Nails are important for many reasons, including aesthetic appeal. They can also serve as important barometers offering clues to a person’s overall health. Indeed, conditions as seemingly benign as increased nail thickness, horizontal white lines in the nails, or nail concavity (spooning) may be an indication of a variety of problems (eg, anemia, endocarditis, connective tissue disorders) (Fawcett 2004). Common nail complaints include brittle, dry nails and infection with a variety of pathogens.
Aging can cause slowed nail growth as well as brittle, dull, or yellowish nails. Other significant causes of nail abnormalities include environmental factors (eg, exposure to chemicals, polishes, or harsh detergents; prolonged water exposure; reaction to adhesives used in artificial nails; use of certain medications) and injury or trauma (eg, striking fingers with a hammer, closing fingers in doors, stubbing a toe, wearing ill-fitted footwear, biting nails habitually).
In many cases, treating nail disorders is frustrating for physicians and patients alike. Nail disorders such as fungal infections are difficult to treat, and healing is slow. Worse yet, a few of the common prescription medications used to treat nail disorders have potentially significant side effects, especially liver damage. Natural agents, such as vitamin E, shown to support strong nails may offer the same benefits as prescription drugs, without the risk of serious side effects. If a nail condition is caused by underlying disease (eg, diabetes), seek treatment for that condition immediately.