Q: My nails are always brittle and breaking. I’ve heard that calcium strengthens nails. Will taking supplements help?
A: Like hair, nails are made mainly of the hardened protein keratin, which means that the foods that create beautiful hair also help nails stay strong. For example, protein is necessary for nail growth and strength, zinc keeps nails from weakening, and iron keeps nails from distorting into spoon shapes. Just as high doses of selenium can cause hair loss, too much selenium can also lead to nail loss (yikes!).
Although many people believe that calcium supplements help build strong nails, research doesn’t support the notion. Researchers from New Zealand examined the effects of calcium on nail health. Nearly 700 postmenopausal women took 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day for a year. At the end of the study, the women reported no change in nail strength. So although I heartily recommend calcium for so many different health issues, nail health isn’t among them.
Your nails are a good indicator of overall health and diet quality, so the best prescription for strong, beautiful nails is to eat a well–balanced diet rich in nutrient–dense foods like colorful produce, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.