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6 Signs Your Fingernails Are Telling You Something About Your Health

  • Published on: 04 January, 2016
  • Last update: 29 May, 2020

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.

Nail health is something I’ve paid close attention to ever since I began learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). What I love most about TCM is that it teaches you how to play a detective role in your own health by looking for key signs and signals from your body – whether that’s through your tongue, eyes, skin, or of course… your nails. (If this sounds cool to you, click on tongue and skin to learn what they mean too!)

The same way dark circles under your eyes can show that you’ve had a rough night of sleep, your body speaks in a vast number of ways.

As stated by one of the greatest Chinese medical texts, “if something happens in the interior of the body, it must be reflected in the exterior of the body.” By paying attention to subtle changes in your appearance, you can pinpoint exactly which areas of the body need work and how to support them. And no, you don’t need to be an expert to do this! You simply need to know what to look for.

UNDERSTANDING THAT NAILS = LIVER MERIDIAN

The reason I love studying the nails in particular is because in a broader sense, nails are the part of the body where the “liver” meridian is expressed (along with the eyes).

source: acuproacademy.com

When someone is experiencing jaundice (a sign of liver disease or bile duct obstruction), the whites of the eyes will alert you by turning yellow. I find it interesting that conventional medicine acknowledges this form of an exterior ‘sign’ of interior health, but has yet to embrace or even examine the many other areas that ancient medicine systems know reflect our inner terrain.

Because both the eyes and nails are connected to the liver, when the nails turn yellow, the same organ/meridian is asking for help! The condition may not be as dire as jaundice, but it is an important signal nonetheless that the liver needs support (whether due to an infection or an autoimmune disease). To read more about the cause and solution for yellow fingernails, check out another blog post from this series here.

Another reason I’m so fascinated with the liver is because it’s the number one meridian affected in Americans due to our diet and lifestyle. I’ve written before (click here) about the epidemic of a TCM pattern called “Liver Qi Stagnation,” which may explain why we tend to have so much road rage! I highly suggest reading that post so you can truly understand the huge role of the “liver” in TCM terms, which is so much different from the detoxification functions we exclusively associate with it when coming from Western anatomy. You see, in TCM theory, the “liver” meridian “stores” and distributes blood, is responsible for the smooth flow of blood, hormones, and emotions (Qi), nourishes the eyes, tendons, and nails, and controls our ability to plan and make decisions. So when the liver is stagnant due to stress, alcohol, poor diet, fried foods, drugs/stimulants, etc., we no longer experience the smooth flow of hormones or blood (hello menstrual cramps), and tend to get frustrated and angry easily as the liver governs emotions such as anger.

source: http://en.tcm-china.org

Ayurvedic Medicine, which originated even earlier than TCM in Ancient India, is also well known for nail assessments. Instead of focusing on the liver meridian, 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 (which allows you to make tailored changes to your daily health regimen, such as drinking specific teas or avoiding certain food allergens that encourage inflammation).

THE TOP 6 NAIL SIGNS & WHAT THEY MEAN FOR YOUR HEALTH

1. Absence of Moons (Lunulas)

According to Ayurvedic Medicine, the lunula represents one’s “agni” or “fire” within the body. This is right in line with Traditional Chinese Medicine, which views these lunulas as a representation of one’s “Qi,” also known as energy, metabolism, etc. Essentially, Qi and agni are the exact same thing (energy/vigor/life force), which to me is beautiful because both systems discovered the same innate energy that drives us and our bodily functions.

When you look at it this way, it can be understood that strong, white moons at the base of each nail indicate strong “Qi” or “fire”: strong digestion, solid immunity, a sharp/energetic mind, a fiery metabolism and a healthy thyroid gland. The more energetic a person is, the whiter (and more present) their moons will be. The fewer moons a person has on their nails, the more like likely they are to feel tired and suffer from poor immunity.

It’s normal for the pinky nail to have a small or absent moon, but if you find that moons are absent across most of all of your fingers, it’s a sign that you may need to support this inner fire that governs your digestion, energy and metabolism. I have so many tips to help you do this, plus a full post dedicated to expanding upon the root causes of low or absent lunulas.

You can find that post HERE, where you’ll learn how to strengthen your digestive fire, how to reduce “food stagnation” (gas/bloating and heaviness), and how to supercharge your immune system.

2. White Spots

The official term for these spots is leukonychia, derived from the Greek words leuko (“white”) and nychia (“nails”). 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, selenium, and zinc.

Many websites state that the association between white spots and zinc deficiency is merely a myth, however this 2015 study successfully treated total leukonychia (where the entire nail turns white) with zinc and amino acid supplementation. Why amino acids along with the zinc, you may ask? In my eyes it makes perfect sense: zinc deficiency leads to chronically low stomach acid. Low stomach acid means you can’t break down and extract the amino acids within the protein you eat. As your zinc levels are replenished, your HCL will increase and you can begin properly digesting protein once again.

While I knew about the zinc connection, I was shocked to learn while researching for this post that leukonychia is also heavily associated with autoimmune disorders. This interesting study found that skin diseases were the most common trigger for white spots on the nails, with 41% of subjects’ leukonychia being linked to either psoriasis (31%) or alopecia aerata (10%). This is further supported by this study, which examined a 36-year-old man with long-standing alopecia areata who also experienced pitted nails and leukonychia. They found that what was happening to his nails was the same thing that was happening to his head: parakeratosis! The manifestation may have been different, but the root mechanism was the same. This is why I believe in treating the body as a whole.

If you want to learn more about white spots, zinc deficiency, and the connection between zinc and autoimmune disease, I have a full post expanding on this topic HERE. You’ll learn all about key nutrient deficiencies implicated in autoimmunity and the best way to correct them for healthy nails and skin!

3. Vertical Lines/Ridges

Vertical lines on the nails are extremely common, and often seen as a normal sign of aging. But what happens if you start seeing these changes when you’re young? Is there something deeper going on?

My personal thought process here is that as you age, the efficiency of your blood circulation (especially peripheral circulation to the hands and feet) decreases. This means far less nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the nail, causing the loss of a smooth, hydrated surface (perhaps combined with increased brittleness). If this is happening before your time, the answer may be quite simple:

  • let’s increase the amount of nutrients you’re taking in,
  • let’s support digestion so those nutrients can actually be absorbed, and
  • let’s improve circulation so those nutrients can get to the nail where they belong.

Young or old, you want your circulation and digestion to be strong so that your blood can bring nutrients to every nook and cranny of your body. The very first step needed to correct this imbalance and strengthen your digestion from a TCM standpoint is the daily intake of ginger tea. Eating or drinking ginger stokes your digestive fire/”Spleen Qi” and improves the absorption and assimilation of all essential nutrients in the body. If circulation is your issue rather than digestion, try one of my favorite herbs: Ginkgo Biloba. It’s one of the major herbs in my new tincture blend, Brain Juice. Ginkgo enhances overall health by improving circulation and oxygen metabolism
, by preventing cell damage by free radicals
, and by reducing blood clotting. Because of this, fresh ginkgo leaf is one the best treatments known to the herbal world for inadequate blood flow caused by weakened blood vessels or impaired circulation.

If you deal with vertical lines or ridges on your nails, click HERE to read my full post on this sign and learn how to boost both digestion and circulation.

4. Pale Nails

In TCM, pale nails are said to be caused by “blood deficiency,” which isn’t always identical to anemia but certainly can be. If for any reason you become what they consider “deficient in blood,” either due to blood loss or poor red blood cell production (hello low iron and b12), the liver meridian is not able to properly regulate blood flow. This pattern of disharmony not only presents itself as pale nails, but also can include symptoms such as hair loss, dry skin, dry eyes, and brittle nails. In women, the most telltale sign would be scanty periods that feel incomplete and end too quickly.

Common causes of “blood deficiency” include:

  • Iron or B12 deficiency (anemia)
  • Restrictive diets, fad diets, or prolonged calorie restriction
  • Not eating enough for your needs or frequently skipping meals
  • Poor diet (junk food) or a lack of “blood-forming” foods in the diet (such as red meat and warming, nourishing carbohydrates such as sweet potato or pumpkin)
  • Emotional stress (worry, anxiety, overthinking)
  • Excessive physical exercise or work (the liver needs rest to build up blood reserves)
  • Blood loss (trauma, childbirth, chronic heavy menstruation
  • Excessive drinking/drug use

The good news is that “blood deficiency” is simply a pattern that practitioners look for and not a disease. Just like its most common cause (iron deficiency), it can be easily corrected with proper habits, nutrition and supplementation if necessary.

I have a ton of information detailing exactly how to correct this deficiency in my full post on the topic of pale nails. Click HERE to learn all about blood-building foods, herbs, and lifestyle habits!

5. Yellow Fingernails (with or without lifting)

Nail polish (specifically darker, richer shades) is the most common culprit when fingernails turn yellow, especially when it’s affecting the entire nail from top to bottom. Always make sure you’re using a clear base polish first to add a layer of protection between your fingernails and the colored polish. Consider taking a break from polish in general until the discoloration subsides.

If this is not the cause and you find your nails are continually getting worse even when abstaining from polish, there are two possibilities you’ll want to explore. The first is nail fungus, which is often accompanied by a progressive distortion/deterioration in nail shape and even a foul odor as the infection progresses. 

The second is nail psoriasis, which involves the nails detaching or lifting from the nail bed rather than a distortion of shape. You’ll notice a chalky white buildup right where the nail is lifting due to hyperkeratosis (an overproduction of keratin, most likely prompted by the underlying inflammation present in autoimmune disorders). There will also be pain present when the nail is lifting due to psoriasis, which doesn’t usually happen in the case of nail fungus.

If you’re experiencing yellow fingernails, click HERE to read my full post and learn how to tell the difference between fungus and psoriasis (plus how to treat each condition and protect your nails!)

6. Horizontal Ridges or Grooves

These horizontal lines or ridges are called “Beau’s lines,” named after the French physician Joseph Honoré Simon Beau who first described and researched these grooves in 1846.

The most common causes of Beau’s lines vary greatly and can include:

  • direct injury to the nail matrix
  • inflammatory/autoimmune conditions that can affect the nails such as psoriasis
  • infection in or around the nail plate
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • illnesses that are accompanies by high fever (this is sort of the ‘mark’ it can leave behind)
  • metabolic conditions
  • certain drugs (especially chemotherapy)
  • diminished blood flow to the fingers (often seen in those with Raynaud’s)

Unfortunately, Beau’s lines are among the least specific nail signs one can encounter, and may be caused by any disease severe enough to disrupt normal nail synthesis. When the body is battling a difficult ailment, it presses “pause” on bodily functions that are not necessary for healing or survival – including nail growth!

However, there are still some clues you can look at to pinpoint the cause, for example: the width of the line is usually a good indicator of the given ailment’s duration. Likewise, measuring the distance from the line to where the nail bed begins can give you an approximate time frame of when the ailment or insult may have occurred. Fingernails take about 6 months to regrow completely, so if you see a Beau’s line halfway up the nail it means that the problem occurred about 3 months ago.

To learn all about the nutritional deficiencies and ailments that can contribute to Beau’s lines, click HERE to read my full article on these horizontal grooves.

I hope you found this article helpful! Thank you so much for reading and feel free to leave any questions below in the comments. 

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114 Comments

Suman

Reply
Thanks very good information I like it

Zdravka

Reply
Thank you, so good information. I am drinking ginger thea tight now🤗

Omato

Reply
Its very educating and helpful. Thank you

Poteet

Reply
I found this article most interesting and informative but one condition not mentioned is nails that split..a thin layer of the nail lifts from the bottom layers. What could cause this to happen.please email me info and thank you

Rifda

Reply
Your article is clear and simple, which i love very much❤ but I seem to be fine even though I have pale+no moon nails, is that normal?

Mrs.Deannd Dillard

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Thanks for all the information to answer a lot of our questions. Greatly appreciate the detailed photos for a visual as well. Great job! I will continue to be a follower.

Ann

Reply
I have deep ridged nails and found this very helpful. Thank you

Michelle Lawrence

Reply
is the ginger tea best made with the fresh root or dried? Thanks

Rae Mares

Reply

I changed my diet and I just saw your thing on nails and I just noticed I don’t have
the ridges on my nails anymore! I am going to start on the ginger tea too!
Thanks for the info…..really helpful

Allison

Reply
Thank you for offering this information . I have been having digestive problems for quite awhile. I am going to start the ginger tea today! I have a question , what is parasite cleansing?

Dana

Reply

Hi Allison, you can read more about parasite cleansing in our free ebook found here: http://bit.ly/paraproformulaebook – Dana @ Team Organic Olivia

Shashi

Reply
Very informative.. thanks

Mary L

Reply
Very good information! Thank you for sharing it!!!!

Amanda

Reply
Thank you for this!! I’ve noticed I’ve had some ridges and my moons were getting smaller 🙁 despite taking my prenatals and extra vitamins that are plant based even . I do have genitic poor circulation and digestion since becoming pregnant. I’ll try some herbal chia tea I love because it has the cardemom ,cinnamon and ginger it should help.

Fiona

Reply
Very informative, thank you for sharing x

Hope

Reply
Thank you so much for all of the wonderful information. You hit head on!

Ash

Reply
I noticed horizontal lines each time I was pregnant. I’m surprised that wasn’t mentioned as I know of others who notice it while pregnant too.

MaryLou

Reply
Thanks. Saving this to my prepped, medical notes.

Reet

Reply
Very insightful article and thanks for sharing your knowledge with us☺

Fonda Owen

Reply
Love the clarity and simplicity of this artical. Mega Thanks!

Rebecca

Reply
Great article thank you for taking the time to put this up.:)

Lotus Flower

Reply
Extremely informative. Thank you!

Jane

Reply
Very interesting…….I will start on the ginger T

Karen

Reply
Lots of good information.

Debbi

Reply
I found this information to be very helpful and informative. The nail info fits with my medical dianosis.

Dr Tina Bauer-Goldsmith

Reply
Outstanding information!

Vivi

Reply
Thank you for sharing…^_^…. >^_^<

Diane

Reply
Some great information. My mother’s GP many yrs ago diagnosed kidney dysfunction just by looking at her nails on first visit due to her nails. And its accurate with my health issues as well. Thank you again

Manju

Reply
Very informative. Helfull read. Thanks.

Nohemi

Reply
Incredible! Finally I got the information you wanted. All what is mentioned here on nail goes with my sufferings. Interesting!

Mayra

Reply
Thank you for all the information very helpful

À. Elthakeb

Reply
Informative & interesting.

Selina

Reply
Excellent article!

Cristiana

Reply
Interesting ! Thanks for all information 😊😊😊

Peric

Reply
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Karla Tessitore

Reply
Thank you for this great, very helpful information!

Ulka

Reply
Very informative and sorted remedies ,already a follower of Ayurveda and Organic Olivia 😊🙏🏻 Thanks

mohammad ali

Reply
awesome article😊

Elianna

Reply
You are the absolute greatest. Thank you for this!

Shannon

Reply
What about flaky nails that break off and peel? Mine get to a certain length and I can literally peel layers of nail away! I’ve also noticed of late that my big toe nails snag and break rather easily. I take a women’s multi, calcium, b12, vitamin c daily.

Sharan

Reply
This’s was very informative!! Thank you for sharing!

Vijayalakshmi

Reply
Nice information

harx

Reply
Thank you fore these wake up call.

Yakachy

Reply
Awesome I love you thank you so much ❤️❤️❤️

Antonia

Reply
It explains everything, finally I found answers, thank you very much 🙂

Mary

Reply
Intresting information thank u

Judy

Reply
Very good information, thank you.

Jodi

Reply
Thanks so much great information posted. I have the ridges & Hashimotto’s. I’m definitely starting the ginger tea drinking no doubt.

Jean lyons

Reply
I found it to be a great article , keep these articles coming.

Tanya

Reply
Thank you so much! Can’t wait to try the wheatgrass! I’ve had Anemia all my life and not once has anyone suggested wheatgrass! All the best.

DebC

Reply
Great Article !! Thanks for the information

Sithobekile

Reply
thanks very much for sharing, I have learn t a lot

AJ

Reply
What would be the reason for my nail nails separating from the skin? The white part of my nails is getting to be irregular and growing into the nail, not growing because my nails are getting longer. Thank you

Abetz

Reply

Fungal infection

Mary

Reply
wow. so interesting. thank you

Mrs. D hunt

Reply
I am registered blind with very low vision but I enjoyed the article thank you very much and by the way I’m going to get a couple of the books that are suggested in here

keke

Reply
Found this article to be very informative and interesting. Thanks a million.

Lara

Reply
Thank you so much for this excellent article.

Alana

Reply
Very helpful 🙂

Colleen Clifton

Reply
Very informative, thank you.

Liz

Reply
Fabulous info that I needed, thank you

Patricia

Reply
Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

Kathleen Lentz

Reply
Thank you for explaining the reasons for vertical ridges in the nail beds.

Nadine

Reply
that totally describes what I have…………thank you

Llewelyn T

Reply
This is such good information to help me continue good self care.Thank yuou.

marcy

Reply
This was a very interesting and informative read. Thank u very much for sharing.

C.F

Reply
Thank you!

genevieve boutros

Reply
thanks for sharing the incredile knowledge

dominika nicolaides

Reply
Very interesting and explained to me why the appearance of my nails meant at thst time. Thank you

Mothusi Sedumedi

Reply
Naturopathy is our ultimate health solution

clov

Reply
thanks for sharing and now have full idea about .it….

Rabia

Reply
Very informative (y)

Chandrashekhar Latkar

Reply
Very interesting and informative article

Celeste

Reply
Thank you for sharing

ari cooper

Reply
Misspelled thanks for sharing ☺

farhi

Reply
very informative i wanted to read all stuff u post how can i keep posting stay bless

Anita

Reply
Very interesting and informative.

Valli

Reply
Very enlightening! I do have digestion problems and the no moons sign clearly helps me understand it. Hoping to solve it and the mild vertical lines too. Thank you

Sharon

Reply
Good Information!

Denise

Reply
Very interesting and informative. As a newly retired lady, I’m looking to improve my overall health and this is certainly astep in the right direction.

Lourdes

Reply
Wow! I never knew looking at your nails and making sure their in perfect condition could matter so much! I now know what my body is lacking!

Annie ains

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Yes I have been noticing my horizontal lines since last month and I am very ill . Thanks for letting us know

G

Reply
Best site ever! Thank you!

Trish Taylor

Reply
Thank you for posting this article. I will be adding to my diet a number of the foods/teas mentioned.

George

Reply
Very informative

Athena

Reply
It was very useful…Thanks

Maureen

Reply
This is wonderful information and very informative. Thanks

nikki

Reply
Very informative.. Thanks

Minto

Reply
Very vital information.

Rhonda L.

Reply
This was very informative and i will take heed.

rajesh

Reply
very helpful for me

Pualani

Reply
Thanks for all the info! Have pinned it to my Pinterest board

Anne

Reply
I found out something reading this article that is very helpful.

Leena

Reply
Thank you for sharing. Amazing and very very interesting info

Beverley Fergar

Reply
Thank you. One of the simplest and most informative – not to mention incredibly helpful – articles that I have read regarding this.

Shirley R.

Reply
This was great info, I have no moons, and have big issues, with digestion, and other Heath problems, so your article seemed right on. Thank you, sure wish doctors actually paid attention to such things. Knowledge is power, but I’m sure my doc would all but roll his eyes, if I pointed this out. I do have chronic pancreatitis, and after being so sick, on feedingube supplement over a year and weighed 72 pounds they finally removed a septic gallbladder …but still my digestive issues, are a big problem, that often takes me to the ER. Where I may add, they treat me beyond cruel. Anyways thank you for the info.

Ann

Reply
Incredibly interesting, thanks for sharing.

Daniela Pineiros

Reply
Verte complete and Informative! Thank you

Manju lal

Reply
Wonderfully educative and interesting. Needs to be shared by everyone. Thank you.

JEREMIAH

Reply
I developed ridges , faint moons, redness at base of fingernails, and horizontal creese on forehead head. after consuming lugol’s iodine. in hopes of healing adrenal fatigue. I’d like your input on how I can achieve wellness again. thx

Linda Mcfarland

Reply
very interesting

M.G desVignes

Reply
thanks. Very informative. Had known some of these when in NUrsing school many years back, but this was a great refresher!

Diane

Reply
Absolutely loved your information. Thank you so much.

Lisa

Reply
I look forward to reading book.

Jane

Reply
Thanks for the info. My doctor always looked at nails when I came in when I was little!

Ellon Peterkin

Reply
Useful info, thanks.

Linda

Reply
Thanks for the information. I don’t have half moons, as well as I have vertical ridges.

Kay

Reply
Thank you!

arlana

Reply
Very helpful information Thank you

Anne Kirkbride

Reply
I find this so interesting and look forward to using your suggestions along with reading the book

Pat

Reply
This is fantastic. I have had vertical lines forever and sometimes they are horrible then I put that to my thyroid. Will try the ginger as I love ginger anyway

Rajni Ramanee

Reply
This was quite informative … As I Hv vertical lines on my centre n ring finger . Once o had fungal infection on my ring finger .. Now ok … But I Hv brittle nails … Loose stomach … Pls guide..!

Dr Samm Pryce

Reply
Great ARTICLE!!!

Dana

Reply
Amazing!

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