Vertical Ridges on Nails: Is It a Vitamin Deficiency?
November 21, 2023
In this article, we explain the possible causes of the vertical ridges on your nails and the supplements you can take to help revitalize and strengthen them.
The Anatomy of Your Nails
Before we dive into the vertical ridges, it’s important to understand the six different parts that make up your fingernail:
- The visible and hard outer layer of your fingernail is called the nail plate, made of the protein keratin.
- Beneath the nail plate is the nail bed, which contains blood vessels for nourishment.
- At the base of your fingernail is the nail matrix, which is responsible for producing new nail cells.
- The thin layer of skin covering the base of the nail is your cuticle. This offers protection for the nail matrix.
- Near the cuticle is the lunula, a crescent-shaped area that signifies active cell production in the nail matrix.
- The area where your fingertip meets the underside of your nail is called the hyponychium. This acts as a protective barrier to prevent debris from getting underneath the nail.
What Are Vertical Ridges?
Vertical nail ridges—also called longitudinal striations or longitudinal melanonychia—are raised lines that extend from the base to the tip of the fingernail. These ridges are a common and usually benign occurrence, especially as you age.
They can appear as faint or more prominent lines, often whitish or yellowish in color, blending with the natural nail shade. Typically located on the thumbs and affecting multiple nails, these ridges may have a slightly rough texture but are generally smooth and not associated with pain.
While a few vertical ridges are normal, if you have any sudden changes, especially the development of dark or discolored ridges, you should consult your healthcare provider.
What Causes Vertical Ridges on Your Nails?
Vertical ridges in fingernails are often a common and natural part of the aging process. As fingernails age, the cells in the nail matrix may not regenerate as quickly, and their ability to absorb nutrients also decreases. This affects the nail’s ability to grow and could result in vertical ridges.
However, vertical ridges can also be associated with other factors, including (1):
- Dehydration: Lack of moisture in the nails and cuticles can contribute to the development of ridges. Staying well-hydrated and using moisturizers can help.
- Nutritional Deficiencies: A deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, vitamin B, or vitamin D, may affect nail health and contribute to ridges.
- Trauma or Injury: Physical trauma to the nail or nail matrix, such as hitting the nail against a hard surface, can result in the formation of ridges as the nail grows.
- Medical Conditions: Certain health conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, may impact nail health and cause ridges.
- Medications: Some medications or treatments, like chemotherapy, can affect nail growth and lead to the development of ridges.
What Vitamin Deficiencies Cause Vertical Ridges?
If you’re wondering whether or not the vertical ridges in your nails are linked to a vitamin deficiency, here’s a list of four vitamins that could be responsible.
Iron deficiency often manifests as fatigue and weakness due to its crucial role in hemoglobin production, the protein responsible for oxygen transport within red blood cells (2).
One medical condition that arises from insufficient iron levels is anemia. Characteristics include pale skin, breathlessness, dizziness, and additional symptoms like brittle nails and hair loss. Cognitive issues such as difficulty concentrating and reduced cognitive function might also arise.
In more severe cases of iron deficiency, a condition called pica may develop, resulting in unusual cravings for non-food items like ice or dirt (3).
Zinc is an essential mineral necessary for metabolism, immune function, and wound healing. It is also required for any cells that rapidly divide, like the cells that make up nails. Zinc maintains the growth and strength of proteins throughout the body, namely keratin and collagen—two proteins that are essential for maintaining the structural integrity and health of nails.
A zinc deficiency can be evident from hair loss, hair thinning, or skin issues like dryness and acne. A weakened immune system, impaired wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infections are other notable signs (4).
Vision problems or night blindness, low energy levels, and mood changes such as depression and irritability can also result from inadequate zinc levels. Additionally, zinc deficiency may lead to a loss of appetite and, particularly in children, impair growth and development.
Interestingly enough, changes in taste and smell, characterized by a decreased sense of taste and smell, are also linked to zinc deficiency.
Vitamin B12 supports iron absorption and ensures that the red blood cells are produced correctly to promote healthy blood flow to the nail beds.
Since B vitamins play a crucial role in energy metabolism, a deficiency can lead to fatigue and weakness. Neurological symptoms may also emerge, such as tingling or numbness in the extremities, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems (5).
Mood disturbances, including irritability and depression, may occur due to the role of B vitamins in healthy nerve and brain function. Digestive problems and changes in appetite are additional signs to be mindful of.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, which maintains healthy bones. One common indicator of vitamin D deficiency is bone pain or muscle weakness. Severe and prolonged vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone deformities in children, known as rickets, or soft and brittle bones in adults, called osteomalacia (6).
If your nails are peeling, brittle, or have vertical ridges, this may also be a sign of vitamin D deficiency.
Mood changes—such as depression or irritability—are also associated with low vitamin D levels, as the vitamin plays a role in neurotransmitter regulation.
Impaired wound healing and hair loss can be signs of deficiency, and frequent illnesses or infections may occur due to vitamin D's role in supporting the immune system. Fatigue and a general sense of weakness may also be present.
NativeNote: If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seeking guidance from your healthcare provider and undergoing a blood test to assess your body’s levels of these essential vitamins and minerals is advisable.
How Can I Keep My Nails Healthy?
Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet
One of the best things you can do for your nails is eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit, a variety of vegetables, seeds, nuts, omega-3s, and proteins.
Practice Good Nail Hygiene
Keep your fingernails clean and dry, and practice good nail hygiene. Moisturize your nails and cuticles, and avoid biting them or ripping off hangnails. Avoid harsh products like acetone, and make sure your manicures and pedicures are done in a clean environment.
Supplement With Collagen
Collagen plays a pivotal role in promoting nail health. As a key protein in connective tissues, collagen provides a structural foundation for the nails, enhancing their resilience and reducing the risk of brittleness.
A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology showed that supplementing with collagen peptides promoted an increase of 12% in nail growth rate and a decrease of 42% in the frequency of broken nails (7). Moreover, about two-thirds of the subjects reported better outcomes with brittle nails. And almost 90% of the participants showed improvement even after the 4 weeks of not taking the collagen peptides.
By supporting the overall integrity of the nails, collagen helps maintain a smooth surface, reducing the likelihood of developing ridges or irregularities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Horizontal ridges—also known as Beau’s lines—are indentations or grooves that extend across the nail from side to side. They are usually a sign that there is an underlying illness, injury, or skin condition that has interrupted your nail growth (8). Treating the underlying cause will enable new, smooth nails to grow again.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.