Health & Wellness

Nutrition For Nails

The condition of our nails can tell us a lot about our overall health and nutritional wellbeing. Changes in nail colour or a disruption in their growth could be, for example, a sign of an underlying medical condition, vitamin deficiency or stress. This article will explain the links between nails and nutrition, why nails can become brittle and tips on how to keep nails healthy.

The Link Between Nails & Nutrition

The part of the nail that we see is called the nail plate and is made up of a protein called keratin. Minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, sodium and copper are important components of the nail plate and contribute to its health. (1) These minerals are found in many of the foods we eat.

Nutritional deficiencies can cause significant changes to the nail structure, primarily to the nail plate and bed underneath. Brittle nails and the appearance of ridges on the nails are visible signs of changes to the nail structure.

Why Do Nails Become Brittle?


The hydration status of the nail plate is a major factor which influences its hardness. The most common cause of brittle nails, which are weak and tend to split easily, is when nails have too little or too much moisture. Both can result from frequent hand and dishwashing, as water tends to excessively soften nails while harsh detergents dry them.

Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 

Endocrine and metabolic disorders, as well as nutritional deficiencies, can also cause damage to the nails. (2)

Iron, calcium and zinc deficiencies have all been associated with weaker nails which struggle to grow back. These are key minerals when it comes to preserving the structure and hardness of nails, and they contribute to keeping the various layers of the nail apparatus healthy.

Biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency has also been associated with misshapen brittle nails. Biotin, in fact, seems to promote keratin production, which is the most important type of protein that nails are made of, and is therefore a vital nutrient to healthy nails and hair. (3)

Nails also naturally tend to lose strength and regrow more slowly with age.

How To Keep Nails Healthy – 8 Simple Tips

  1. Iron is important for carrying oxygenated blood to the nails. This is why iron deficiency can lead to vertical ridges in the nails. Eating enough iron-rich foods, such as meat, fish and dark leafy vegetables can help to boost your intake. 4
  2. Increasing your calcium levels, through foods such as milk and dairy products is also proven to help with nail brittleness. 5
  3. Eating more keratin protein will contribute to maintaining strong nails. Good food sources include eggs, onions, salmon and sunflower seeds.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids are natural nail strengtheners, thanks to their moisturising and anti-inflammatory actions within the nail bed. 6
  5. Clinical studies found that biotin supplementation increased the thickness of the nail plate in those with brittle nails . (7, 8). Good dietary sources of biotin are eggs, dairy products, salmon and nuts.
  6. Drinking enough water daily is also vital to keep your nails and body optimally hydrated.
  7. A good nail care routine, including daily application of cuticle oil on your nails, use of acetone-free nail products and keeping your nails short and clean, will keep your nail hydrated and strong. Avoiding long periods of wearing nail varnish or false nails will let your nails breathe, recover and grow.
  8. Wearing gloves while doing housework and generally moisturising your hands well will also protect your skin and nails, preventing them from drying and getting weaker.

Overall, the key to having strong, healthy nails is having a balanced and nutrient rich diet as well as staying hydrated. If you are worried about your nails looking excessively weak and brittle, speak to a health professional.


  1. Seshadri, D. and De, D.. Nails in nutritional deficiencies. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology [online]. 2012 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 78(3), 237-243. Available from:
  2. Cashman, M. W. and Sloan, S. B.. Nutrition and nail disease. Clinics in Dermatology [online]. 2010 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 28(4), 420-425. Available from:
  3. Patel, D. P., Swink, S. M. and Castelo-Soccio, L.. A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss. Skin Appendage Disorders [online]. 2017 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 3(3), 166-169. Available from:
  4. Seshadri, D. and De, D.. Nails in nutritional deficiencies. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology [online]. 2012 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 78(3), 237-243. Available from:
  5. Iorizzo, M., Pazzaglia, M., Piraccini, B. M., Tullo, S. and Tosti, A.. Brittle nails. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology [online]. 2004 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 3(3), 138-144. Available from:
  6. Huang, T.H., Wang, P. W., Yang, S. C., Chou, W.L. and Fang, J.Y. Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil’s Fatty Acids on the Skin. Marine drugs [online]. 2018 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 16(256). Available from:!po=0.617284
  7. Hochman, L.G., Scher, R.K. and Meyerson, M.S.. Brittle nails: response to daily biotin supplementation. Cutis [online]. 1993 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 51, 303-305. Available from:
  8. Colombo, V.E., Gerber, F., Bronhofer, M. and Floersheim, G. L. Treatment of brittle fingernails and onychoschizia with biotin: scanning electron microscopy. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology [online]. 1990 [cited 2021 Oct 14], 23, 1127-1132. Available from:

Ro Huntriss

Ro Huntriss

Writer and expert

Ro Huntriss is a Registered Dietitian with 10 years of experience working in the NHS, private practice and commercial business. Ro has a Bachelor’s degree in Food Studies and Nutrition, a Master’s degree in Advanced Nutrition, and a second Master’s degree in Clinical Research. Ro is a clinical specialist in several areas to include weight management, diabetes, fertility, women’s health and gut health. Ro is a published academic author and is frequently seen in many national media publications to include BBC, Daily Mail, The Mirror, HELLO! Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health and Men’s Health.