Some people believe that a vitamin or mineral deficiency can cause white spots on nails. However, according to the National Health Service, most white spots on nails aren't related to your nutrient consumption. These marks are usually harmless, and they often occur because of everyday activities or from minor injuries.
White Spots on Fingernails
Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Christine Poblete-Lopez explains that distinct white spots on fingernails are known as leukonychia. A range of different things can cause white spots on nails, but vitamin deficiency isn't usually one of them.
"Calcium deficiency causing white spots on nails is the most common myth, followed by zinc deficiency. The truth is that white spots are common and harmless and don't indicate any specific vitamin deficiency at all," says Jessica Krant, MD, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City in an interview with the Huffington Post.
"Most likely,' Krant says, "they are signs of previous trauma to the nail plate (the hard part of the nail) or the matrix (the source of the nail plate, which is located underneath the cuticle under the skin). Just like folding or denting a piece of clear plastic leaves a white spot, so does pressure or trauma to the nail."
This means that a variety of minor, everyday occurrences, including your average manicure or pedicure, can cause these white marks on nails.
Although white spots on nails and vitamin deficiencies aren't usually related to one another, your nails can certainly show signs of nutritional deficiencies in many other ways. For example, if your nails are unusually soft or weak, you may be experiencing a lack of vitamin A or vitamin D.
Brittle nails, on the other hand, may be a sign of lack of calcium, iron, zinc or B-complex vitamins. If you believe you're not getting enough of a certain type of nutrient, talk to your doctor to find out the best way to resolve any deficiencies.
Leukonychia and Other Health Problems
The occasional white fleck on your nail isn't a cause for concern, but persistent white spots on fingernails, or splotches — more serious versions of leukonychia — can be related to secondary health issues. Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Christine Poblete-Lopez says that white spots on nails can be related to health issues like psoriasis or chronic kidney disease.
According to an April 2015 study in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, if you see these white spots or blotches in your nail bed or emerging as your nail plate grows, it's more likely to be a sign of a serious, systemic health issue.
Whitened blotches or spots in your nails that don't start around the nail bed or emerge from the nail bed can also be associated with other health conditions. However, these are less likely to be serious — but they may be associated with infections from fungus, yeast or mold.
White marks on nails should not be confused with nail pitting, which are depressions or indented spots on the surface of the nails. According to the Mayo Clinic, nail pitting isn't caused by vitamin deficiencies either, but it does occur in relation to other health problems.
Pitting typically occurs in people who have immune system issues, including autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata, pemphigus vulgaris or lupus, or inflammatory diseases like sarcoidosis, arthritis or dermatomyositis. However, pitting can also occur in relation to a range of other problems, including connective tissue disorders like Reiter's syndrome, syphilis and psoriasis.
Other White Marks on Nails
While white spots on nails aren't likely to be related to vitamin or other nutrient deficiencies, white lines or ridges might be. Nutrient deficiencies can cause horizontal ridges or lines on your fingernails. Zinc, calcium, folic acid, iron or protein deficiencies can all affect your nails and create lines in them.
Zinc and calcium deficiencies may both create opaque or white lines known as transverse leukonychia, which run horizontally across your nail. Malnutrition or low protein levels can create parallel white lines called Muehrcke's lines. These lines often occur in roughly the same position in various different nails.
However, these lines can also be caused by a variety of other health issues, such as kidney or liver problems or chemotherapeutic drugs. They resemble Mees lines, which are single or multiple white lines on the nails that are related to poisoning, cancers, tuberculosis, malaria and a wide range of other causes.
Iron deficiencies can cause onychorrhexis, a variety of vertical ridges or grooves that may appear colorless or an opaque white color. Lack of B-complex vitamins may cause colorless ridges to form in your nails or cause fingernail discoloration (ranging from transverse leukonychia to changes in nail pigmentation).
Nutrients and Mostly White Nails
Other types of nutrient imbalances can cause different types of white marks on nails or even completely whitened nails. For example, a lack of selenium has been known to cause completely white fingernails. Such issues can often be easily resolved by eating more foods with selenium or taking selenium supplements.
People who are malnourished or who have health problems that prevent their bodies from proper nutrient uptake may experience Terry's nails, a type of leukonychia that makes the nail appear almost entirely white except for a narrow pink or light brown band at the nail's tip. However, Terry's nails can also occur for a variety of other reasons, including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, kidney failure, adult-onset diabetes, HIV or just as a natural part of aging.
There is also a condition called Lindsay nails, sometimes known as half-and-half nails, in which the nails are part white and part pink or brown. Although these resemble Terry's nails, these mostly white nails are typically caused by kidney disease or related issues.
- Beacon Medical Group NHS: "Muehrcke’s Lines"
- NHS: "Nail Problems"
- Cleveland Clinic: "6 Things Your Nails Say About Your Health"
- Huffington Post: "15 Things You Never Knew About Your Nails"
- Indian Dermatology Online Journal: "Nail as a Window of Systemic Diseases"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fingernails: Possible Problems"
- Indian Journal of Dermatology Venereology and Leprology: "Nails in Nutritional Deficiencies."