There has always been a common misconception about nails and what they actually do. Why do human beings need nails on their hands and feet? I’d wager that most people have no idea why and before you say it, it's not just for painting them!
Firstly, let us go through what nails are. A fingernail is produced by living skin cells in the finger. A fingernail consists of several parts including the nail plate (the visible part of the nail), the nail bed (the skin beneath the nail plate), the cuticle (the tissue that overlaps the plate and rims the base of the nail), the nail folds (the skin folds that frame and support the nail on three sides), the lunula (the whitish half-moon at the base of the nail) and the matrix (the hidden part of the nail unit under the cuticle) .
Fingernails grow from the matrix. The nails are composed largely of keratin, a hardened protein (that is also in skin and hair). As new cells grow in the matrix, the older cells are pushed out, compacted and take on the familiar flattened, hardened form of the fingernail .
So now that we know what they are and how they are composed, why do we have them? "We have fingernails because we're primates," said John Hawks, a biological anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fingernails are one of the features that distinguish primates, including humans, from other mammals. They are essentially flattened forms of claws .
Scientists suspect primates sort of lost their claws and fashioned broad fingertips topped with nails to aid in locomotion. While claws would have provided excellent grip as our mammalian ancestors clambered up large tree trunks, they would have been a nuisance for larger-bodied primates trying to grasp smaller branches while scrambling across tree canopies for fruits. Rather, primates developed broader fingertips made for grasping .
About 2.5 million years ago, fossil evidence suggests early humans first picked up stone tools, which is about the same time our ancestors also developed even broader fingertips than earlier primates. To this day, humans sport broader fingertips than other primates . Whether fingernails are an adaptation that helps to support broad fingertips or a side effect from the loss of claws is unclear, Hawks said .
The chief function of a fingernail is likely protection. Nails have no nerve endings, which is helpful, considering they're constantly in contact with our environment. It's argued that they evolved to be so tough in order to protect us from trauma both minor and major. Horse hooves, similarly, have no nerve endings, allowing us to "shoe" them the way we do. We don't put our nails through that kind of punishment, but think how many more broken thumbs there would be in the world if the "shield" of a thumbnail wasn't there to absorb the blow of a hammer ?
What we do know is that they are certainly a part of evolution and that whilst they serve little purpose now, they can be used to let us know about certain aspects of our health. It is well practiced that examining the tongue, eyes and nails can give good indications of one's health and clues as to what maybe wrong with them. Let us for the remainder of this blog focus on nail health and what it can tell us.
“The nail matrix, the site of nail growth that hides a few millimeters underneath the cuticle, is affected by each individual's general state of health,” says Jessica Weiser, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group. “Illness, fever, surgery, trauma, life stressors, and nutritional deficiencies all have different effects on the nails and their growth. ”
Here are some common nail symptoms and what they can mean for your health :
Biting your nails is also another way to get infection into your nails and fingers. If you bite off too big a piece, you can expose the delicate skin beneath your nail, leaving it exposed to any bacteria or pathogens in your mouth—and there are plenty of them. One of the most common forms of infection is called paronychia, and it can cause swelling, redness, pain, and pus-filled lumps. That infection can stick around for weeks at a time, shows a study in the journal American Family Physician. Biting your cuticles—the narrow crescents of skin that rim the bottom of your nail, is the most common cause of paronychia .
Of course, the easiest way to have healthy nails is to live a clean, balanced lifestyle. By doing this, having a positive outlook on life and staying active, you can ensure that your nails will remain in good condition. Where the issue presents for some people (particularly ladies) is when there are no health issues but their nails need to be a little more firmer or stronger. In this scenario there are certain supplements and foods that can help with your nail health.
Consuming protein rich foods such as nuts, beans and fish can help with your nail health. The building blocks of protein are amino acids. When protein is eaten, your digestive processes break it down into amino acids, which pass into the blood and are carried throughout the body. Your cells can then select the amino acids they need for the construction of new body tissue, antibodies, hormones, enzymes, and blood cells .
There are 22 different amino acids, each of which has its own characteristics, and are like the letters of the alphabet. The eight essential amino acids are like the vowels. Just as you cannot make words without vowels, so you cannot build proteins without these essential amino acids. Protein is not one substance, but literally tens of thousands of different substances. The essential amino acids must be consumed in the diet because the body does not make them .
By consuming a diet rich in protein, you will not only remain fuller for longer, but the building blocks inside of the proteins will help with your nail health as well as other processes in your body such as boosting the immune system, muscle growth and as mentioned above, satiety.
Supplements such as biotin, vitamin E and fish oils are also great for nail (and hair) health. Biotin is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin. B-complex vitamins help the body convert food into fuel to produce energy, and are needed for the nervous system to function properly. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, B-complex vitamins are also needed for healthy hair, skin, eyes, and liver. Biotin is needed by the body to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids, the building blocks for protein. Hair Loss Evolution has great tips for biotin and hair loss .
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the biotin requirement is likely to increase during pregnancy. "Research suggests a substantial number of women develop marginal or subclinical biotin deficiency during normal pregnancy." Biotin appears to be broken down more rapidly douring pregnancy, and subclinical biotin deficiency has been linked to birth defects such as teratogenesis (abnormal development of the embryo or fetus). Most prenatal supplements will have an increased amount of supplemental biotin for this reason. The appearance of longer, stronger nails during pregnancy and the increased amounts of biotin in prenatal vitamins may be another reason biotin is thought of as a supplement that improves nails .
Cooked liver is a rich source of biotin, with a 3 oz serving providing 27-35 mcg of biotin, approximately 100% RDV for adults. Another one of the best sources of biotin is found in egg yolks. One egg yolk can provide anywhere from 13-25 mcg of biotin, or roughly one third of an adult's daily requirement. Eating three egg yolks would provide 100% RDV of biotin. Remember to cook your eggs, as uncooked egg whites can actually interfere with biotin absorption .
Vitamin E, in a topical liquid form, can help correct certain nail-growth disorders and problems, including yellow nail. In this condition, nail growth takes on a yellowish, thickened appearance. In addition to topical treatment, oral vitamin E supplements have also been effective at treating this condition. Yellowed, thickened nails can also be a symptom of a fungal infection. As an antioxidant, vitamin E destroys free radicals that damage hair and nails. Ultimately, this damage contributes to an aged appearance. By protecting the hair and nails from damage, both topically and through oral supplementation, vitamin E protects healthy growth .
Fish oil contains an essential fatty acid called Omega-3, which most Americans are extremely deficient in. Omega-3 fatty acids nourish your hair follicles for stronger, shinier hair that grows faster, and your nails will also become stronger and less brittle. Take at least 3000 mg of high-quality fish oil per day .
Note that you should only be supplementing for a short period of time (3 months) and should be making sensible diet and lifestyle choices that will help with the overall health of your nails and your whole body. Long-term supplementation is not the answer to nail health, as supplements are wonderful, but long term they can cause more harm than good.
If you feel you require support with your nail health or require general guidance on nutritional support and how to live a balanced lifestyle please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website by going to www.urbanplatehealth.com