Nail Makeup and Health Issues
Brittle nails are called onychorrhexis. Nails of the finger and toe are made up of layers of protein. Onychorrhexis, separates or breaks down the protein which leads to brittle nails. There are many health factors that are attributable to brittle nails, such as anemia, thyroid disease, illnesses, nail infections, vitamin and mineral deficiency, surgery, excessive manicuring, or exposure to chemicals.
Brittle Nails – A Symptom of Menopause
Women who are experiencing perimenopause or who are postmenopausal, may have brittle nails due to decreased estrogen levels. Estrogen is a key component of a reproductive hormone in a woman’s body, which regulates the body’s water composition. When estrogen levels drop, a woman’s body becomes dehydrated, which naturally affects the fingernails and toenails. Nails with a low water content, become weak and are prone to splitting and breaking.
Estrogen and Brittle Nails
The hormonal changes that women go through during menopause, are responsible for turning beautiful, well-manicured fingernails and toenails into an unsightly brittle picture. Nails grow from their roots, known as the lunula, which is the white semicircle area of the nail. Fingernails and toenails are formed from a protein called “keratin.” Estrogen plays a vital role in regulating water retention for a woman’s entire body. Therefore, the typically lower estrogen levels that are experienced throughout menopause, can throw off the finely tuned moisture balance and protein cell structure of the nails.
Characteristics of Brittle Nails
Dry, brittle nails is a common symptom of menopause, experienced by all change of life women, whether they are affected by the other uncomfortable symptoms or not. Since dehydration is a common aging problem, it is important for menopausal women to keep body tissues hydrated with water, because estrogen levels have decreased the water needed to keep the body working normally. For women, prior to menopausal age, and who have always had healthy nails, they may not recognize, the signs of unhealthy nails. Characteristics of brittle nails include:
- Dry, rigid feeling
- Breaking, splitting, chipping
- Nails appear sunken, not plump
- Nails curl around the finger tip
- Color changes, especially yellowish tints
Brittle Nail Remedies
All is not lost, there are home remedies and lifestyle changes that can save menopausal nails. Some tips include:
- Protect The Hands: Keep hands and nails moisturized. Use hand lotion that contains lanolin or alpha-hydroxy, and massage nails and cuticles. Wear rubber gloves to protect hands and nails, especially when your hands have to be in water quite a bit or when using harsh chemicals and detergents.Raised ridges on the nails.
- File Nails: Brittle nails will continue to grow and they must be filed down. The use of an emery board is healthier than a metal file. To reduce a nail’s discoloration, use a white vinegar, water mixture and soak. File in one direction only to protect the nails.
- Nail Polish: Nail polish lays a layer of protection that can strengthen nails, especially if the polish contains lanolin or keratin.
- Water: Replenish the skin and nails by drinking lots of water daily to hydrate the body.
A balanced diet is a champion of healthy nails, even if they are weakened in menopausal women. Add foods or supplements that contain vitamin C, protein, folic acid, and calcium to your daily diet. Also include fish, like tuna, herring, mackerel, and salmon that are rich in omega 6 fatty acids. Dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese are high calcium which are a bone and protein builders. Eating more lush green vegetables to improve nails because they are highly rich in vitamin E. In addition to vitamins, taking certain minerals like magnesium, which is found in varied nuts, soy, whole grains, seaweed, legumes, fruits, seeds and some vegetables, can improve nails and other menopausal symptoms.
The use of certain herbs in either tea form or in supplemental form, have been proven to give brittle nails a fighting chance. Herbs like “horsetail,” can fortify nail layers because it is a natural source of silicon. Nettle and comfrey can also help with brittle nails because they too are high in silicon. Flaxseed oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids that improve overall health, as well as nails. The oil goes a long way in healing nail splitting, drying, and cracking. Other herbs that help to heal brittle nails are green tea, reishi mushrooms, milk thistle, tea tree oil, and cat’s claw.
Essential Natural Oils
Natural oils are a great food to treat dry, brittle nails due to the lack of estrogen in menopausal women. Coconut oil is loaded with amazing antioxidants that control and fight free radicals. Argan oil with a little lemon juice, moisturizes, strengthens, and protects our nails. Soaking for 15 minutes, using both oils, can help brittle nails come back to life.
Use the Tiered Approach
Brittle nails, as a menopause symptom, can be treated by using a tiered approach. First, menopausal women must make some lifestyle changes, then use alternative treatments, and if acute, then medications. Understanding that the “change of life,” cycle is the underlying cause of brittle nails and addressing these changes, will give women back their supple hands and healthy nails.