Although still serving a functional purpose, nails are an intrinsic part of one's appearance today.
What is a nail, then?
The nail is a flexible plate of horny tissue, made up of keratin, i.e. epidermic cells formed in the root of the nail and hardened. Various factors influence the development of this keratin sheet, the largest in the human body : its genetic composition, nutrition, health (nail state is its best reflection), environment, etc.
Besides keratin, there are highly moderated concentrations of mineral salts, such as sulphur, selenium, calcium and potassium.
Principal parts of the nail:
The matrix is the living portion found at the base of the nail. Here is where the new cells develop and push the old, "dead" cells forward to form the nail plate. The overall health and quality of these cells determine the general condition of the nail as it further grows beyond the matrix.
The matrix is supplied by numerous blood vessels and nerves which provide the nourishment necessary for the production and growth of nail tissue.
This is the most sensitive part of the whole nail structure, which can easily be damaged through mistreatment. Accidents and/or abuse can impede normal growth and cause discoloration, ridges or other irregularities to appear on the nail plate. They eventually grow out unless serious injury has resulted in permanent damage to the nail.
Everything that happens to the human body can relate itself through nails and the aftereffects of childbirth or illnesses can be translated by furrows that form on the lunula and gradually grow out with the nail. Even psychological shocks can affect the matrix and appear on the surface of the nail as uneven or deep grooves/ridges.
The cuticle is the rim of skin framing the nail plate that protects the hardening nail. The cuticle is constantly discarding old cells and producing new ones. This tissue needs to remain soft and pliable, otherwise it can grow onto the surface of the nail where it becomes unsightly, splits into hangnails and can even impede nail growth.
The nail originates in the matrix as part of the epidermis, or outer layer of the skin. It hardens and thickens through a process called keratinization, becoming less firmly attached to the nail bed. Depending on individual growth rate, it takes from 3 to 5 months for a nail to grow completely.
Nails generally grow faster and stronger in summer than winter. They grow faster on the right hand of right-handed person, and on the left hand of a left-handed person.
They may also grow more rapid during pregnancy.
Diet and nails:
"You are what you eat" is a popular saying, and it's true that one's fingernails reflect one's diet (the same goes for skin and hair). Dietary deficiencies prevent nails from growing normally, and can also cause weakness and brittleness, two of the most common problems.
Vitamins, calcium and minerals are very important to the growth and maintenance of strong, healthy nails. A vegetarian diet can weaken the nails as it produces imbalance due to the lack of animal proteins. Similarly, a poorly balanced weight-reduction diet is not beneficial to the health of the nails.
Some causes of damaged nails:
Any circulatory condition that reduces the supply of blood to the matrix of the nail prevents it from receiving proper nourishment and developing normally. Other health problems that can affect the nails include glandular disorders, poor metabolism, allergies, anemia, deficiencies of calcium, certain amino acids and other essential nutrients.
A healthy nail can be damaged in many ways, including the following :