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Brittle nails and the menopause

Is the menopause causing you to have brittle nails?

Brittle nails are one of the more unusual symptoms connected to the menopause. Most women will not equate cracked and chipping nails with their change; however brittle nails are often linked to hormonal imbalances and dehydration. Here, our menopause expert Eileen Durward discusses this odd symptom and how it can be treated using natural alternatives. 

An introduction to brittle nails and menopause

Brittleness of the nails is also called onychorrhexis from the Greek derivation onycho- meaning ‘nail’ and rhexis- meaning ‘bursting.’

This is logical when you think that the main symptom or indication that you have brittle nails is when they start breaking, cracking or chipping with increasing frequency. The yellowing of nails, or nails curling at the top also suggests that they are brittle.

A substance called keratin is produced in the nail bed. As this grows, a hard substance forms and covers the tops of your fingers and toes. These are your nails, and they are there to protect the tender skin underneath.

When the body is healthy, nails are strong and evenly formed. If your nails are showing signs of brittleness, it is an indication of an imbalance in your keratin production.

Why would the menopause give me brittle nails?

At first glance, it seems strange that going through the menopause could cause you to have brittle nails. However, this is the time of life when levels of hormones such as oestrogen are fluctuating, resulting in a range of unexpected symptoms.

Lack of water in your body and dehydration is most likely to cause you to have brittle nails. Oestrogen is one of the hormones that contribute to regulating water levels in your body. As you go through the menopause the levels of oestrogen in your body will continually drop, affecting your fluid balance.

What home remedies are there for brittle nails?

There are certain measures you can take to help improve your nail health. Some simple lifestyle changes or home remedies can sometimes make all the difference.

Wearing gloves when your hands are in water, such as when doing the dishes or washing the car, can protect your nails. If your nails are submerged in water for a long time, they absorb a lot of water, then contract as they dry out, damaging your nails. This is worsened if you are using strong soap.

Your diet can have an impact on your nails. Essential fatty acids, such as those found in almonds or avocado, are important for strengthening your nails. Eating as few as 6 almonds a day may have a positive impact on your nail health.

It is important to keep hydrated as the lack of oestrogen in your body means that you cannot retain water as effectively as before.

Keeping your nails moisturised will also help. You will need to be careful which hand moisturisers you use, because some contain chemicals that can actually have the opposite effect to the one you are after, and start to dry out your nails. Instead, you could soak your nails in almond oil to help keep them soft and supple.

As this may be too time consuming to fit into your schedule, consider rubbing Comfrey Cream into your nails as a healthy and helpful moisturiser.

What herbal remedies could help me?

Herbs such as nettle and comfrey may help with brittle nails. It is thought that this is because these herbs contain useful quantities of the mineral silicon, often used to treat brittle hair and nails.

You can take Nettle tincture (Urtica) daily, and use Comfrey Cream on the nails themselves.

What other supplements might help me?

Ensuring that you have sufficient magnesium in your diet to allow your calcium intake to be absorbed effectively is important. If your diet doesn’t contain plenty of wholegrains, nuts, dried fruit, and seeds (good sources of magnesium) then it may be a good idea to take a supplement. Magnesium is helpful for the nervous system too, countering the tendency to anxiety that many women experience during the menopause.

You may like to consider the remedy Urticalcin, which is made from urtica (nettle), silicea, and calcium and consists of tiny tablets that can be sucked or chewed.

What about conventional medicines?

Conventional medicines should really be a last resort for this symptom and often, simple changes to your lifestyle and diet or the use of supplements will negate their need. If fungal infections are the cause of the problem, then anti-fungal remedies from your pharmacy or prescribed by your doctor may be needed.

However, if you have found that nothing has helped, it may be that there is an underlying cause such as low thyroid function or anaemia. In these cases it is worth visiting your doctor, as treating any such underlying cause would be important for more than just your nail condition.

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This week's talking point

HRT 'increases ovarian cancer risk' Well ladies, it's in the news again. According to a recent study, HRT has been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women taking it for over 5 years.

Menopause Expert Eileen Durward looks at the medical facts behind the news headlines.

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