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zinc deficiency and nails

Zinc Deficiency and Nails: What’s the Relationship?

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2022)

Zinc deficiency can manifest in different ways, and sometimes one of the more apparent signs of zinc deficiency is your nails. So how exactly do zinc deficiency and nails relate to one another, and what should you be looking for?

The Role of Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral in some foods, is available as a dietary supplement, and is found in some over-the-counter cold medicines. Zinc plays a vital role in the functionin of our cells and hundreds of enzymes. Zinc plays a role in immune function, DNA and protein synthesis, cell signaling, and wound healing.

Zinc supports the growth and function of our immune cells, and even a mild deficiency can slow down the activity of the cells that protect you from viruses and bacteria, including lymphocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages. If zinc-deficient, you’re at a higher risk for infections like pneumonia.

Adequate zinc is needed to create new cells, including collagen. Zinc supports the immune cell activity that combats inflammation, and if you ever have a wound, such as an ulcer or burn, you need adequate zinc for it to heal correctly.

If zinc is deficient, your body can’t create healthy new cells. Symptoms of zinc deficiency can include:

  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Decreases in your sense of smell and taste
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of alertness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Open sores
  • Slow growth in children
  • Difficulties fighting off illnesses

There are growing bodies of evidence showing zinc may be related to other conditions, such as erectile dysfunction (ED). Zinc enables the male body to make testosterone; if someone has a zinc deficiency, it can cause or contribute to ED.

The Effect of Zinc on Skin, Hair, and Nails

Zinc deficiency can cause visible changes to the hair and nails of affected people. For example, skin changes can occur with zinc deficiency, which initially looks like eczema. For example, there may be a glazed appearance on the skin or cracks. The rash doesn’t improve with lotions, steroid creams, or moisturizers.

Zinc deficiency can cause hair loss, shedding, and breakage. It’s been reported in the medical literature that some people with alopecia areata may have zinc deficiency, and when replacing the mineral, there have been promising results in patients.

Zinc Deficiency and Nails: What’s the Link?

Zinc plays a pivotal role in human metabolism. It catalyzes enzymes, regulates gene expression, and allows protein folding within our bodies. Without each process, our bodies wouldn’t function properly. Zinc will enable proteins in the body to grow and stay strong, including the nails.

Without adequate zinc, nail growth rate decreases. Nails can also become fragile, brittle, and prone to cracking.

People with severe zinc deficiencies may lose their nails entirely.

Specific effects of zinc deficiency on nails include:

  • Brittle nails that are thin and easily break. The nails may form layers and split horizontally.
  • Zinc deficiency can cause inflamed cuticles and raise the risk of paronychia when there’s an infection around your nail.
  • Beau’s lines are horizontal grooves that can occur across nails, and they happen when there’s a disruption to the place where nail growth begins. Other causes of Beau’s nails include Raynaud’s disease and trauma.
  • Meuhrcke’s lines are similar to Beau’s lines, but double white lines are horizontal on the nail instead of grooves.
  • Onychorrhexis is linked to zinc deficiency. This nail condition causes vertical ridges and makes the nails more brittle, so they’re more prone to splitting.
  • Leukonychia is a white nail discoloration.
signs of zinc deficiency on nails

Who’s at Risk for Zinc Deficiency?

Zinc deficiency is a common problem worldwide, especially in developing countries.

People who don’t eat meat or a lot of phytates or oxalates are at risk of deficiency. Phytates are in seeds, soy products, whole grains, and legumes, and Oxalates are in tea, nuts, okra, and spinach.

People with chronic diseases are also at an increased risk of zinc deficiency. Chronic illnesses that can raise the risk of zinc deficiency include:

  • Chronic gastrointestinal disorders affecting absorption
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • HIV infection
  • Chronic infections

Medications like diuretics, sodium valproate, and some antibiotics can interfere with zinc deficiency.

There are also situations where you have higher zinc needs. For example, there’s an increased demand for zinc during pregnancy and lactation. You could need more zinc if you experience hemolysis, diarrhea or urinary loss.

Supplementing with Zinc for Nail Health

If you notice the symptoms of zinc deficiency on nails, you may need to consider supplementing. Treatment usually begins with oral replacement. For females 19 and older, the recommended dietary allowance for zinc is 8 mg, which goes up to 11 mg during pregnancy and 12 during lactation. For males, the RDA of zinc is 11 mg. The recommended daily allowance is the average daily intake needed to meet nutritional requirements for healthy people.

Foods can be the richest source of zinc. Foods high in zinc include:

  • Oysters
  • Beef
  • Blue crab
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pork
  • Turkey breast
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Sardines
  • Eggs

If you take a zinc supplement, you’ll find that they contain many nutrients. The zinc absorption from supplements with zinc citrate and zinc gluconate is similar, and around 61% of the zinc from these types is absorbed. If you take zinc oxide, the absorption is about 50%. Taking elemental iron at the same time as you take a zinc supplement can reduce zinc absorption.

While zinc deficiency can cause serious health concerns, high intake can also be dangerous. Symptoms of excessive zinc intake can include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastric distress
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

Final Thoughts—Zinc Deficiency and Nails

If you notice that your nails look strange, unhealthy, or have lines or white discoloration, it could be due to a zinc deficiency. Zinc is one of several nutrients that can significantly affect the health of your nails and your skin and hair.

 

Sources

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. “Zinc: Fact Sheet for Professionals.” August 2, 2022. Accessed September 13, 2022.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Zinc.” Accessed September 13, 2022.

HealthDirect. “Zinc deficiency.” March 2021. Accessed September 13, 2022.

Park, Hoon M.D. et al. “The Therapeutic Effect and the Changed Serum Zinc Level After Zinc Supplementation in Alopecia Areata Patients Who Had a Low Serum Zinc Level.” Annals of Dermatology, May 2009. Accessed September 13, 2022.

Maxfield, Luke, et al., “Zinc Deficiency.” NIH National Library of Medicine, May 8, 2022. Accessed September 13, 2022.

Wessells, Ryan K. et al. “Plasma and Nail Zinc Concentrations But Not Hair Zinc Respond Positively to Two Different Forms of Preventative Zinc Supplementation in Young Laotian Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Biological Trace Element Research, April 2021. Accessed September 13, 2022.

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