We humans use our nails for a lot of things—scratching, scraping, pricking, etc. Given those common uses, aesthetic and wellness expert Dr. Rhoda Espino explains the key functions of nails. “God gave us nails to protect us. The nail protects the nail bed, which is a very soft and sensitive part. If there are no nails and the nail beds are exposed, you will be prone to a lot of infections. It would be painful every time you touch your nail bed, unless a new, harder skin would develop—our body’s natural reaction to recuperate from say, an injury to our nail.”
The doctor, who practiced in Australia for seven years, discloses that nails are also the doctors’ ally in easily identifying their patients’ diseases. “If you go to a doctor and you’re wearing nail polish, the doctor [may sometimes request you to have it removed] no matter how beautiful or artistic it is. [In several cases, we] can diagnose a patient just from the nail itself. The color of nails can tells [us] if a patient is anemic—it’s very pale, there’s no hint of pink. We [also] press the nail, and time the return of the blood. If it takes longer than two seconds, it indicates that the patient’s blood is too thin and that most likely he is anemic.”
Dr. Espino adds that besides anemia, there are other medical conditions that can be identified by examining the nails. Dotted spaces on the nail (and, in general, cracking and splitting) can be correlated with a thyroid problem, she says.
The nails can also reflect the levels of some nutrients in our body. If the nail bed is depressed in the middle like a spoon, and is pale, chances are there is low level of iron in the blood. Spooning is also associated with hypothyroidism, and heat and liver problems. Moreover, side-to-side ridges on the nail are a giveaway sign for high fever, inflammation, acute illness, injury, skin disease, and malnutrition. Since protein is the building material of nails, slow or abnormal growth of nails also indicates deficiency of the nutrient. Nail clubbing and bluish discoloration of the nails usually indicate problems in the heart, lungs, liver, blood, gut, among others.
In addition to diseases, nails can also reflect one’s health habits and lifestyle. The formation of white spots on the nail is caused by the chemicals of the nail polish. Fungal infection on nails is a telltale sign of hygienic problems.