Natural health: Soft nails and herbal vinegars

There are no quick fixes when it comes to nails, as it takes around three months to grow a new nail, says Megan Sheppard.

Q. My nails have never been particularly strong or long, but in the past few months they have become very fragile and soft.

I take a calcium supplement daily, and have tried all sorts of preparations with no results. Is there anything you could suggest?

A. There are no quick fixes when it comes to nails, as it takes around three months to grow a new nail. This means all treatments need to be long term.

Calcium supplementation is just a small piece of the puzzle, and in fact it needs magnesium to work effectively, so you will need to make sure that you get the balance right. 

The recommended ratio of calcium to magnesium is 2:1 (a standard dose is typically 800mg of calcium and 400mg of magnesium daily).

Beneficial fats are another factor in nail health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the health of hair, skin, and nails — while you can get these through your diet in the form of fatty fruits, nuts, seeds, and oily fish, it is worth considering a short-term supplement to bring your levels up.

Silica is crucial in nourishing hair, skin, and nails as well. In particular, it helps to transport nutrients into the nail bed. Silica-rich herbs include horsetail grass, oat straw, nettle, and in fact lettuce is a silica-rich leafy green.

The organic sulphur supplement, MSM (Methyl sulphonyl methane), is wonderful for nail health — you will typically need around 1,000-3,000mg daily for best results, or you can boost your diet with foods high in organic sulphur. 

Sulphur-rich foods include the cruciferous vegetables broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower along with the allium family of garlic, onion, spring onions and chives, and of course eggs.

Supergreens (spirulina, wheat grass, barley grass, blue-green algae, chlorella etc.) provide a wide range of micronutrients and can be just the ticket when you have tried all else to no avail. 

Many users of supergreen powders note a significant change in nail length and strength, although this could also be attributed to a range of healthy lifestyle and dietary choices that often accompany the decision to use superfoods.

You don’t mention trouble with ridges on your nails, but if these are also an issue then you might want to address stress and hormonal changes. Vertical ridges may also be a result of deficiencies in calcium and/or magnesium.

Since you mention your nails being soft, it is important that you wear gloves doing tasks such as cleaning, washing the dishes, gardening, working with livestock. 

One of the surprising tasks that can leach moisture from our nails is working a job where a lot of paper handling is required. Continue to massage in nail and cuticle treatments. 

There are many wonderful natural formulations, which I am sure you are well aware of. Neem oil, despite having a very pungent odour, is very beneficial in treating fragile nails.

Q. My grandmother used to swear by herbal vinegars, she made her own and lived a long and healthy life. 

Do know how to make herbal vinegars, and is there any truth in them being a health tonic?

A. Herbal vinegars have long been used to improve digestion and assimilation of nutrients, in fact, apple cider vinegar is still very popular in helping to improve stomach acid levels. 

Salad dressings are one way of getting herbal vinegar infusions into every day meals. 

All you need to do to make your own is to finely chop fresh herbs, pack them loosely into a jar, then fill it with organic apple cider vinegar, cover with a non-metal lid, and steep for two to six weeks in a dark cupboard. 

When the vinegar is sufficiently infused, strain it off into a bottle. You can use dried herbs – at roughly 25g herb per 500ml of vinegar. 

When using the fresh herbs, they should be dry to the touch before you add them to the vinegar. 

The dosage guidelines for a herbal vinegar varies, from 5-15ml, taken three times daily before a meal.


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