A number of nail and skin changes can occur as a result of underlying vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. The recognition of such changes can aid in diagnosing and treating them.
Some of the changes that are observed are:
Pallor (pale skin). Pallor occurs when there is reduced oxyhaemoglobin (oxygen carrier) to the skin. Severe anaemia can lead to pale skin. Anaemia can be associated with several nutritional deficiencies including iron deficiency, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid deficiency.
Impaired wound healing. The delay in the healing of a wound may result from nutritional deficiencies such as lack of protein, vitamin C and zinc. Nutritional supplements with protein, vitamin C and zinc can enhance the wound healing process.
Dermatitis. Dermatitis is characterized by pruritic (itchy), erythematous (red), oedematous (swollen), blistering and dry skin. Lack of protein, essential fatty acids, niacin (vitamin B3) and zinc can lead to dermatitis.
Changes in nail color. Nail discoloration can be caused by various nutritional deficiencies. Studies have shown that vitamin B12 deficiency causes a brown-gray discoloration of the nail. White nails can result from anaemia and pink or red nails may indicate a lack of various nutrients and vitamins. Moreover, lack of biotin can increase the risk of fungal infections and subsequent discoloration of the nail plate.
Changes in the shape and surface of the nail. Nutritional deficiencies can cause various changes in the shape and the surface of the nail. Iron, folic acid or protein deficiency may cause central lines (grooves) in the middle of the nail. Koilonychia (nails that look like a spoon) is associated with iron and protein deficiency, and especially deficiency of sulfur-containing amino acids. Beau’s lines are transverse grooves of the nail caused by temporary pause of nail growth. Researchers have proposed severe zinc deficiency as a cause of Beau’s lines occurrence.
Many changes in the skin and nails result from inadequate intake of micronutrients and macronutrients. Recognizing these symptoms associated with the various nutritional deficiencies can aid in diagnosing and treating the problem.