Women's Health : Have Hands-Down Great Nails

Don't underestimate the relationship between your hair, nails and skin and your overall well being, as they share the same nutritional requirements for health. Their general look and feel alone can even reveal a lot since they react to deficiency in similar ways. If you want long and strong, natural nails, your health has to be hardy too.

Don't let your digits become a disaster. Nail disease indicates lack of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and trace elements that you ingest. Like hair, nail is made up of keratin, formed by living skin cells. Nails are more than ornamental. They protect sensitive, nerve-dense fingertips and toes, shielding them from trauma and injury.

Healthy nails are smooth and strong, combining hardness, and flexibility. Nails grow from the matrix at a rate averaging one tenth of an inch per month and are see-through and have little color.

The nail consists of:

• Nail plate - The surface you can see on your fingers and toes.
• Nail bed - The skin underneath the nail surface.
• The Matrix - The hidden area of the nail under the cuticle, responsible for growth.

Other nail parts include: The lunula, the white 'half-moon' shape at the base of the nail plate; the cuticle - The skin tissue that covers the bottom of the nail plate; and nail folds - The skin on three sides of the nail surface, providing support.

Deficiency of necessary nutrients for hair, nail and skin health, through chemical or hormonal imbalance, illness or side effects from medication, can manifest in disease. Dry nails with ridges may signal a lack of B vitamins, brittle nails often indicate a vitamin A deficiency and vertical ridges in nails may point to an iron deficiency. If nails split and crack, it may mean the stomach is lacking in hydrochloric acid. Hangnails may indicate a lack of protein, vitamin C or folic acid.

To keep your nails healthy, start by eating a balanced, healthy diet with adequate protein and lots of water--at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day--to prevent dry, cracked nails.

The skin and nails are constantly bathed by a tidal flow of oils and moisture and chemicals, which include just about everything we see and touch except for light and electricity. Water is a chemical too and excessive hand washing or using household cleaning solutions without protection can rob our skin and nails of vital oil and moisture, resulting in split, peeling nails. When choosing nail products stay clear of formaldehyde, toluene and D&C dyes.

Then focus on the following nail nutrients:

* Sulfur promotes nail flexibility and makes nails less vulnerable to breakage. You can find it in cabbage, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, arugula, hot peppers, egg yolks, turnips, fish and dairy products.

* Biotin has been shown to increase nail hardness and thickness. Find it in brewer's yeast, soybeans, brown rice, peanuts, eggs, fish and oats.

With the right nutrients, proper care and a few good natural products, you can grow nails that are a Perfect 10.
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