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Your nails, and how to keep them strong and youthful

Nails emerge at the dorsal tips of the fingers and toes as layers of keratin, and they serve to protect the fingers and toes while also improving movement accuracy and sensing.

The nail is a translucent plate like keratinous structure made up of highly specialized cells. The nail emerges from a deep groove in the skin's dermis. The specialized cells that make up the nail's plate are present near the nail's base, and these cells are pushed forward as new cells form behind them. The nail plate is also connected to the underlying nail bed which feeds the plate with nutrients. As the cells at the front edge of the nail plate lose contact with the nail bed, they die and turn white. The primary function of the nail is to protect the tips of the toes and fingers. The front edge of the nail on the finger aids in the manipulation of small items as well as scratching.

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The aging nails

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Nails, like hair, will undergo changes as a result of ageing, certain diseases, nutritional inadequacies, or external influences such as long-term chemical or ultraviolet light exposure. The growth rate, texture, thickness, shape and contour, and color of nails can all change over time as we age. Nails grow at a slower rate as we become older. Indeed, research has found statistically significant differences in growth rates before and after the age of 40. Nails are exposed to significantly more environmental impacts as their growth rates slow since they are not renewed as quickly, and these exposures can affect the overall appearance and strength of nails over time. As people get older, nail physiology changes as the nail development plate (nail matrix) becomes thinner. Vertical ridges are likely to form along the nail as a result of this process. Nail ridging can also be caused by poor circulation or inefficient blood flow to the hands and feet. Nails also tend to become dull and brittle with ageing and the tone will often shift from translucent to yellowed and opaque. Ingrown nails may become more common as nails, particularly toenails, become hard and thick. Fingernail tips may become fragmented. Onycholysis is a condition, when the nail lifts off from the underlying nail bed, which is one of the most prevalent age-related nail alterations. Nails also lose their ability to attach to nail beds as they grow older. As a result, even minor trauma, such as vigorously cleaning under the nail with a tool, might cause the nail to lift off the nail bed. Older people often seek medical examination for what they believe is nail fungus, while they actually suffer from nail dystrophy, which causes the nail to thicken and yellow. A fungus is not necessarily responsible for every thick and yellow toenail. Gait, postural alignment, weight, and weight distribution changes are all elements that affect the feet and nails. Years of friction and rubbing within the shoes will certainly affect feet and nail physiology.

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Age-related nail conditions and their causes

Subungual bleeding is another age-related toenail problem occurring when a toe is stubbed or damaged, blood pools beneath the nail and forms a blue, violaceous patch at the nail. People who take blood thinners, like aspirin, are more likely to experience this side effect.

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Onychocryptosis (ingrown nails) and onychogryphosis (curved nails that resemble a ram's horn) are common in older people and frequently due to difficulties in physically reaching the toenails and manually handling a nail clipper. Seeing a podiatrist for regular foot and nail care becomes critical to avoid these problems and maintain healthy feet. To avoid the formation of ingrown nails, toenails should be clipped straight across rather than on a curve when being cared for. Make sure to replace the nail clipper on a regular basis, as the blades dull over time, and we often don't notice we're using a clipper that's 10 years old. It's more difficult to utilize dull instruments, especially if the toenails are thick and brittle. If a person is unable to clip his or her toenails due to physical limitations, regular podiatric care is required.

Onychorrhexis (nail ridging) that can be caused by poor circulation or inefficient blood flow to the extremities.

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Changes in nail appearance can indicate a serious medical condition

Substantial changes in nail texture can be an indication of conditions such as anemia, artery hardening (atherosclerosis), and hormone issues.

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Thickening and discoloration of nails can also indicate fungal infections that account for nearly half of all nail problems and being more common in the elderly. Onychomycosis is the medical word for a fungal infection of the nails. Because shoes create a warm, damp environment for fungus to develop, toenails are particularly sensitive. Diabetes and immune deficiency-related conditions can predispose someone to nail fungus infections. Oral or topical (applied to the nail) antifungal medicines are used to treat fungal nail infections, and they may need to be used for several months. The proper treatment will be determined by the severity of the infection and any other drugs one may be taking (to avoid drug interactions).

Changes in the shape and contour of nails can be an indication of long-term oxygen deprivation, that can be due to cardiovascular, endocrine, or gastrointestinal illnesses. Ingrown toenails are caused by pressure from too-tight shoes or foot abnormalities pushing a nail inward. A simple therapy involves soaking the foot with little pieces of cotton to help ease the ingrown nail out. In most cases, little surgery to remove a small portion of the nail is more effective at preventing future ingrowth.

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Nails can become discolored with time, turning somewhat yellowed, gray, pale, or opaque. Discoloration can also be caused by fungi. Dark stripes or ridges across the length of the nail are one sort of color alteration. Longitudinal melanonychia is the medical word for this condition. People with darker skin, such as Hispanics and African Americans, are more likely to acquire longitudinal melanonychia as they get older.

Dark ridges (the stripes are made up of the same pigment (melanin) that gives hair its color) can sometimes indicate a more serious condition. The stripe could be a melanoma, or malignant skin cancer under the nail. When it only affects one toe or finger—usually the big toe, thumb, or index finger—this is more likely. Bowen's disease, a type of skin cancer, can sometimes appear on the nail as a darker stripe. It most commonly arises on the skin of the hand. A splinter hemorrhage, or bruise beneath the nail, can also generate a black stripe. This is usually caused by slight trauma to the nail and resolves on its own in the elderly.

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Thickening of nails may be caused by psoriasis and eczema that are two skin disorders.

Diet promoting healthy nails

Meat, eggs, seafood, seeds, and nuts are some of the most common sources of biotin and vitamin B12 which are essential for nail health. Vegetarians who don’t consume a lot of nuts and seeds, might want to consider taking a biotin supplement to maintain nails in a healthy state.

Beef liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, fortified breakfast cereals, asparagus, and brussels sprouts are the top foods in terms of folate (folic acid) content. If liver and leafy greens aren't your thing, consuming folate supplements for optimal nail health can be a good idea.

Iron-fortified morning cereals, oysters, white beans and dark chocolate are the foods with the most iron, that will promote a healthy supply of oxygen to the nail bed.

Red and green bell peppers, orange juice, oranges, grapefruit juice, kiwi, and broccoli are the some of best sources of Vitamin C. All of the foods high in Vitamin C are plant-based, so if someone have trouble getting fruits and vegetables in on a daily basis, consider taking a Vitamin C supplement.

Oysters, red meat, crab, fortified breakfast cereals, and lobster are some of the best sources of zinc. While veggies like beans and seeds contain zinc, vegetarians should consider taking a zinc supplement.

Consuming adequate protein is crucial for nail health. The nails will not grow as strong if they are protein deficient. Protein can be found in a variety of foods, including lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans.

Supplements that promote healthy nails

Biotin, also known as vitamin H or B7, is water-soluble and aids the body to metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Biotin is a well-known supplement for brittle nails, and one study indicated that giving persons with brittle nails a biotin supplement for six months enhanced the total thickness of their nails by 25%.

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Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin) deficiency can result in a darkening of the nails, or even a bluish color if left untreated for too long. B12 also aids in iron absorption and ensures that red blood cells are formed properly, ensuring that blood supply to the nail beds is healthy. Because B12 is difficult to absorb, supplements frequently overestimate the amount they should take.

Folic acid (folate) aids in the formation of healthy red blood cells, which results in better oxygen and nutrient delivery to the nail beds.  Nail discoloration or ridges are known symptoms of folate deficiency.

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Iron is essential for oxygen transport by red blood cells to the extremities and nail beds for nail production. Ensure that your iron levels are sufficient to ensure that your nail beds receive enough oxygen for healthy growth. Changes in your nails, such as ridges or caving inward, may occur upon iron deficiency.

Vitamin C has many functions in the body, and it is also beneficial to the nails. Vitamin C is required for the production of collagen, which is a major component of nails. Collagen is responsible for the strength, form, and resistance to breakage of nails.

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Zinc aids in cell growth and division, so it will promote nail growth and healthy appearance. Zinc deficiency has also been connected to nail bed problems and white patches on the nails.  

Zinc is a vital mineral and nutrient that is essential for a variety of bodily functions. Zinc aids in cell growth and division, so it will promote nail growth and healthy appearance. Zinc deficiency has also been connected to nail bed problems and white patches on the nails.

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Maintaining healthy nails

Using gels or acrylic nail paint on a regular basis might cause a person's nails to peel.   The UV light that people use to dry the polish also poses a risk for the development of cancers. UV light has been linked to both skin cancer and premature aging. As a precautionary strategy, the it is recommended to apply sunscreen to the hands 20 minutes before attending a manicure salon appointment.   Take a vacation from gels and acrylic paints — or don't use them at all — to help maintain the nails strong and healthy.

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Many nail products have the potential to harm your nails. Chemicals in nail polish remover and other nail treatments may make nails more brittle.   Before applying products to the nails, be sure they don't contain hazardous compounds like formaldehyde.

Long nails. Keep the nails short and tidy. Nails that are shorter are less prone to be damaged. Long nails are more prone to breaking, chipping, cracking, or catching on anything and ripping off. Keeping the nails trimmed might help preventing breakages and keep them strong.

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Lotion should be applied frequently as this will keep the nails nourished. To assist restore moisture to the nails, one should ideally use lotion after washing their hands or removing nail varnish. Nail-strengthening lotions also exist and can be used to promote healthy growing nails.

Avoid using too much hand sanitizer. Many people frequently use hand sanitizer as a substitute for washing their hands or when they are unable to do so. Hand sanitizer often contains alcohol, which can make the hands and nails dry. Frequent use of hand sanitizer can make nails brittle and fragile. If hand sanitizer is the only alternative, avoid getting it on the nails and use only a minimal amount.

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When using cleaning products, always use gloves. Dangerous substances are frequently found in cleaning products., and even if a person does not notice any problems with their skin or nails after using a cleaning product, they can harm them.   To avoid any damage, use rubber gloves when handling cleaning materials.

Long-term frequent exposure to water can weaken the nails, making them more susceptible to breakage. Keeping hands out of the bathwater when bathing and wearing gloves when washing dishes are two ways to decrease water exposure.

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Certain medications, notably diuretics, can cause a person's nails to become dehydrated. If a person experiences thinning nails, he/she should talk to a doctor about modifying the prescriptions.

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