Brittle nails that chip and break easily can be a source of frustration and even embarrassment, especially when they accompany other physical developments associated with age and hormonal changes. While brittle nails can be an irritating symptom to endure, there are a myriad of vitamins and minerals that can help prevent and treat them. Fortunately, the more you understand the symptoms and causes of this condition, whether due to a menopausal hormonal imbalance or other factors, the more easily you will find the best treatment options to restore your nails to their former good health and appearance.
What are Brittle Nails?
Brittle nails most often develop when there is some sort of imbalance in body chemistry. In contrast to a healthy nail that remains smooth and strong as it grows out at a consistent rate and shape, brittle nails lack enough when your keratin production is low, your nails grow less and break easily. This lack of keratin causes uneven nail growth and a rougher internal and surface texture, which in turn damages the basic structural integrity of the nail during its entire growth period. Unlike nails that may become merely chipped or a bit prone to dryness after exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals and purely environmental factors, brittle nails tend to be malformed and moisture-deficient from the very start as they grow from the root under the skin, known as the lunula or white half-moon, near the cuticle nail base.
Characteristics of Brittle Nails
Brittle nails tend to crack, peel and break far too easily and often as compared to healthy nails. They are frequently marked by uneven ridges, can look discolored, may give the appearance of being “sunken” into the skin, and may also be surrounded by hard cuticle that is noticeably white, broken and cracked. Their lack of keratin and moisture can also extend to their edges, causing the end of a brittle nail to curl in on itself at the fingertip.
Causes of Brittle Nails
As we get older, metabolism decreases and as a result, weight gain often occurs. Women approaching menopause go through hormone fluctuation, which can cause weight gain. It is important for women to understand what hormones cause weight gain and why.
The hormonal changes that women experience during menopause can play a key role in turning once healthy nails into extremely brittle nails. Nails grow from their roots in the white area on the nail known, also known as the lunula. The lunula is the white semicircle at the base of the nail. The nails are formed from a protein known as keratin. Since one of the main causes of brittle nails is their lack of moisture in the keratin production process, any decrease in a woman’s ability to retain water will affect her nails dramatically. Because estrogen plays such an important role in regulating water retention for a woman’s entire body, the typically lower estrogen levels experienced throughout menopause can upset the delicate moisture balance and composition of the nails.
Quite often, the stress associated with these same hormonal shifts can itself be another contributing factor towards brittle nails. Increased levels of general anxiety and specific stress-related hormones, when combined with the vitamin deficiencies directly related to common physical and mental challenges of menopause, can deny nails a steady supply of the basic nutritional building blocks they need as stress and hormones fluctuate too unpredictably for consistent nail growth.
Environmental factors, diet, illness and infection can all lead to causing or worsening brittle nails. External injury or damage, such as smashing your nail in the door, can cause the nail to split or break off. Nail polish can take off a layer of the nail, which weakens the structure. Picking at the nails or skin around it can cause the nails to become brittle. Frequent hand washing and constant exposure to water or harsh cleaning chemicals can certainly add to the risk factors associated with deteriorating nail strength. Dietary considerations play a major role as well, with deficiencies in daily hydration, Vitamin C, protein, folic acid, iron, fat and calcium all contributing to exacerbating dry and brittle nails. Medical conditions such as anemia, liver disease, poor or restricted circulation, thyroid imbalances and both viral and bacterial infections can likewise result in brittle nails, and provide a good reason to check with your medical professional to rule out more serious causes when you first notice the symptoms of brittle nails.
Managing Brittle Nails
Fortunately, there are very effective behavioral and physical steps you can take to lessen both the symptoms and the causes of brittle nails. For women who suspect that their brittle nails may be due to the changes brought about by menopause, one of the clearest and most immediate solutions would include a gentle and natural alternative remedy that helps regulate overall hormonal shifts and changing body chemistry.
Eating right and staying hydrated is essential to strong and healthy nails. Nutritional deficiencies are one of the top causes of brittle nails. Your body needs water, vitamin C, protein, iron, folic acid, calcium and fat in order to build strong nails that don’t split or break. In addition to a natural supplement to better regulate hormones, switching to a diet of fresh foods rich in vitamins, minerals, folic acid and proteins will boost keratin production and promote new, stronger nail growth from the root. Even something as simple as choosing your snacks more wisely, including eating as few as six almonds a day containing beneficial fatty acids, for instance, will visibly improve the appearance of your nails.
- Stay Hydrated – One of the most important diet changes to prevent brittle nails is to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- Eat fish – Eating coldwater fish, such as salmon, herring and mackerel can help prevent and treat brittle nails because it is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which can strengthen nails tremendously.
- Eat More Biotin – Biotin is a B Vitamin that can be found in cauliflower, walnuts, lentils, soybeans and peanuts.
- Replenishing Your Diet – Eating more calcium-rich foods, magnesium-rich foods and Vitamin E-foods, like green vegetables, nuts and almonds, are other easily adaptable diet changes to help replenish necessary electrolytes lost through perspiration.
- Add more Calcium to Your Diet – Dairy foods, especially yogurt, milk, eggs, cereals, such as Total Raisin Bran, Whole Grain Total and Total Honey Clusters, Calcium-fortified orange juice, English muffins and kale, will help prevent brittle nails
- Increase Silica in Your Diet – Eating 2-4 cups of fresh green beans and leafy vegetables, such as cucumbers and beans, are a wonderful way to treat brittle nails.
- Spicy Food – Eating spicy foods, such as garlic, onions, hot peppers and cayenne help supply your fingernails with nutrients.
Daily Lifestyle Changes
To compliment any natural remedy or supplement that helps regulate hormonal levels, a few changes in daily routine and lifestyle behavior will also greatly improve the symptoms of menopause in general and the condition of brittle nails in particular.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Brittle nails can be the result of poor digestion and can help with daily breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques. Adopting one of these stress reduction exercises can not only enhance nail growth, strength and appearance, but it can also contribute greatly to overall mental and physical health through menopause as well.
- Protect Your Nails – Taking good physical care of your hands by wearing protective gloves when cleaning and moisturizing nails with lotion will improve the cosmetic appearance of brittle nails.
- Use Hand Lotion – It is important to use hand lotion on not just your hands, but your nails, as well. Rub it in your nails and cuticles after you wash your hands or take a bath.
- Exercise – For healthy fingernails, it is crucial to maintain an exercise regime in order to bring nutrients to the nails. Whether one chooses to go to the gym, participate in yoga classes or opt for the stairs, rather than the elevator, it will make a difference in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.
- Vitamins - Since brittle nails usually results from nutritional deficiencies, it is crucial to take Vitamin C, folic avid and omega-3 acid through capsules or liquid form. Also, many people found great success by taking flaxseed oil. Taking Biotin, an over-the-counter Vitamin B supplement is taken to strengthen weak, splitting or brittle nails. It is suggested to take up to 3 mg of Biotin daily. It is also recommended to take calcium and magnesium supplements. Adults over the age of 50 should increase their calcium intake from the recommended 1,000mg a day to 1,200mg a day. The recommended daily magnesium allowance from women over 30 is 320 mg a day
- Alternative Medicine – Aromatherapy is the practice of using volatile plant oils, including essential oils, for the psychological and physical well-being of the individual. For centuries, Chinese medicine has been applied as a long standing treatment for many menopausal issues around the world. The ancient Chinese have developed some of the world’s most medicinal herbal remedies and aromatherapy oils that can help alleviate and treat individuals from disruptive symptoms. One can treat symptoms of brittle nails by soaking their nails into a warm, fragrant oil soak. An aromatherapy treatment that is recommended for brittle nails is:
1. Fill up your sink of hot water.
2. Add six drops each of lavender, sandalwood and bay essential oil.
3. Add six ounces of warm sesame oil or soy oil.
4. Let your finger nails soak for 15-20 minutes once or twice a week.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – A common herbal remedy for brittle nails is to drink a cup of horsetail or oat straw tea. Two of the most common types of herbs that can be used for preventing brittle nails are phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem, are recommended. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – For more severe cases of menopause, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.