Ridges in Your Nails Point to Larger Health Problems

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Ridges in your nails are more than just a cosmetic problem; they can also be signs of disease. Nail ridges are actually like front-line indicators for disease development and progression.

According to Dr. Rhett Drugge, editor-in-chief of The Electronic Textbook of Dermatology, low thyroid and B12 deficiency are two big reasons for unsightly nail ridges.1

Low Thyroid Leads to Ugly Nails

Thyroid hormone is like your metabolic throttle. Without it, your metabolism comes to a screeching halt. Low thyroid can affect everything from your head to your toes … literally.

Horizontal lines and brittle nails may indicate that you need a thyroid work-up. Low thyroid also makes tearing nails very easy, which isn’t uncommon at all for thyroid patients.

Think you need your thyroid checked? See your doctor for laboratory testing. We suggest testing for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and the two forms of thyroid hormone – T4 and T3. Make sure your doctor checks the following: total T4, free T4, and free T3.

Some good, thyroid supporting nutrients include: tyrosine, iodine, magnesium, and trace minerals such as copper and manganese. However, some people prefer supplementing with glandular thyroid products. Glandular products are made from raw animal tissue that’s dried and ground into a fine powder.

These glandular thyroid products contain trace amounts of thyroid hormones, and many health care providers believe they can be used safely to support optimal thyroid function.

Warning Signs of a B12 Deficiency

Ridges in your nails can also be warning signs of a vitamin B12 problem. Diet, age, and drugs are all common culprits behind a B12 deficiency. Since meat is the primary source of vitamin B12 for most of us, strict vegetarians are at a higher risk for a B12 deficiency.

However, a diet that includes meat doesn't necessarily guarantee that you won't be B12 deficient. Some elderly people, for example, eat large amounts of meat but are still B12 deficient because they don't have enough intrinsic factor — a protein that’s necessary for B12 absorption.

Also, many older Americans are prescribed proton-pump inhibitors, like omeprazole (Prilosec), for heartburn and reflux disease, which inhibit B12 absorption. So, if you’re taking a proton-pump-inhibitor, definitely consult with your doctor about supplementing with vitamin B12.

If you decide to supplement with B12, we suggest using methylcobalamin, which is the active form of the vitamin. The best way to take methylcobalamin is sublingually (under the tongue), and the average dose is usually between 1 and 5 mg a day.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Nail Care

We’ve gone over the common causes and steps for addressing unsightly nail ridges, but what else can you do to help promote strong and healthy nails? Here are 4 simple, yet powerful, tips to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t share your nail file
  2. Wear the right shoe size
  3. Don’t go barefoot
  4. Hydrate your cuticles with oils, like oil of oregano


Do you have any additional tips or questions? Please share them in the comments!

References

  1. Drugge, Rhett MD. The Electronic Textbook of Dermatology. New York: Internet Dermatological Society. Web. Copyright 2005–2010 Internet Dermatological Society. Accessed July 20, 2011.

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34 comments:

Mary E said...

I like this article because I can relate because I am a thyroid sufferer. However, I would like to ask that you not only advise what tests to get ,but that ppl seek a very qualified Dr. to interpret those and one who will listen to the patients symptoms. Many times ppl go un-diagnosed simply because most Dr's and Endo's included ,,rely heavily on the TSH test only ,and not the rest of the right tests and most importantly to the patients symptoms.
Thank you,sincerely Mary Estalote

Life Extension said...

Mary, you bring up a great point. Without a knowledgeable doctor to help you, the labs won't do any good. Fortunately, we have a comprehensive list of innovative doctors that can help you with the labs.

Open the link, enter your zip and our system generates a list of doctors nearest you! Hope this helps.

http://www.lef.org/Health-Wellness/InnovativeDoctors/

Linda Montigel said...

I have hypothytroid, we increased my Naturethroid, and additional T-3. Then my tests showed my thyroid was too low, so
my dr said we had to DECREASE the dosage, and then I became more tired and lost a the outer part of by eyebrows again. I felt better on the higher dosage. My skin is horribly dry, nails, ridged and weak, so clinically, it seems the other dosage was better. My Dr. who is holistic, says I know too much, and to just trust him with this. What do you suggest? and why would med have to be decreased if thyroid numbers were too low????? Should I supplement with something in addtion to what I am taking?
I also have CFS.

Life Extension said...

Hi Linda. Sorry to hear about what you're going through...and you're not alone. We suggest a second opinion. Here's a list of innovative doctors you can search...http://www.lef.org/Health-Wellness/InnovativeDoctors/

Gina said...

Great article, thanks. I'd also like to add one additional possibility to your list of reasons why someone might have ridges on their nails. Particularly if it's just one nail. I had deep ridges on my left thumbnail for a few years and couldn't figure it out. I wondered whether it was diet, a deficiency, or even a fungus, and tried all kinds of remedies. One day I became aware of a habitual, unconscious tic: I was rubbing at my thumb's cuticle with my forefinger. Until this was pointed out to me, I was completely unaware that I was doing it. I began monitoring that habit, stopped it, and now my problem thumbnail is as smooth as all the others. Strange what we do without being aware sometimes!

Anonymous said...

Hi. My nails are pretty ridged but vertically, not horizontally. I have been trying to figure out what this indicates.

Bloogle said...

I have horizontal depressions (as compared to ridges) that go straight down the middle of my thumb nails. I believe they were caused by using my thumbs to text on a cell phone, (the kind that has the phone keypad under the display). It's been two years since I got a new phone to replace the old one and I still have the depressions, and they're still coming out of the tops of my nails. Any suggestions or ideas?
Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

I complained to my doc about perpetually gaining weight, regardless of my efforts. It is important to point out that I adhere to a healthy diet and walk 2 miles a day, 3-4 days a week. He tested my thyroid and found that my metabolism was very low.

Asking how I could build my metabolism, my doc said, "You cannot raise your metabolism... your low metabolism is part of the aging process." Driving home, I reasoned that none of my same-aged friends had this (so called) aging process problem. After a more extensive thyroid test, another doctor told me my metabolism was an eyelash above zero. Essentially, he told me the same thing as the first doctor. I'm wondering if vitiman B12 would aid in building my metabolism?

Anonymous said...

My nails were also weak, and I kept them short because they would tear or break. Two years ago, I started snacking on raw almonds on a regular basis and within two weeks to a month I saw a measurable difference in the health of my nails. Today, they are long, so strong I can't bend them and look as though I've had a manicure to shape them even though I haven't. I'm still amazed that they are my nails I'm looking down at as I type this. I do have vertical ridges in both thumb nails but am 77 and thought this was just another age-related downgrading of my body.

Fat Reduction said...

Ridges in your nail point to larger problems. Read all about it

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Good! We're glad the almonds made a difference. :)

Dr Ray Woods said...

Thanks!!By noticing these minute factors we will be able to know whether we should consult the doctor or do a detail check up and make sure we have rectified the disease.

Stephen Knows Cancer said...

I just wanted to say thank you sharing this information! Now, I know that pitted, discolored nails could be a sign of some form of psoriasis, but is this at all related? I noticed that you hadn't mentioned it in your post, so I was curious.

LifeExtension said...

Stephen Knows Cancer - Autoimmune thyroid disease and psoriasis are related. Thanks for reading!

dustin bradford said...

My nail are really strong im a 34 year old male and ive noticed that there so strong that its hard to trim them not taking any meds for them can anyone tell me why there getting so bone strong thanks for ur help

LifeExtension said...

dustin bradford - There could be many reasons for this- good nutrition being one. Here's a nice link that provides helpful tips and information: http://ow.ly/jfUmT

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem. Hypothyroidism for16years . I was gold i am a very very slow burner .Will it ever get better ??? Also never have gotten back the eyebrows that I lost . Also nails have terrible ridges in finger nails.can any of these get back to normal???

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - If your thyroid is controlled properly, then yes, it's possible that your nails improve. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this article - I have been looking for information on fingernail diagnoses. Just a comment on your suggested use of oregano oil for moisturizing. Technically speaking, oils do not 'moisturize' unless they are applied to damp skin. Oils lubricate. Creams and emulsions moisturize due to their water content. I hope you were not referring to the essential oil of Origano as essential oils are alcohol based and would therefore dry the skin out at best. At worst continued application of a neat essential oil could burn the skin. Best that they are diluted appropriately into a vegetable carrier oil.

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - You bring up some very good points! Thanks for chiming in.

Robert in Orlando said...

Thanks for sharing the information! My girlfriend is always keeping an eye on my cuticles, and she has always said its important. Sounds like she has a very good point.

LifeExtension said...

Robert in Orlando - Our pleasure! Our nails do say a lot about our health.

David Pender said...

Both of my big toe nails have gotten very thick from the edge without a toe next to it to about one third the way over. At that point they are thickest (3/16" to 1/4") and there is a large rise (not really a ridge) making them "V" shaped on the surface. Any ideas? They both used to be of even thickness and smooth.

Life Extension said...

David Pender - Thickened toenails may be due to different reasons (poor-fitting shoes, fungal infections, or just aging). Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Someone else asked this but it wasn't answered, so I'll ask the same question again.
I have LONG-WISE raised ridges on most of my finger nails. They go continually from the cuticle through the whites to the tips of the nails. In a way, they look like pinwale corduroy. If I buff the ridges down, I soon develop splits that catch on everything so I end up cutting them very short.
What nutritional deficiency is causing this type of ridge?

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Raised ridges may signal an iron deficiency. Overall, for healthy nails make sure you're also getting enough protein, biotin, and zinc.

judy said...

Ok, still not answered, as ive read entire article & answers. VERTICAL lines on top of nails, not raised??? Any idea as i too have this on pinky & ring finger. Yes, i also have hypothyroidism but take what Life extentions offeres for thsi..so i wonder still???

Life Extension said...

judy -Vertical ridges could be due to aging or health conditions like hypothyroidism. It's also linked to using strong soap and nail polish remover. A key nutrient that may help is biotin. Also, you may want to check if thyroid levels are properly controlled.

judy said...

Thank you for your reply, however, i must say, i am still not satisfied w/ that answer. As a very long Life Extension member & one who not only knows but believes that age factors are merely that...as their is pretty much a cure for everything age related except a stale mind. I would really appreciate it if you can take the time and ask someone w/in your extensive field of information advisers you have access to there @ L E, then perhaps get back to this board. Would that be possible or does one have to call in? Because if what you have replied here is true, then the IDORAL that L E offers..well it does not work for the thyroid!!!

Life Extension said...

judy- First, we would like to thank you for your continual support. We appreciate your long-standing membership. Unfortunately, we can't diagnose any medical problems. We can only provide nutritional suggestions and health-related information. Vertical ridges may signal brittle nails. If this is your case, then a nutrient-regimen geared towards supporting nail strength may be warranted. Top nutrient choices include biotin, protein, and silicon. Regarding Iodoral, it may not be appropriate for certain ndividuals with hypothyroidism to take this product. In certain cases high doses of iodine may aggravate existing thyroid symptoms, especially in cases of autoimmune origin. Feel free to follow up with our health advisors as they can provide additional suggestions. Also, take a look at our nail protocol for more information: http://bit.ly/1a30udu

Eyebrow Bar said...

Very informative and nice design. I really like your posts and your style.

Life Extension said...

Eyebrow Bar - Thanks!

Jackie Strickland said...

I STILL NEED THE ANSWER…. PLEASE TELL MY WHAT COULD BE CAUSING ME TO HAVE DEEP RIDGES ON THE TOP FRONT PART OF MY SKULL?? I BEGAN NOTICING THIS. PROBLEM ABOUT A MONTH AGO…. THANK YOU

Life Extension said...

Jackie Strickland - You may want to visit a doctor. Unfortunately, we can't diagnose any medical problems. Here is a link to an article which discusses your concern: http://bit.ly/1qOFQF6

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