Dystrophic nails and the associated discomfort are the main motivators for most visits to the podiatrist. Dystrophic nails, or onychodystrophy, encompass a number of nail complaints. Manifesting either as discoloured, misshapen, or brittle nails, these conditions can be caused by exogenous. Some of them can be nail trauma, moisture, chemicals, or pathogens, such as yeast or bacteria.
Equally endogenous influences like toxins, poor vascularisation, metabolic disorders, inflammatory diseases, or abnormal tissue growth can cause dystrophic nails. Now, research suggests that malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies have a significant impact on nail health. In fact, it’s thought virtually all nutritional deficiencies can affect the nail in some way. So, supplements and nutraceuticals delivering superfoods are an interesting option for podiatrists to explore.
Brittle Nails and Nutritional Deficiencies
There is still research to be done about how nutrition affects nails; however, one condition where there has been proper investigation is brittle nail syndrome. Soft, weak, and dry nails that break easily are some of the iterations of nail dystrophy. This is a common complaint, often experienced by women. The causes are generally thought to be nail or vascular trauma, although it can also occur due to deficient production of intercellular ‘cement’. This deficiency may be related to systemic diseases, metabolic disorders, or lack certain nutrients.
There are various supplements that have been found to treat brittle nails. For instance, the ingestion of vitamins, minerals, collagen and amino acids can strengthen the dystrophic nails, enhancing the health of the nail bed and structure. Plus, the direct application of essential fatty acids is thought to have benefits too.
The Impact of Vitamin H on Dystrophic Nails
One supplement that has been under serious investigation for the treatment of brittle nails is biotin, or vitamin H. Biotin has been used in veterinary science for some time, where it’s used to treat disorders in horse hoofs. Equally, it has been shown to have a positive impact on dermatological conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and Leiner disease. Aside from insufficient intake, vitamin H deficiency may be caused by absorption disorders, imbalances in intestinal bacteria, or disturbance of the intestinal flora by sulfonamides, antibiotics, or anticonvulsants.
In one study, researchers found that there was a 25% increase in nail thickness in patients diagnosed with brittle nails when treated with 2.5 mg biotin daily for 6 to 15 months. Another study found that biotin was not equally effective in all patients, but there was a distinct trend towards benefit taking the supplement, with 2 months being the minimum period where the effects were clinically measurable.
Holistic Approaches to Podiatry
Nutrition has a significant impact on our overall health and well-being. For this reason, continued research into the link between nutrition and nail health is necessary. The finding regarding biotin and brittle nails is certainly compelling and confirms what many podiatrists and nutritionists have been aware for some time. However, supplementing biotin alone can be insufficient in many cases because deficiencies of at least one micronutrient are more frequent. Therefore, holistic nutritional supplements that offer a wide range of nutrients are very likely to become a beneficial therapy for those with dystrophic nails, complementing allopathic treatments and preventing recurrence.