Split, peeling and cracked nails

Someone special was asking me recently about split and peeling nails, so this post is especially for her:

One of the possible causes for nails like this is hypochlorhydria, a deficiency of stomach acid. Our stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) helps us digest our food, especially protein and minerals, and a deficiency in either can affect nail health. Healthy stomach acid is also an important part of our body’s immune system, effectively destroying ingested bacteria and yeasts that might otherwise disturb bowel flora and affect the production of another important nutrient for nail health, biotin. 

How do you know if your stomach acid is on the low side? You might be experiencing problems with wind/gas and abdominal bloating, or the symptoms many people associate with irritable bowel syndrome. You might have a tendency to food allergies, candida (e.g. thrush), intestinal dysbiosis (unbalanced bowel flora), gastro-esophageal reflux disease (indigestion), iron deficiency or B12 deficiency.

The cause? Stress, adrenal fatigue (a fancy way of saying ‘chronic stress’), antacids, ageing, alcohol consumption, bacterial infection and food sensitivities. That’s the funny thing with food sensitivities…. they tend to get the body stuck in blind loops. A food irritates your digestive lining, this creates inflammation, which interferes with the digestive process, which leads to food sensitivities, which causes more inflammation. Same with the bacterial infections!

Treatment? Where do I begin!? Here are some thoughts:

*Eat slowly (not on the run or while multi-tasking) and slow down while you eat. As I always say, make eating sacred, like meditating. Be present with the experience. Anticipate eating by enjoying food preparation. Appreciate the colours and aroma and imagine what it’s going to taste like before you take that first, wonderful bite.

*Manage stress rather than just continuing to cope, or running on adrenaline, which will eventually run out, leading to that phrase modern-day naturopaths sprinkle liberally throughout every second diagnosis and every third sentence: ‘adrenal exhaustion’. It used to be the liver you know, that got blamed for everything, from the 70’s through to the 90’s, until it was eclipsed by a brighter (adrenal) sun. Before that, it was the bowel. But I digress! Back to the stomach we go….

*Herbal medicine. Bitters of course! This glorious taste sensation stimulates receptors on the tongue which send a message down to the stomach lining reminding it to get busy producing hydrochloric acid. Before you know it, a magical domino effect is rippling through the digestive system, with one digestive juice flowing down into the next compartment and prompting the release of the next and on it goes. Bitter herbs include gentian, which packs an almighty punch, and my personal favourite, dandelion.

*Digestive enzymes. Be careful with these, because they aren’t always vegan. If chowing down on a pig’s stomach contents doesn’t appeal to you, you might prefer fruit or fungi sourced enzymes. Fruit sourced enzymes (isolated from pawpaw or pineapple) are very gentle and can help if your digestive deficiency is mild. Mushroom-sourced digestive enzymes are stronger and very effective.

*Some people find that ginger works well for them, as can a sprinkle of cayenne pepper on your food if you enjoy a little heat in your meals.


Aside from hypochlorhydria, another thing to think about is Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), or in layman’s terms: ‘Good Fats and Oils’. Good sources can include hemp seeds, flax or linseeds, coconuts, walnuts…. in fact, all nuts and seeds are brilliant sources. And my favourite: avocado! Leafy green vegetables, microalgae and sea vegetables are another source. As much as possible, make sure your nuts and seeds are stored out of sunlight in well-sealed containers, and consider storing them in the fridge to protect them from rancidity. Ideally, consume your good oils unheated.


To strengthen nails, you might want to try an old folk remedy: soak your fingertips in warm olive oil or apple cider vinegar for 10-20 minutes daily. Don’t repeatedly immerse your hands in water that contains detergents or chemicals such as bleach or dish-washing liquid. Either avoid using chemicals like this or use gloves. Avoid artificial nails and use nail polish removers as little as possible

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