What Your Nails Say About You
According to Eastern Medicine
What can you tell about someone from their nails? To most people in the west, you can’t tell much other than the fact that someone just got a manicure, but in Eastern medicine, a person’s nails speak volumes. Eyes might be the windows into the soul, but nails could be the windows into your health!
Healthy nails are strong and pinkish with a distinct white half moon shape at the base, but if your nails are yellow, cracked, or brittle, you may have some underlying health problems. Read on to figure out what to look for and what it means.
Your Nails and Eastern Medicine
Nails are made up of a protein called keratin, the same material that horse hives and cattle horns are made up of. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), your nails are connected to your energy levels and blood. And since energy and healthy circulation are important to your health, the nails are a good indicator of your vitality.
For practitioners of TCM, this all goes back to the liver. In TCM, the liver holds and distributes blood, which also carries hormones and Qi throughout the body. Qi is an energy force made up of the opposing forces of yin and yang. Your liver spreads this energy, along with blood, to your eyes, nails, and tendons. A healthy flow of Qi and blood is necessary to keep both your body and mind healthy.
But things like stress, alcohol, an imbalanced diet, or too much caffeine can make the liver sluggish. When the liver stagnates, it doesn’t spread these energy forces through the body as well. This disrupts the harmony and balance in your body, causing disease or other health problems. And because your nails are a part of the system, the way they look can indicate liver health and Qi imbalances.
And eastern medicine and TCM aren’t the only believers in how helpful nails can be in diagnosing health issues. In Western medicine, doctors and health care practitioners examine patients’ nails for signs of anemia, congestive heart failure, liver disease, and malnutrition, diabetes, or thyroid disease.
What Your Nails Say About You
Pale, Brittle Nails
If you have pale or brittle nails that tend to break easily, you may have what TCM practitioners call “blood deficiency.” Sometimes similar to what eastern healthcare practitioners would call anemia, blood deficiency is caused by low red blood cell production or blood loss. When this happens, the liver can’t regulate blood flow as well as it should.
This disharmony in the blood can take physical shape as pale, brittle nails, but it can also have accompanying signs like hair loss, dry skin, and dry eyes. Luckily, blood deficiency isn’t actually a disease in and of itself. It’s simply a sign that you need to encourage the flow of QI throughout your body. You can do this by improving your nutrition by taking iron, folate or B12 supplements, or by eating red or green foods. Foods like kale, chlorella and collards are all high in chlorophyll which is identical to hemoglobin found in many red foods, but with magnesium instead of iron at the center of the molecule.
Blood deficiency can be caused by:
- Low iron levels or B12 deficiency (aka anemia)
- Not having a varied diet
- Not eating enough
- Too much anxiety or stress
- Over-exerting yourself during exercise
- Blood loss from trauma or menstruation
- Too much alcohol
- Not eating enough food that is rich in iron (like red meat, spinach, dried prunes and beans)
In traditional Chinese medicine, the lunula (the white crescent-shaped arc at the base of your nail) is a strong indication of health. So people who eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and manage their stress should have clearly-defined lunulas that take up about 20% of the nail.
In TCM, the lunula is a mark of your Qi. So if you have strong Qi, your lunulas will be clearly-defined. This shows that your immune and digestive systems are strong and your body is generally healthy.The more energy you have, the whiter your lunulas will be.
If you notice you don’t have lunula on your pinkies or you only have faint ones, that’s not a cause for concern. Pinkies are so small that it’s normal not to have the white marks on them. But if you’re missing lunulas on any other nail, you might want to look into it. Your Qi levels could be low, which can affect your digestion, energy and metabolism.
If you want to increase your Qi, you can:
- Get more sleep
- Try Tai Chi, meditation or yoga to regulate your breathing
- Exercise more often
- Decrease stress levels
If your nails are flat and smooth, you’re probably pretty healthy.
But if you have deep ridges or cracks in your nails, you might be battling some underlying health problems.
Lots of people have vertical lines on their nails, especially as they get older. But if you have horizontal ridges or if you’re young and have vertical ridges, there might be something deeper going on.
Vertical ridges are caused by poor blood circulation, meaning your liver is stagnating and can’t spread Qi and energy throughout your body very well. This happens naturally as we age, but there are simple ways to remedy it. To fix vertical ridging and improve blood flow to your nails, you can:
- Consume more nutritious foods or supplement your diet with multivitamins
- Improve digestion with ginger tea
- Boost circulation with acupuncture or Ginkgo Biloba
- Have a regular eating schedule and don’t eat when you’re stressed
On the other hand, if you have horizontal lines on your nails, you could have more serious problems than sluggish digestion. These lines, also called “Beau’s lines,” can be caused by autoimmune disorders, malnutrition, thyroid problems, and serious circulation problems like Raynaud’s disease. So if you see some horizontal ridges on your nails, you might want to see a healthcare professional and get checked out.
Usually when people have yellow nails, it’s because they’re stained from nail polish. But if you haven’t painted your nails in a while and they still look more yellow than pink, your liver is crying out for help.
Yellow nails, like yellow eyes, can be a warning sign of jaundice. However, that’s not always the case. Often, it’s simply a sign that you need to pay a little more attention to your liver health. The liver is a very important organ in TCM, as it regulates and controls the flow of blood and Qi throughout your body. But it’s also connected to our eyes and our muscle tendons. In traditional Chinese medicine, your liver is also related to feelings of anger, so if you’ve been noticing increased aggression or outbursts, your liver could be struggling.
To improve your liver health and get rid of yellow nails, you can:
- Focus on low-impact exercise like walking or swimming, rather than high-impact workouts or strength training.
- Stop drinking alcohol or severely decrease your intake.
- Reduce stress and anxiety in your life. Meditation can help!
It’s important to remember that yellow nails aren’t always caused by poor liver health. It could also be the result of nail fungus. If you notice your nails are starting to deteriorate, warp, or smell funny, you could have a fungal infection.
In traditional Chinese medicine, our body, mind, and energy are all connected. As a part of this interconnected system, your nails act as a sort of thermometer to gauge what’s going on with your liver and your Qi. So from now on, pay a bit more attention to how your fingernails look. It just might help you find some balance.