Do You Bite Your Nails? It Could Lead to Infection

Most nail symptoms are due to systemic issues, trauma, or lifestyle factors, and this includes the habit of nail biting. Nail biters are susceptible to paronychia, a skin infection that occurs around your nails. As you chew your nails, bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms can enter through tiny tears or abrasions, leading to swelling, redness, and pus around your nail.

This painful condition may have to be drained surgically. Bacterial infections caused by nail biting are actually one of the most common nail problems, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Nail biting tends to begin in childhood, peak in adolescence, and then slowly (or abruptly), decline with age. Whether you’re an adult who can’t seem to kick the habit, or a parent of a child or teen who bites his or her nails, here are simple options that are often effective for quitting:

Keep a journal to identify your nail-biting triggers, such as boredom or watching TV, then avoid the triggers as much as possible Wrap your fingertips with Band-Aids or electrical tape
Keep your nails trimmed short or manicured Keep your hands busy with other activities, such as knitting
Consider behavioral therapy, such as habit reversal training, or the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Put an unpleasant tasting substance on your fingertips (vinegar, hot sauce, or commercially available bitter-tasting options)

A Healthy Diet Leads to Healthy Nails

If you eat a balanced, whole-food diet like the one described in my nutrition plan, you’re probably giving your body more-than-adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. If not (and this applies to the majority of the U.S. population), there’s a good chance your body is lacking in important nutrients. Not only can this lead to chronic diseases, but your nail (and hair and skin) health will also suffer.

Healthy sources of protein, like whey protein, free-range eggs, and grass-fed meat, are important (grass-fed beef is also a good source of zinc, which is necessary for making proteins like those found in your nails). Antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals found in leafy greens, berries, and other whole foods will also benefit your nail health. Biotin, vitamin B7, is one example.

Your body needs biotin for metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids, but it’s most well known for its role in strengthening your hair and nails.

Biotin may play a role in building keratin, which makes up your nails. Egg yolks from organic, free-range eggs are one of the best sources of biotin. Animal-based omega-3 fats are also important. Most Americans eat too many inflammatory omega-6 fats (think vegetables oils) and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3s, setting the stage for health problems like depression, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes, just to name a few. Inflammation may also interfere with nail development.

The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:1, but the typical Western diet is between 1:20 and 1:50. Brittle or soft nails are a common signs that your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio may be out of balance. Try cutting back on vegetable oils and eating more animal-based omega-3s from krill oil, sardines, or anchovies.

Simple Nail Care Tips

Nurturing your nails from the inside out via the proper diet described above is important, but so is protecting your nails from excessive exposure to water or chemicals.

Cotton-lined rubber gloves are useful when doing dishes, for example, and minimize (or eliminate) your use of nail polish, polish remover, and artificial nails. Simple buffing can create a nice, smooth sheen to your nails, without using any nail polish whatsoever. An added boon is that it may actually help your nails grow stronger and longer due to increased circulation, and you won’t have to worry about chipped nail polish either.

It’s a good idea to keep your nails trimmed relatively short using manicure scissors or clippers. Trim them straight across and rounded slightly in at the center, which will help keep your nails strong, according to AAD. Your nails can also benefit from added moisturizer (much like your skin), so consider rubbing some coconut oil onto your nails regularly. Also, avoid picking at your cuticles, as this can damage your nail bed, and hangnails should be clipped, not ripped off, to avoid harming live tissue.

Finally, if you notice any unusual or bothersome nail symptoms, resist the urge to simply cover them up with artificial nails or manicures and pedicures. Instead, see a holistic health care provider who can help you figure out if there’s an underlying issue.

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