Written by April Reinhardt (last updated February 22, 2019)
As with your hair, fingernails are made up of long fibers of the protein keratin. Fingernails serve as protection for our fingertips, as well as help in picking up objects – much the same way as claws of animals help them grab objects. The hard keratin protein makes our nails hard and resistant to breaks.
Your nails' ability to grow is largely hereditary. If Grandma or Mom had brittle, cracked, broken, chipped, or dry nails, chances are you will, too. Not to worry – there are ways that you can protect and strengthen your nails:
If you find that your fingernails often break, split, or crack even after taking precautionary measures, then there may be underlying health issues to address:
Poor nutrition can affect the condition of your fingernails. Contrary to popular opinion, ingesting gelatin – while it does contain a little protein – will not strengthen your nails. You can meet your protein needs by eating meat, fish, beans, or chicken. Thyroid disease can cause dry and brittle nails, as do anemia and iron deficiency. Eat a variety of green, leafy vegetables, or take an iron supplement to introduce more iron into your system. Have your doctor order a blood TSH thyroid panel to check your thyroid levels. Nail ridges are indicative of severe stress and lack of iron. While you can buff your nails to get rid of the ridges, it is best to determine the cause of the ridges and correct your diet or take prescribed medication.
Nail fungus and infections can cause your nails to break. In both instances, seek medical treatment if you suspect that you have either. A sure sign of nail fungus or infection is a change in nail color and/or texture, peeling or cracking nails, and chronic breakage. Nail fungus infections, if left untreated, can cause serious problems if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system.
Find out why your fingernails break and address those concerns, and then protect them against outside elements. Doing so will ensure that you have good looking nails and, more importantly, healthy nails that won't break.
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