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Do Your Nails Look Strange? 4 Possible Causes of Pale Nail Beds, White Spots, Yellow Nails, and Indents

The key to good health is at your fingertips — literally!


Did you know your nails can help you identify possible health issues? It’s true — poor nail health may be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, a fungal infection, or even diabetes. And knowing what certain symptoms or strange colors mean can help you get a head start on your treatment method. Below, check out the possible causes of pale nail beds, white spots, yellow nails, and horizontal indents. Just be sure to visit your doctor if you suspect something serious, as you may have a condition that requires medical intervention.

Pale nail beds? Boost your iron intake.

If your nail beds are more white than pink, you may be low on iron. The nutrient helps build hemoglobin, a protein that ferries energizing oxygen to tissues. While many women assume iron deficiencies are a thing of the past after age 50, 2014 research suggests up to half the number of women who were low in iron before menopause may still be prone to shortfalls by age 65. Fortunately, a 2012 study found that women who supplemented with 80 milligrams of elemental iron daily experienced a reduction in fatigue by 48 percent (as compared to the placebo group).

To shore up your stores without overloading on iron, savor iron-rich foods like spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, or broccoli. Getting iron from food is recommended over supplements, since food-based iron doesn’t build up in the body to health-harming levels like it might with supplements. (Though if your doctor recommends supplements for you specifically, you should be okay.)

White spots? Try a zinc lozenge.

Nails that are dotted in white spots could signal you’re low on immunity-boosting zinc, which wards off warm-weather colds and viruses. Luckily, reversing a deficiency may be as easy as sucking on one 20-milligram zinc lozenge daily. Not only may this help repair your nails, but a 2017 study found that it helped reduce the days participants were sick with a cold by 40 percent!

Yellow nails? Apply an anti-fungal polish.

The CDC estimates that up to 14 percent of Americans suffer from fungal nail infections (a.k.a. onychomycosis), which can cause nails to yellow and thicken into deep ridges. Treating it with a fungus-fighting polish that kills spores doesn’t just make nails look prettier: Research published in 2018 found that people without nail fungus had much lower levels of c-reactive protein (CRP, a protein made by the liver) in their blood. Some CRP in your blood is normal, as your body sends it out when you need to heal from an injury or an infection. However: Chronic, high-levels of CRP can damage healthy tissues and increase your risk of certain diseases.

To reduce your risk of high CRP levels and nix fungal infections, try Dermatool’s Medical Strength Fungal Nail Treatment (Buy from Amazon, $25).

Horizontal dents? It could be COVID nails.

Horizontal ridges along your nails may be due to a bout with COVID. The reason? The virus stresses the body, temporarily interrupting nail growth and causing ridges (known as Beau’s lines) to pop up about a month after you’ve recovered. Luckily, as your nails grow out, so do the lines, according to experts at the Cleveland Clinic.

Bonus tip: Keeping nails stylishly short and natural may cut your risk of picking up sick-making germs, as suggested by a 2001 study.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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