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FAQ - Soft and weak nails

By Jenny Bodenham BA (Hons) DipION MBANT

Expert nutritionists share their frequently asked questions…

Q - "My nails are soft and weak and prone to breaking – can you advise me how to strengthen them?"

A - Protein forms the structure of all tissues including the hair, skin and nails. Nails are composed of keratin – a tough, fibrous protein - and amino acids are the vital building blocks of protein.   

Having weak, soft nails may indicate that your diet is low in protein. In which case, increasing  fish, eggs, white meats, beans and lentils may be beneficial. It may be, however, that you are not thoroughly digesting the protein that you are eating. If this is the case, you may also be experiencing other symptoms of poor protein digestion such as flatulence or burping after food. 

 Our body produces hydrochloric acid in the stomach, to break down protein, but factors such as stress, nutrient deficiencies and some medications may reduce stomach acid levels. Stomach acid production may also be reduced as we age. Hydrochloric acid can be taken as a supplement to maintain normal levels of stomach acid. Digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas also help the digestion of protein. Additional enzymes can also be taken to supplement those produced by the body and these may be of benefit if protein digestion is poor. 

MSM contains components which are present in high levels in the nails and contribute to their strength. These are also present in food but are quickly destroyed when food is cooked and supplementation may be beneficial. Additionally, B vitamins, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, zinc and silica, are essential for the health and strength of the nails. Aim to incorporate a wide variety of nutritious foods in the diet including oily fish, plenty of fresh vegetables, sea vegetables, nuts, seeds – such as sesame, pumpkin and sunflower – and wholegrains. 

Finally, hot water and harsh detergents can play havoc with nails, while acetone- based nail polish remover can cause dryness and so may be best avoided. 

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