Published May 29, 2020 Let’s talk about nail health – specifically, vertical lines or ridges that run across the entirety of your fingernails. So many people have these ridges, yet there’s no one explanation that experts can agree on other than the fact that they occur with aging. So what do they really mean? If you haven’t read the introduction post of this series that explains how our nails reflect the state of our health, start here. Within that post, I talk about how our tongue, eyes, skin, nails, and so much more speak to us by displaying gradual physical changes. For example, both the eyes and nails represent the liver according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Western Medicine acknowledges that certain eye changes (such as yellowing) are a sign of liver trouble (jaundice), but fail to examine slower, more subtle nail changes through the same lens. This is where my love for ancient wisdom comes in! When you’re aware of the signs your body is sending (and what they mean), you can catch these changes early on and implement simple nutritional/lifestyle strategies to get your body back into balance. With that being said, I want to start with the same disclaimer I provide on my tongue posts: this does not mean anything is “wrong” with you and is not meant to diagnose or treat disease. My goal is to give you a picture of where you may be prone to imbalance, which allows you to make tailored changes to your daily health regimen (such as drinking specific teas, supporting liver detoxification or adding in a targeted nutritional supplement). WHAT DO VERTICAL RIDGES ON FINGERNAILS MEAN ABOUT YOUR HEALTH? Vertical lines on the nails are extremely common, and often seen as a normal sign of aging. But what happens if you start seeing these changes when you’re young? Is there something deeper going on? My personal thought process here is that as you age, the efficiency of your blood circulation (especially peripheral circulation to the hands and feet) decreases. This means far less nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the nail, causing the loss of a smooth, hydrated surface (perhaps combined with increased brittleness). If this is happening before your time, the answer may be quite simple: let’s increase the amount of nutrients you’re taking in, let’s support digestion so those nutrients can actually be absorbed, and let’s improve circulation so those nutrients can get to the nail where they belong! VERTICAL RIDGES + POOR DIGESTION/CIRCULATION I want to begin by looking at this from a traditional medicine perspective. In the eyes of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), vertical ridges on the nails may indicate malabsorption of nutrients from food (which most likely stems from poor digestion). As nails receive less and less nutrition, they may become pale and ridged. Young or old, you want your “digestive fire” to be strong so that you can extract every ounce of nutritional goodness from your food. Furthermore, you also want your circulation to be strong so that your blood can bring nutrients to every nook and cranny of your body. The reason why circulation is decreased or digestion is depressed can be a very complex topic and is usually different for everyone. Thyroid issues, gut dysbiosis, zinc deficiency, low stomach acid and heavy metals can all create an internal environment where nutrients are not processed properly. Very mild lines that are hard to see without the proper light shows a very mild case of malabsorption. The deeper the lines, however, the stronger the deficiency. The very first step needed to correct this imbalance from a TCM standpoint is the daily intake of ginger tea. Eating or drinking ginger stokes your digestive fire/”Spleen Qi” and improves the absorption and assimilation of all essential nutrients in the body. Many people suffer from nutrient deficiencies despite eating the healthiest of diets because of an unhealthy digestive tract – especially a damaged gut that cannot properly absorb nutrients. Ginger helps improve gut health and balance gut bacteria, which are needed to break down your food*. If you are someone who runs extremely hot and gets agitated/heated when drinking ginger tea, try licorice root tea as an equally healing substitute. Licorice root is a mucilaginous herb that can soothe, heal, and ‘seal’ the gut by providing moisture, nutrients and inflammation control. If your nails are signaling malabsorption, this may simply stem from your intestines being irritated, dry, or inflamed. Licorice root tea can soothe and calm your intestines so that you are able to absorb the nutrients from your food. (Do not use licorice root, however, if you have hypertension! It is contraindicated for this condition). I would also include plenty of healthy, healing fats in your diet such as ghee to nourish and lubricate your digestive tract. If circulation is more of a concern for you than digestion, try one of my favorite herbs: Ginkgo Biloba. Ginkgo enhances overall health by improving circulation and oxygen metabolism , by preventing cell damage by free radicals , and by reducing blood clotting. Because of this, fresh ginkgo leaf is one the best treatments known to the herbal world for inadequate blood flow caused by weakened blood vessels or impaired circulation. VERTICAL RIDGES + ZINC DEFICIENCY Another course of action I would take to improve vertical ridges due to poor digestion/malabsorption would be cutting out inflammatory/allergenic substances from the diet, such as dairy and/or gluten. (Reacting to gluten in the first place is already a sign of zinc deficiency, as I talk about in this post). On top of this, read up on zinc deficiency, which can drastically lower stomach acid production. This means you’re not properly breaking down your food – especially protein. In my last post about white spots on nails, I talked about a study that completely reversed leukonychia with zinc and amino acid supplementation. I personally take 50-100mg of zinc picolinate daily for gut and hormone health, as zinc is shown to tighten up the junctions in the gut in Crohn’s Disease. It’s one of my favorites for a leaky gut protocol and it’s often the fastest way to get your digestion improving! VERTICAL RIDGES + ANEMIA Since we’re talking about malabsorption of nutrients, I want to end by discussing a crucial mineral that so many women around the world are deficient in. In fact, my own deficiency went undiagnosed for years until a functional medicine doctor ordered a full panel and saw my saturation percentage was low. You can read about that story here! Iron deficiency (known as anemia) can be another cause of vertical ridges or pale nails. If you also experience hair shedding, this is for you! When you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t produce the hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen for the growth and repair of cells in your body, including the cells that stimulate healthy hair (and nail) growth. If you have the symptoms of anemia, it’s wise to ask your doctor to order a complete panel (that includes TIBC, serum iron, and transferrin saturation) just to be sure. If you do turn out to be low, I have a post about the top 3 iron-rich herbs that you can include as daily teas. If you find yourself supplementing iron without much improvement, it may be sequestered by fungal pathogens such as candida like I mentioned earlier in this post. In that case, talk to your practitioner about a supplement called apolactoferrin, which can prevent candida from eating your iron (and break candida’s famous biofilms that makes it hard to kill). A 30 to 60 day anti-fungal protocol should be implemented as well if an overgrowth is present.