (Make sure that you are also getting adequate amounts of the mineral magnesium, which is needed for your body to utilize calcium.)
Include iron. A deficiency of iron can result in thin, ridged and discolored (either pale or darkened) nails. A whitish, crescent shape appearing at the base of the nail may also be the result of iron deficiency. Additionally, zinc supports your body’s utilization of enzymes and minerals, and increases the strength of the nails.