English novelist Ian McEwan once wrote, "You can tell a lot from a person's nails. When a life starts to unravel, they're among the first to go." While that may be a little dramatic, it is true that a person's fingernails can be a sign of what's happening elsewhere in his or her body - as you'll see in more detail on this list of what fingernails can tell you about your health.
First, here are some fun facts about your fingernails: They're largely made of keratin, a protein that also serves as a crucial component of skin and hair. Contrary to popular belief, the nails that we see are not alive at all. They're dead cells being pushed out by live ones growing under the skin. That's why it doesn't hurt to clip our nails; they're already dead. But because nails need blood flow to develop, and several nerve endings are located under the skin of the nails, they can be a sort of early warning system that something may not be right with the internal workings of our bodies.
Nails that look pale, faded, or washed out are often a sign of anemia. As iron binds to oxygen in our blood, it enhanced the richness of its red color. But when blood is lacking in iron, it is less visible under the skin of the nails, resulting in a paler appearance.
Pale nails might also indicate lung conditions, circulation problems, and certain neurological ailments.
White fingernails are linked to the liver. They could be early signs of jaundice or hepatitis, both liver-specific conditions.
Dark lines under the nail are generally not a cause for immediate concern. It is estimated that as many as half of all African-Americans have dark bands or stripes under their nails. But it could potentially be a sign of a serious health condition: melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
When melanoma is on the skin's surface, it usually presents as a mole or dark discoloration, but when it is under the nail surface, it often looks like a dark band or stripe. Check out a gallery of images here.
Concave nails, or "spoon nails," are nails with a noticeable dip or indentation, turning the entire nail into a tiny bowl. In some cases, this could be a sign of iron-related conditions, including anemia.
Spoon nails can also be a symptom of celiac disease, diabetes, and malnutrition.