Oh, the human body! Sometimes I sit back in amazement at how cleverly we are designed (and how well we can adapt to almost anything that comes our way). While studying the body through an ‘alternative’ or traditional lens, I have learned (and seen in myself) that there are many external ‘clues’ that can serve as a guide to our internal health. According to one of the classic Chinese medical texts, “If something happens in the interior of the body, it must be reflected in the exterior of the body.” Traditional Chinese Medicine can tell you a lot
about your organs/meridians by looking at your tongue, which you can learn all about here
. Ayurvedic Medicine on the other hand, which originated even earlier in Ancient India, is very well known for nail assessments.
Areas of imbalance that Ayurveda looks for in the nails include bone health, malabsorption, inflammation, parasites, digestive issues, and more. I give the same disclaimer here that I give in my tongue posts: this does not mean anything is “wrong”
with you and is not meant to diagnose disease. It’s simply giving you a picture of where you may
be prone to imbalance
, and at the same time allows you to make tailored changes to your daily health regimen (such as drinking specific teas or avoiding certain food allergens that encourage inflammation).
In Ayurveda, it is said that the lunula (moon) of the nail represents one’s “agni,” or ‘fire’ in the body. If you look at your nails and notice there are no moons or extremely small moons, you may want to incorporate foods that support your digestive fire and circulation such as ginger tea
Weak digestive fire can lead to a potential build up of toxins in the system that are created when food is poorly digested, called “ama.” This buildup, which often centers in the lower bowel and colon is a common root cause for many disorders and should be the first thing you look at when treating the body as a whole. If you haven’t already, check out my article
on how to clean/strengthen the bowels and digestion!
On the other hand, if you have nice large moons on your thumb to pinky, this represents a strong, healthy fire that is capable of breaking down and absorbing the nutrients from food. Chinese Medicine believes that clearly defined lunulas should take up around one-fifth of each nail for the best sign of health, although they feel that the pinky lunula is not as important as the others and can be absent. TCM agrees with Ayurveda otherwise, teaching that people with small/absent lunulas are often bothered by “pathogenic cold” (yang deficiency) and weak immunity. Again, it is wonderful to drink ginger tea in the mornings, especially if you have symptoms of yang deficiency which can include menstrual cramps, aversion to cold, lack of circulation, poor appetite, fatigue, achy joints, cold hands and feet, poor digestion, depression, etc.
There are several other abnormalities that may show up in your nails, which can be found in the following chart. I’ll elaborate on each individually below!
1. Absence of moons
I explained this in detail above, but in summary this can be related to low immune system, poor circulation, “cold” invading the body (lack of heat and vigor), and weak digestive fire. A great way to build your ‘yang’ energy and defenses back up would be drinking hot ginger tea every morning and all throughout the day if possible (bring a thermos to work with extra from the morning batch!) You can also try out my cinnamon weight loss elixir recipe if you’re looking to add in some slimming benefits to your daily warming drinks. It’s important to never drink beverages on ice – in fact, try to keep your liquids at a warm room temperature or above! Add more soups to your diet, and use warming spices such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, and cayenne. Never eat meals while watching TV or browsing your phone. If you’re looking for even more ways to improve your digestive fire, check out the rest of my 11 unconventional tips for improved digestion here.
Ayurveda’s traditional solution to weak internal fire is to consume a small piece of fresh ginger with a few drops of lemon juice prior to eating a meal (similar to TCM’s ginger tea prescription!) This slowly and gradually awakens the flames of agni, preparing it to digest the main course. In addition to ginger, other aromatic spices that assist digestion include black and cayenne pepper; cardamom; and licorice. They are believed to make foods more digestible by “predigesting” the food during cooking—heat combines and awakens their aromatic qualities, making the nutrients easier to digest once eaten.
These spices also stimulate the secretion of saliva and digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestines, doing some of the work for us. The less work ‘agni’ needs to do while digesting food, the less fatigue one will experience after eating. It’s equally important to only eat when you are hungry – eating out of boredom will result in undigested food, diluted fire and “ama” due to poor digestion.
2. White Spots
White spots on the nails are very common, mainly due to the fact that more and more people are becoming deficient in minerals such as magnesium and zinc. An example of why I believe this is occurring is increased pollution, which contains heavy metals. Heavy metals (like cadmium) and beneficial minerals (like zinc) bind to the same receptors in the body, which means the metals can ‘kick off’ the good guys by binding in their place. You can read my article here on the widespread epidemic of magnesium deficiency – it is one of the most important articles I’ve written on this site. I don’t go a day (well, night!) without my magnesium oil, especially on days that I work out and stress my muscles.
Although magnesium deficiency is indeed a huge issue, I do feel that spots on the nails are more often a sign of missing zinc. This may be due to a poor diet, stress (which depletes both
zinc and magnesium) or could also be the result of the body not being able to absorb the zinc you’re already eating. This is often because of poor digestion, low stomach acid, inflammation in the GI tract, intake of allergenic foods, chronic loose stools, etc. Although I now take a maintenance dose of zinc that is included in my multivitamin, when I was first replenishing my levels (while working on acne/digestive issues) I consumed zinc supplements in the highly absorbable form of zinc picolinate
. If you have other symptoms of mineral deficiency that go farther than zinc alone, it may be wise to check out a broad spectrum liquid mineral supplement like “Concentrace
” that you can add to your water. I use Concentrace
sometimes when I have a headache, since I find that headaches are often triggered for me by dehydration and low electrolytes/minerals.
3. Vertical Lines/Ridges
These lines are all too common for many individuals and may indicate malabsorption of nutrients in the body. Many websites say they are normal and occur naturally with aging, however my theory here is that aging prompts them to arise is because the efficiency of blood circulation decreases with age. This means nails get less and less nutrition and may become pale and ridged. Young or old, you want your circulation to be strong so that your blood can bring nutrients to every nook and cranny of your body. The reason why circulation is decreased can be a very complex topic and is usually different for everyone. Thyroid issues, gut dysbiosis, and heavy metals can all create an internal environment where nutrients are not processed properly.
Very mild lines that are hard to see without the proper light shows a very mild case. The deeper the lines however, the stronger the deficiency. The very first step
needed to correct this imbalance (no matter the individual cause) is the daily intake of ginger tea. Eating or drinking ginger improves the absorption and assimilation of ALL essential nutrients in the body. Many people suffer from nutrient deficiencies despite eating the healthiest of diets because of an unhealthy digestive tract – especially a damaged gut that cannot properly absorb nutrients. Ginger helps improve gut health and balance gut bacteria, which are needed to break down your food. It also kills parasites and viruses (especially in tea form), which as I mentioned can be a reason why we aren’t absorbing our nutrients properly – the bugs are getting to them first and using our food to get stronger. Drinking ginger tea consistently and a parasite protocol
if you have a history of gut dysbiosis can do wonders for increasing your vitamin/mineral levels.
Other courses of action I would take with vertical ridges include cutting out inflammatory/allergenic substances from the diet, including cheese and gluten. Look for the root cause of your particular malabsorption: do you have low thyroid symptoms? Do you have any signs of leaky gut, showing up as food allergies or discomfort during digestion and undigested food in stool? Treating the body as a whole and looking for ways to strengthen your immune system (and thus your entire organism) is the best bet.
UPDATE 2018: If you are someone who runs extremely hot and gets agitated/heated when drinking ginger tea, try licorice root tea as an equally healing substitute. Licorice root is a mucilaginous herb that can soothe, heal, and ‘seal’ the gut by providing moisture, nutrients and inflammation control. If your nails are signaling malabsorption, this may simply stem from your intestines being irritated, dry, or inflamed. Licorice root tea can soothe and calm your digestive tract so that you are able to absorb the nutrients from your food. (Do not use licorice root, however, if you have hypertension! It is contraindicated for this condition). I would also include plenty of healthy, healing fats in your diet such as ghee to nourish and lubricate.
4. Horizontal Line/Transverse Groove
According to Ayurveda, a deep line that runs horizontal to the nail is an indication of a strong illness, infection or depletion that occurred during the time that specific part of the nail was growing. It’s common for this line to occur after a viral infection, heart attack, severe fever, etc. If there are multiple horizontal lines on the nail, this indicates a reoccurring issue and most likely is showing a chronic condition, so you should see an integrative or naturopathic physician just to be sure.
5. Pale Nails
Pale nails typically show a tendency towards anemia (low red blood cells/iron deficiency) in the system. This can be due to excessive blood loss (heavy menstruation or injury); an iron, folate or B12 deficiency; an ulcer, a parasitic/viral infection, certain medications (including NSAIDS), malabsorption, etc.
In TCM, pale nails is said to be caused by “blood deficiency,” which isn’t always identical to anemia but certainly can be.
Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, poor circulation, frequent bruising, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat and cognitive issues. If anemia is suspected, one can look to see if other symptoms are involved (or not); as well as the tongue and the pink under the eye (when stretched down) to see if these areas are also pale.
If anemia is suspected, check out my posts here on iron deficiency & hair loss, and the top 3 iron-rich herbs.
6. Nail Bed Inflammation/Red Cuticles
If you notice a red, puffy border along the nail fold, this is said to be a sign of parasites and/or viral infection in the system. Parasites are not just a third world country issue and have multiple causes, which you can read about in my article here
. A few common causes are traveling, low stomach acid, uncooked meats, not washing hands properly after elimination, unwashed raw food, etc. We treat parasites in our pets several times a year, but somehow don’t do the same for ourselves! You can read my free e-book about parasite cleansing here
, and why I made my very own cleanse after a parasite protocol was integral to my healing process from IBS and cystic acne.
Parasites often come into our systems when we are already compromised with some sort of viral infection, especially mono or Epstein Barr Virus. The absolute best ways to treat chronic viral issues are through a) diet, b) anti-viral herbs/supplements such as cat’s claw, lemon balm, colloidal silver, licorice root, and zinc and c) cutting out foods that feed viruses such as processed/refined sugar, gluten, sugar, factory farmed dairy/cheese, etc.