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10 Signs of Vitamin Deficiency: What Your Nails Say

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
    • With ready access to food in developed countries, vitamin deficiencies are not as common as they are in underdeveloped nations.
    • Vitamin deficiencies can still occur, especially if a person has underlying medical conditions or is on a restrictive diet. Symptoms of deficiencies might be visible in the nails.
    • Taking a supplement, like fatty15, is one way to support the body and decrease a nutrient deficiency in C15:0, which is common but not widely understood.

Most vitamin deficiencies are not incredibly common in developed countries, but they do still exist. Even in countries like the United States, it is possible for someone to develop a deficiency in a key vitamin or nutrient due to underlying health conditions or restrictive diets that eliminate entire food groups. 

While the symptoms of a vitamin deficiency may not be noticeable, some symptoms can give clues to what’s going on inside the body. One place to look? The fingernails. 

Together, we’ll discuss how examining our fingernails can tell us more about our health than we might realize, including whether or not we have a vitamin or nutrient deficiency. We’ll also discuss one recently identified nutrient deficiency that many of us may be experiencing. 

What Are Essential Vitamins and Minerals?

We know some vitamins and minerals are essential, but sometimes, it’s hard to understand what makes them so. Essential means our bodies need these nutrients to thrive and carry out certain functions and processes, but we can’t make them by ourselves. We have to get them from the foods we eat or through supplements. 

One vitamin, vitamin D, can also be obtained through exposure to sunlight. Although it is unlikely that many of us will ever have a vitamin deficiency so profound we need medical attention, it can be common to get less of a certain vitamin or mineral than the recommended daily allowance, or RDA.

Nutrient Deficiencies and Your Nails

The health of your hair, nails, and skin can sometimes tell more about what is happening inside your body than you realize. If you have healthy, strong nails one day and experience brittle nails that are yellow and splitting a few weeks later, it can indicate something is missing from your diet. 

Here, we’ll examine a few issues with nail health and how they can point to nutritional deficiencies. The good news is, for most people, restoring your circulating levels of the missing nutrient is relatively easy and does not take a long time. 

1. Ridges

A nail abnormality related to a nutrient deficiency is a nail surface with vertical ridges. These ridges make the surface of the nail look rough or bumpy. 

Although ridges on your nails can come with age, trauma, or even an underlying medical condition, they can also mean you are deficient in B vitamins. Vitamin B12 deficiency can accompany a vegan diet, and essential B vitamins, like biotin, may be harder to come by for pregnant women. 

You can recover from a biotin deficiency by increasing your intake of biotin-rich foods or taking a biotinsupplement. Increasing your B vitamins can be accomplished through eating more foods with B vitamins, like legumes, nuts, organ meats, and fortified foods, or by taking a multivitamin that contains a B complex. 

2. Brittle Nails

If you’re attempting to grow longer, healthier nails, it can be frustrating to notice they seem to break very easily. Brittle nails that chip and break can be indicative of a mineral deficiency. 

Calcium is a mineral that keeps your bones and nails strong. Brittle nails may also indicate lower levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for helping our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus, which create strong bones and healthy nails. 

Although most people do not have a vitamin D deficiency, you won’t harm your body by taking a vitamin Dsupplement. The most popular is vitamin D3. If your nail brittleness doesn’t resolve in several months of supplementation, it’s best to check with your doctor and have a blood test to find out if you have a deficiency in another vitamin or mineral or if there is an underlying issue at play. 

3. Hangnails

They’re painful and annoying, and if you don’t clip them immediately, they’ll likely get caught on your pants or shirt, ripping and injuring your finger! Hangnails can be a nuisance, but they can tell you a lot about your health. Having recurrent hangnails can indicate you need more folic acid or have a vitamin C deficiency. 

4. Splitting Nails

If you’ve ever experienced a splitting nail, you know they are serious business. If a nail splits down past the quick, you may even need to have it removed. 

Splitting nails are painful and can be caused by an iron deficiency. Taking an iron supplement may be necessary to boost your iron levels, but you’ll need a blood test to know for certain if your weak nails are due to iron deficiency or not. 

5. Beau’s Lines

Horizontal ridges that appear on the nails are called beau’s lines. These lines are typically caused by stress on the body from high fevers, severe illness, or trauma, but they can also occur when there is a zinc deficiency or don’t get enough protein. 

6. Dry Nail Beds

If your nails are dry with cuticles that split and peel, you may be able to increase your nail health by increasing your intake of vitamin E. Vitamin E applied topically is also a good solution for increasing your nail health.

Still, if you aren’t getting enough vitamin Einside your body, you can increase your levels by consuming more vitamin E-rich foods like wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and red bell peppers. Another cause of dry nail beds can be related to nail polish removers. Using a polish remover that contains acetone is a common cause of dry nails. 

7. Discoloration

The color of your nails and toenails may vary, but generally speaking, nails should be pink at the nail bed and white as they grow out from the nail bed. Nail changes that involve yellowing or darkening can indicate problems with your diet. 

Nail color changes that are noticeable should be brought to the attention of your dermatologist. Some changes in nail color can indicate illnesses like lupus or a fungal infection that needs treatment. 

8. Leukonychia

Leukonychia, or white spots on the nails, usually indicates your nails have undergone some type of trauma. This might happen if you have artificial nails removed or if you have injured a nail in some way. Although it isn’t common, a deficiency in iron, zinc, or calcium may also lead to leukonychia. 

9. Koilonychia

Also known as “spoon nails,” this nail issue causes divots in the nail plate that look like dents. This is usually the result of trauma, but it can also be due to severe vitamin C deficiency known as scurvy. Scurvy is extremely rare in developed nations but can still occur in people who do not have access to healthy foods or who have malabsorption problems. 

10. Flaky, Peeling Nails

When your nails begin to peel off or flake off at the tips, you may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency. Trauma to the nail and certain nail care practices may also cause the nails to peel. 

Bottom Line

Nail health can sometimes be a good indicator of overall health in terms of how balanced our diets are. However, simply having unhealthy nails doesn’t automatically mean we are deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral. 

These deficiencies are usually only experienced by people who:

  • Have malabsorption issues
  • Are taking medications or treatments that prevent them from eating a balanced diet (like chemotherapy)
  • Are on restrictive diets that limit their access to entire food groups
  • Have other underlying health issues that prevent their bodies from getting the vitamins and minerals they need

There is, however, one recently identified nutrient deficiency that can also result in weakened and brittle nails. This essential nutrient is called C15:0. Let’s discuss how this deficiency was identified, what it means, and what we can do about it. 

C15:0: A Key Driver of Longevity 

It started with dolphins. Scientists focused on helping dolphins live healthier, longer lives discovered that dolphins with higher levels of C15:0 had fewer occurrences of age-related illnesses. Over the next decade, they furthered their studies and found that these same longevity-inducing properties also applied to humans. C15:0 (aka pentadecanoic acid) is an essential, odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that strengthens and repairs cells and can even reverse cellular aging. 

C15:0 reverses cellular aging by:

  • Strengthening cellular membranes. Cells that have stronger cell membranes (the outer protective layer of cells) live longer. C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that incorporates into our cell membranes to strengthen our cells and prevent their premature breakdown. Studies have shown that pure C15:0 improves cellular strength by 80%.
  • Clearing damaged cells. C15:0 activates AMPK and inhibits mTOR, which helps to clear out damaged ‘zombie’ cells.
  • Regulating inflammatory response. C15:0 significantly calms and lowers proinflammatory cytokines, a key driver of aging. Additionally, by increasing AMPK, C15:0 can improve glucose uptake and immune system function and help regulate whole-body homeostasis.
  • Supporting our cells’ batteries. Mitochondria in our cells give them their energy (ATP). As we age, ATP production slows, but the mitochondria continue to release reactive oxygen species (ROS) that aren’t good for our cells. C15:0 repairs mitochondrial function, increasing our cell’s energy output and decreasing damaging reactive oxygen species by 45%. In one study, C15:0 was shown to increase ATP levels in cells by 350%.
  • Activating PPARɑ and PPARẟ receptors. By activating these receptors, C15:0 has been shown in peer-reviewed studies to support metabolic, immune, heart, and liver health. These receptors also help to improve mood and deepen sleep.

Where do we get C15:0 you ask… 

Fatty15: The C15:0 Supplement

C15:0 is found primarily in whole-fat dairy products. However, increasing our intake of these foods may not be the ideal solution. We’d be taking in a wallop of calories, excess sugars from lactose, and consuming bad, even-chain saturated fat that is regularly associated with negative health impacts. 

A solution? Fatty15

Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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  • Fatty15 is made ready to absorb. It comes to us in free fatty acid form, so our guts don’t have to spend time digesting and detaching the C15:0 we need from chains of triglycerides, which makes absorption less effective. 
  • Fatty15 contains no even-chain saturated fatty acids and only has one calorie per dose. No excessive calories and no bad fats; just the good fatty acid we need and nothing more. 
  • Fatty15 does not involve cows. We love cows, but we don’t need them to make fatty15. Fatty15 is made from plants and, thus, is sustainable and vegan-friendly.

With fatty15, you skip the cows and calories and provide your body with the C15:0 it needs to maintain your overall health and wellness.

Nail Your Diet

A balanced diet is good for preventing nutritional deficiencies, growing strong nails, and supporting your long-term health.

Taking fatty15 is the smart way to increase your circulating levels of C15:0, prevent C15:0 nutritional deficiencies, and give your cells the support they need to keep them healthy and fight against cellular aging. Fatty15 — recommended by 4 out of 4 future yous. 


Ridges in Nails: Horizontal, Vertical, Causes & Treatment|My Cleveland Clinic.com

Beau’s Lines: What It Looks Like, Causes & Treatment|My Cleveland Clinic.com

Vitamins and minerals: their role in nail health and disease|PubMed

Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? | Scientific Reports

A review of odd-chain fatty acid metabolism and the role of pentadecanoic Acid (c15:0) and heptadecanoic Acid (c17:0) in health and disease

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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