|By Carole Tessier|
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to nails. These handy “picker-uppers” actually serve many important functions and can often reveal a great deal about our general health condition.
The Long & Short of Nails
Why do we have nails?
Different theories exist on why we have fingernails and toenails. Some believe they are designed to protect the delicate nail bed, while others suggest they relate to human evolution. Either way, one thing’s for sure, they’re certainly useful. Without them, there’d be no scratching, scraping, tearing or picking.
What you may not know about nails
Fingernails and toenails are produced by living skin cells and are mainly composed of keratin (a hardened protein).
Typically, nails grow about 0.1 mm per day.
• Fingernails tend to grow somewhat faster than toenails.
• Nails tend to grow faster in summer than in winter.
• Men's nails usually grow quicker than women's, except during pregnancy and old age.
• Nails on the dominant hand tend to grow faster.
What fingernails reveal
Fingernails hold clues to our health. While certain nail conditions are not dangerous, others can be a sign of disease. For instance, vertical ridges, white lines or spots are usually of no concern; however, discoloration in the nails or horizontal indentations requires attention.
Things to look for:
- White nails liver disease
- Half pink/half white nail - kidney disease
- Red nail bed - heart conditions
- Yellowing and thickening of nail and slow growth - lung disease
- Pale nail beds - anemia
- Yellowish nails with slight redness at the base - diabetes
- Fungal Infections: Often causes the end of the nail to separate from the nail bed.
- Bacterial Infections: Swelling, redness and pain of the nail skin folds.
- Tumors and Warts: Can be found near any portion of the nail. Most common benign tumors are warts.
- Psoriasis: Causes nail problems such as pitting, rippling, discoloration of the nail and reddish-brown discoloration of the skin under the nail. Also common is swelling and redness of the skin surrounding the base of the nail.
Nail Maintenance Tips
With a little basic nail care we can maintain healthy nails and avoid infections.
• Cut nails straight across and rounded slightly at the tip.
• If toenails are thick and hard to cut, soak them in warm salt water for ten minutes before trimming.
• Keep nails clean and dry to help prevent infections.
• To avoid infection, do not remove your cuticle.
• Do not pull off hangnails - clip them off.
• Avoid biting fingernails or picking at your cuticles – this can allow bacteria to set in and cause an infection.
• Avoid "digging-out" ingrown toenails.
• Routinely trim fingernails and clean under the nails.
• When moisturizing your hands, rub lotion into your nails.