You want to sport a pair of flip-flops or sandals in style, but have to cover up your toes due to split toenails. Usually, a split toenail is due to injury or wear and tear, but can sometimes be a sign of a nutrient deficiency.
Split nails are normal and, for the most part, unavoidable. Most people experience a split toenail at some point in their life. Ensuring you eat a healthy, balanced diet containing all the vitamins you need can minimize the occurrence of splitting.
A split toenail may be due to a nutrient deficiency, but is more likely due to infection, trauma or another physical stress.
About Splitting Nails
Splitting toenails usually occur due to trauma, and the condition of your fingernails can be a better indicator of nutritional deficiencies. A paper in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal published in the March-April 2015 issue notes that fingernails are actually more accurate in their information about nutrient intake because toenails are more susceptible to injury.
Fingernails and toenails are made of keratin — the same protein that your hair is made out of. Your toenails protect the bed of your nail and healthy ones are smooth and consistently colored. Split toenails show a crack in the surface. Splits can form across the tip, can vertically split the nail into or can cross the nail horizontally.
Split toenails can be caused by many things, not just nutritional deficiencies. Injury to the toenail, such as dropping an item on your foot, wearing shoes that are too tight and squeeze against the nail bed or running or hiking downhill can injure your toenails.
If your feet are overexposed to moisture, your toenails are vulnerable to splitting. For example, if you have a job where your feet are often wet, or you run or walk in the rain, you weaken the toenails so they're more likely to split.
Many people have a habit of picking at the toenails or fingernails when under stress or when anxious. This too can weaken your nails and lead to self-inflicted splitting.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease that is characterized by the rapid build-up of skin cells. Most commonly, psoriasis causes red bumps and plaques of silvery patches on the skin, but the condition can also affect your fingernails and toenails. Up to 78 percent of people with psoriasis also have nail psoriasis, reports a paper in the July-August 2014 issue of the Indian Journal of Dermatology.
Symptoms of nail psoriasis include crumbling nails, nail pits, discoloration and the nail separating from your finger or toes, explains the American Academy of Dermatology. If you've been diagnosed with psoriasis and have these symptoms, your splitting toenails may be an extension of the skin disorder.
A nail fungus is a common cause of a compromised toenail, notes the American Academy of Dermatology. The nail changes color and may thicken or become crumbly. Toenail fungus can also cause brittle, split nails.
Splitting Nails Vitamin Deficiency
A deficiency in some B vitamins can cause a compromise in your finger and toenail quality. Although rare, deficiency of biotin, a water-soluble B vitamin, can cause susceptibility to nail fungus and infections that result in splitting nails, explains a 2014 article in Podiatry Today.
The National Institutes of Health notes that people who eat a normal, balanced diet usually don't present with a biotin deficiency. But, some pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those who have chronic alcohol exposure, could be vulnerable.
A very rare genetic disorder known as biotinidase deficiency may also make you susceptible to biotin deficiency. Biotin is present in a wide variety of foods, including organ meats, fish, meat, seafood, nuts and sweet potatoes. If you suspect you have a biotin deficiency, talk to your doctor about dietary changes and taking quality supplements to correct it.
A deficiency in vitamin B12 can also cause compromised nails, so they look brownish-gray, explains the Podiatry Today article. Vitamin B12 deficiency doesn't usually lead to toenail splitting, however.
Mineral deficiencies can also affect nail quality and lead to splitting toenails. Iron deficiency, for example, can result in brittle nails or nails with a groove in the center that are prone to splitting.
Women are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiency due to the loss of blood that occurs during the monthly menstrual cycle. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or are an endurance athlete, you may also be at greater risk.
Other symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Pale skin
- Fatigue that interferes with your ability to do regular, daily tasks
- Irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath
- Weakness and dizziness
- Pica, or cravings for unusual substances
If you suspect you have an iron deficiency, contact your doctor for evaluation and supplements. In the meantime, add more red meat, organ meat, spinach and iron-fortified cereals to your diet.
Protect Your Toenails
If your doctor suspects you have a vitamin deficiency causing splitting toenails, take the recommended supplements. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology also suggests you consider calcium, gelatin or colloidal mineral supplements to strengthen your nails. But the organization notes that research isn't conclusive on whether these dietary additions will truly help.
However, if it's more likely that trauma and lifestyle habits are causing your toenail splitting, take steps to keep your feet healthy.
Keep your nails clean and healthy; wear clean socks and shoes. Avoid putting your feet in water or wearing wet shoes or socks for long periods of time. Moisturize your nails and nail beds regularly. If you catch yourself picking at your toenails or hangnails, stop. It may take time to break the habit, but your nails will be healthier as a result.
Repeated exposure to nail polish remover during pedicures can weaken nails too. You may consider using nail polishes with nylon fibers in them to add strength to your toenails.
- Podiatry Today: "When Vitamin and Nutritional Deficiencies Cause Skin And Nail Changes"
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Brittle Splitting Nails"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Nail Fungus"
- Indian Dermatology Online Journal: "Nail as a Window of Systemic Diseases"
- MedlinePlus: "Nail Diseases"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Iron-Deficiency Anemia"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "What Is Nail Psoriasis, and How Can I Treat It?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Biotin"
- Indian Journal of Dermatology: "Nail Psoriasis: The Journey So Far"