Do white dots or lines on your nails indicate an underlying health condition?
By Dr Sarah Brewer
Ever wondered why white spots suddenly appear on your nails? You’re not alone. Leukonychia is a relatively common condition where white dots or lines occur on your fingernails and toenails. While it’s rarely something to worry about, it can be unsightly and may indicate an underlying health condition.
Why are there white spots on my nails?
White spots frequently develop on one or more fingernails or toenails, and occasionally form white bands across the nail width.
White spots are more frequent on the nails of the index and little finger of the dominant hand (right hand if you are right-handed, left if left-handed) and it is thought that minor, unnoticed trauma at the base of the nail (such as knocking a finger against a door frame) may be involved, especially if there is a nutritional deficiency of protein, zinc or calcium.
White spots frequently develop on one or more finger nails or toenails.
In the 1950s, doctors noticed that low protein (albumen) blood levels could allow fluid to leak from the circulation, compressing blood flow under the nails and causing white bands. In the 1970s, it was noticed that zinc deficiency increased the chance of developing white spots by reducing the healing response to trauma. More recently, in 2004, it was reported that severely low calcium levels caused white banding on the nails due to arterial spasm, which responded to calcium treatment.
So, the most likely cause is minor trauma in the presence of an underlying nutritional deficiency; however, this is not proven and remains controversial. Similar spots also develop on the toenails which are usually protected by shoes, so this is not the only cause.
How are white spots on nails treated?
There is no real treatment for leukonychia, and they’ll often go away on their own. However, there are measures which you can take to prevent white spots and white lines from appearing on your nails in the first place.
White spots on nails prevention tips
To minimise white spots on your nails, try the following tips:
• Eat well
Ensure a good dietary intake of zinc (eg red meat), seafood (especially oysters), liver, kidney, wholegrains, nuts, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), and pulses such as lentils and soy beans, as well as eggs. These foods are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that provide nourishment for nail beds.
• Eat regular meals
Try not to eat erratically or to skip meals (especially breakfast) or the supply of nutrients to non-essential tissues such as nails is reduced.
• Eat sufficient protein
Aim to eat a source of protein with every meal, such as poultry, fish, eggs, nuts or beans.
Ensure a good dietary intake of zinc, seafood, wholegrains and seeds.
• Stay hydrated
It’s also important to drink plenty of water to improve the flow of nutrients to the nail beds.
• Take supplements
Zinc is important for the growth and strength of nails and Vitamin C is needed for production of collagen in the nail bed. Biotin, a B vitamin, is important for nail growth and can thicken nails to improve their resistance to trauma. Calcium and silica improve nail strength through effects on protein cross-linkage.