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Brittle Nails & Iron

By Lisa F. Wilson

Brittle fingernails occur in 20 percent of people, and if you're a women, you have a greater chance of developing them, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. Nails that tend to split, peel and break easily may be caused by excessive exposure to water and chemicals, or by medical conditions, skin diseases or poor diet. The National Institutes of Health list iron deficiency as a cause of brittle nails, and as a nutritional supplement to help combat the condition. However, you should see your doctor to rule out medical causes of brittle nails.

Iron Deficiency Causes

Brittle nails are one symptom of iron deficiency, according to the National Institutes of Health. This deficiency may occur for several reasons. For instance, your body may not be receiving an adequate amount of iron-rich foods. Or, your body may not be able to absorb iron, or it may lose more blood cells and iron than the body can sufficiently replace. Also, if you have heavy or long menstrual periods, the excessive bleeding can deplete iron from the body. In addition, long-term use of aspirin, ibuprofen or medicines taken for arthritis also depletes iron stores. (Ref 2)

Iron-Rich Foods

If your brittle nails are caused by an iron deficiency, consuming iron-rich foods can help to reverse this problem. The foods with the highest iron content include dried fruits and beans, eggs, liver, iron-fortified cereals, beef and other lean red meats, poultry, oysters, salmon, tuna and whole grains. The University of Maryland Medical Center also states that lamb, pork and shellfish contain adequate amounts of iron. However, UMM notes that iron obtained from vegetables, fruits, and grains are harder for your body to absorb. (Ref 3)

Iron Supplements

Iron supplements are an alternative to combat brittle nails, if you can't obtain the necessary nutrients from food. Iron supplements are available in capsules, tablets, chewable tablets and liquids. The National Institutes of Health recommends consulting a primary care physician regarding the amount of iron that should be consumed on a daily basis. After you take iron supplements for two months, your body’s blood count should normalize. However, it will take 6 months to 12 months to refill your body’s iron stores. (Ref 4)

Iron Supplement Tips

If you take iron on an empty stomach, it will increase absorption rates, but if this cause you to have nausea, diarrhea and cramps, eat a small amount of food with the supplements. If you consume milk, calcium, and antacids, wait at least 2 hours before consuming iron supplements, since this will interfere with absorption. Also, avoid caffeinated foods and drinks, or high-fiber foods such as bran, raw vegetables and whole grains. However, vitamin C, in the form of orange juice or a supplement can help increase absorption. (Ref 4)

Other Nail Nutrients

Other nutrients for strengthening brittle nails include biotin, also known as vitamin K. Foods rich in biotin include bananas, peanuts, eggs, beans, cauliflower, lentils and salmon. Protein, another nutrient for building strong nails, is found chicken, red meats, eggs, daily, seafood, nuts, whole grains and soybeans. And zinc, which controls the body’s ability to produce protein, is available in such foods as cashews, beef, lobster, green beans, oysters and soybeans. (Ref 5)

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