Brittle, peeling, or cracked nails often appear during menopause in spite of meticulous nail care pains a woman may have taken. In fact, split nail layers affect around one-third of women, and women are twice as likely to experience nail problems as men are. This is because a decline in the hormone estrogen - an imbalance that often occurs as a result of menopause - can negatively affect the production of keratin and the hydration of the nails.
Fortunately, there are many methods to treat nail issues and restore strong nails. Keep reading to learn more about the various approaches and what each entails.
Three Approaches to Treating Brittle Nails
When looking to treat nail problems, women can turn to three typical approaches. These are classified as: (1) Lifestyle Changes, (2) Alternative Medicine, and (3) Medications.
It is recommended to begin with lifestyle adjustments, the least risky approach, before proceeding to the next stage. Medications should only be used when all other options have been tried.
1. Lifestyle Changes
The first approach to treatment involves the least amount of risk, but it also demands the greatest level of self-discipline. In many cases, simple lifestyle adjustments can repair brittle nails in addition to leading to an overall healthier lifestyle.
Since nutritional deficiencies can contribute to brittle nails along with hormonal imbalance, a balanced diet is crucial in restoring the health of nails. In particular, a diet rich in vitamin B7 (biotin), calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and protein can help improve the condition of nails. Consuming more estrogen-boosting foods like soy and flaxseed can also help. In addition, staying hydrated is essential, since nails often crack or split when they do not have enough water.
Food for Healthy Nails
- Coldwater fish
- Leafy vegetables
Regular physical activity is also important because exercise benefits both the health of the hormonal system and blood circulation. Improved circulation can help oxygen and nutrients reach extremities like the fingertips. Additionally, exercises like yoga and Pilates reduce stress, which can contribute to nail restoration.
Finally, it is crucial to maintain healthy habits. Smoking cigarettes can reduce circulation, which may discolor nails or make them brittle. It also reduces estrogen levels, potentially contributing to the problem.
In addition, substances like caffeine and alcohol, especially when consumed in excess, can dehydrate the nail bed. Activities that are hard on the nails - such as scrubbing dishes - should also be avoided. In many cases, wearing rubber gloves can help protect the nails during such activities.
While changes in lifestyle are an overall wholesome way to approach nail problems, with the time and energy they require, they can be hard to put into practice. In addition, most methods do not directly treat the hormonal imbalance that underlies most cases of brittle nails during menopause. However, alternative medicines provide both a safe and natural way to treat brittle nails. Continue reading to find out more about the natural approach.
2. Alternative Medicine
This level of treatment contains a variety of options. Nutritional and herbal supplements are the most common method, since they are easier to follow, involve less time, and require less of a financial commitment than other alternative treatments. Nutritional supplements such as biotin and vitamin E oil may be necessary to remedy deficiencies manifesting as nail problems. Some herbal supplements - like horsetail - can help strengthen nails, while others address the underlying hormonal imbalance that is often the cause of brittleness.
Oil Soaks for Brittle Nails
There are two main kinds of herbal supplements during menopause that can help balance hormone levels: (1) phytoestrogenic supplements and (2) hormone-regulating herbal supplements.
1. Phytoestrogenic supplements - e.g., black cohosh, ginseng
These supplements contain phytoestrogens, or compounds resembling estrogen that originate from plants. When these compounds are introduced into the body, they can raise and balance estrogen levels. However, it is not recommended to use them long-term, since the body may grow accustomed to external hormones and become less capable of producing natural hormones. This can result in an overall decline in estrogen levels.
2. Hormone-regulating supplements - e.g., Macafem
These supplements do not contain any kind of hormones. Instead, they enact hormone balance by nourishing the system and stimulating the steady production of natural hormones. This helps not only with estrogen, but also with other hormones like progesterone. In addition, since these supplements virtually lack side effects, they are safe to use as much as necessary.
From Nature and Health Magazine, Dr. Chacon says:
"Macafem's nutrients help restore natural hormones in women. Unlike hormone drugs, which are basically resumed in taking synthetic hormones, Macafem acts totally different in your body. It nourishes and stimulates your own natural hormone production by inducing the optimal functioning of the pituitary and endocrine glands." Click on the following link if you want to learn more about Macafem.
A combination of the two above approaches is often the most effective way to treat brittle nails during menopause. However, in severe cases - those in which the nails may have sustained long-term damage - medical intervention may be necessary. Nonetheless, patients should be aware of the related risks before using medications.
This approach to treatment generally entails the highest risk as well as the greatest expense. In the U.S., hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been the most popular way to treat brittle nails and other symptoms of menopause, and while it is a strong and speedy way to balance hormones, it also carries the risk of adverse side effects, as illustrated by the following study.
In 1991, the National Institutes of Health launched a new clinical study, the largest ever conducted in the U.S. - the Women's Health Initiative. Its goal was to identify the benefits and drawbacks of HRT, but it was stopped short 11 years later, at which time it was established that the use of artificial hormones raises the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer, as well as of other dangerous side effects like stroke and blood clots.
Therefore , if a woman is considering HRT for treating severe nail problems, it is important to first discuss the risks with a doctor or endocrinologist (hormone system specialist). There may be a nutritional deficiency at play, or other treatment methods may be safer and equally effective.
When managing brittle nails, a woman does not have to choose just one approach over another. In fact, a combination of lifestyle adjustments and herbal supplements is recommended to provide the most relief.
A Safe Way of Treating Brittle Nails
Making lifestyle changes:
- Exercising regularly
- Moisturizing nails
- Eating balanced diet rich in nutrients, especially biotin
- Consuming estrogen-boosting foods
- Habits like nail biting
- Alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Activities that are destructive to the nails
And taking herbal supplements to recover hormonal balance:
- Nourishes and stimulates the hormonal glands
- Safe, natural, and free of outside hormones
- Iorizzo, M. et al. (2004). Brittle nails. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 3(3), 138-144. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17134428
- National Institutes of Health. (2015). Nail abnormalities. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003247.htm
- Szyszkowska, B. et al. (2014). The influence of selected ingredients of dietary supplements on skin condition. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, 31(3), 174-181. doi: 10.5114/pdia.2014.40919
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). 18 Ways Smoking Affects Your Health. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://smokefree.gov/health-effects