A nail is an envelope which covers the tips of the fingers and toes. Nails are made up of a tough protective protein known as Alpha-Keratin. Keratin is the same substance which is present in hair.
Nails contains the following parts:
- Nail matrix
- Nail bed
- Nail plate
The “Nail Matrix” is also called as “keratogenous membrane”. It helps in the protection of nails.
The nail matrix is the part of “Nail Bed” which is supplied with blood vessels, lymph, and nerves.
Why and How Nails Evolved?
The history shows that nails evolved 58 million and 55 million years ago. The primates or close relatives of primates were the first to have nails.
At the time, primates were confined to trees and the nail originally popped up as an evolution. This evolved trait helped them in climbing through trees and in other tasks.
Borths said that,
“Wide fingers and toes give us this larger surface area for grabbing onto branches”.
Digits of primate are quite broader as compared to other animals which help in stronger grip and moving across the complex network of tree trunks and branches.
For ancestors, nails acted like a scaffold for the fleshy pads of the fingers and toes. Nails helped in the maintenance of the wide shape of the digits. It also enhanced the surface area of the pad.
Nails supported the enlarged surface area of digits which improved their grip and enabled them to perform the following tasks:
- Food Foraging
Researchers have studied the significance of nails. It is observed that primates can easily find food as compared to other tree-dwelling animals at the places much trickier to reach and grasp.
Borths said that,
“Having these big, wide fingers and toes (is) a way to really secure your grip on really narrow things”
- Increased Sensitivity
Studies also show that nails also help in protective evolutionary function. These work like little shields that cover and protect the exposed tips of our toes and fingers.
Digits are supplied with thousands of nerves, which make them able to sense the world around us.
Borths told that,
“If you look at the regions of the brain that primates have committed to the sense of touch from their digits, compared to the amount of space in, say, a cat’s brain, primates have lots and lots of space”
How do Nails grow?
The nail matrix produces cells that become the “Nail Plate”. The thickness and width of the nail plate depend upon the thickness, length, and size of the matrix. The nail matrix produces cells if, it receives nutrients required for its development.
As the new plate cells grow, the older nail plate cells are pushed forward by the newly formed cells.
In this way, older cells become translucent and flat. The pink color of nails results from the capillaries present in the nail bed.
The tips of nails start to grow at the 20th week in the womb. As time passes, fingers and toes are crowned by tough nails which grow throughout life.
Why do Nails grow throughout Life?
Amanda Meyer (Lecturer in Human Anatomy at the University of Western Australia) says that
“Continuous division of matrix cells pushes the nail plate forward over the nail bed at a rate of about 3 millimeters [0.1 inches] per month for fingernails, and 1 millimeter [0.04 inches] per month for toenails”
It can be said that the nails grow because the new cells are continuously made, and the old ones are pushed forward. It happens throughout the life of an individual.
Function of Nails
A healthy fingernail has the following functions:
- It protects the fingertip and the surrounding soft tissues from injuries.
- It supports the delicate movements of the distal digits.
- The nails enhance the sensitivity of the fingertip.
- Nail functions as a tool which helps in “extended precision grip”, like in scraping or cutting actions.
Nutrients for Nails Health
Following food and nutrients are important for the growth of nails:
Fruits contain a high amount of nutrients and vitamins which are important for the strength of nails.
The dietitian Erin Palinski-wade recently explained the importance of, fruits for thicker and stronger tips off nails.
Palinski-Wade explained that,
The antioxidants protect your body against free radical damage. Radical damage induces the release of stress hormones and causes inflammation. Radical damage affects all cells of the body, including hair and nails. Blueberries and grapes are the highest sources of antioxidant properties.
Strawberries and kiwis are also beneficial for nails. These contain high levels of Vitamin C which helps in the production of collagen. Collagen is helpful in making nails stronger and resilient. Bananas and dried apricots are also good rich in B6 and vitamin A respectively which also strengthens nails
Dark leafy greens
Leafy greens are a high source of calcium, folate, and iron. Therefore, these vegetables strengthen nails. Leafy green veggies include spinach, kale, and broccoli.
Tomatoes and Bell peppers are a high source of vitamin C which supports the production of collagen. Collagen is good for nails.
Carrots and Sweet potatoes also contain a high amount of Vitamin A, which protects the nail and make them stronger.
Seeds and Nuts
Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats that can strengthen your nails. The dietitian Ashley koff explained that almonds are a good source of magnesium and protein.
Vertical ridges on nails are a sign of inadequate magnesium intake. If you observe such signs, then add almonds to your diet.
Sunflower seeds are rich in minerals like copper and manganese. These minerals help in the synthesis and production of connective tissue in cartilage and bones. It also contains zinc, vitamin B and vitamin E. These minerals also help in the strengthening of nails.
Eggs contain a high amount of protein which is important for nails.
According to Goldschmidt, nails are a high source of protein and vitamin D. The protein present in eggs is highly digestible and can easily be taken up by the body.
Eggs also contain B12 and biotin. Studies show that Biotin intake helps in the increase of fingernail thickness. It also reduces brittleness and splitting of nails.
Salmon is also beneficial for nails. It contains a high amount of healthy fats, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. Salmon is also the source of omega-3 fatty acids and biotin. These minerals are important for the growth of nails.
These minerals also prevent the breaking, splitting and peeling of nails.
Milk is also important for nails. It is a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Both minerals are important for the strength of nails.