Natural Health

Q. I am 41 years old and have always had extremely poor quality fingernails — they are very small, dry, brittle with slow growth.

There is also a ‘split’ through several of the nails. The skin all around the nails is dry and cracked. I have a good quality diet and have recently upped my intake of good quality fish oil. I don’t drink or smoke and exercise by walking most days. The skin on my hands is also very dry and cracked. I use commercial hand creams but, regardless of their price and claims, they provide no relief. With the current cold weather I find that the skin on my hands is so parched and tight it is uncomfortable.

My hands spend a large amount of time in soapy water as I am constantly washing up — I have four small children. Rubber gloves seem to make no difference. Please could you provide some advice of any supplements I could add to my diet to assist healthy skin and nail growth. The quality of my hair is good although it is quite grey. I took Solgar’s Hair, Skin & Nail tablets but they had a no effect.

A. I suggest you get your thyroid hormone levels checked since dry skin, brittle nails, and prematurely greying hair are all common signs of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), along with fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and bodily aches. Another common issue worth ruling out, with similar symptoms, is anaemia.

You are already taking the right approach, by eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, and increasing your essential fatty acid intake. With four small children, , it is possible that you are running at a reasonably high level of stress, which depletes the body of B vitamins. The B vitamins are crucial to nail strength, in particular the water-soluble vitamin, biotin — responsible for strengthening nails in people and hooves in animals.

A number of studies have been carried out using a daily biotin dose of 2.5mg over a period of around five months, resulting in a 25% increase in nail thickness and a consequential reduction of splitting. Solgar make a 1000ug (1mg) biotin supplement, available from Here’s Health ( where 50 capsules cost €7.84. Take 2-3 tablets daily for 6 months for best results.

Solgar’s Hair Skin & Nails is a good formulation, but I have found that the dosage of the key ingredient, MSM (Methyl Sulphonyl Methane) is too low to really aeffect significant change. This form of organic sulphur really needs to be taken at levels of about 3,000-5,000mg daily to work therapeutically. I personally use pure MSM crystals and take a teaspoon stirred into a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice each morning, since MSM works synergistically with vitamin C (and also to mask the slightly bitter taste of the crystals). MSM is present in keratin, which is responsible for making nails hard, and is a crucial component of collagen production.

Daily juicing can be of incredible value where you are already eating a healthy diet, but still need that extra boost of nutrients. For the dry skin, I would take some coconut oil internally (make sure that it is extra virgin, cold-pressed, unbleached, and organic), as well as using it as an external remedy.

For your soapy water woes, coat your hands in coconut oil liberally and pop some cotton gloves on your hands, then use rubbber gloves. You can also do this overnight as a deep treatment (without the rubber gloves). A combination of gently warmed coconut oil and raw honey is an excellent natural body and face wash, and leaves your skin feeling plump, glowing, and nourished.


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