I have always had fingernails that are brittle and weak. Now they are starting to peel. I am a vegetarian — is there any connection between what I eat and the condition of my fingernails?
There could be a connection between your nails and your diet, but it may or may not be related to being a vegetarian. Brittle fingernails can result from certain nutritional deficiencies, diseases, environmental conditions, cosmetics or chemical exposure.
In sleuthing out the cause of your nail problem, it probably makes sense to start with the simplest first. Brittle nails are dry nails. Consider whether they are well hydrated internally or if something external may be drying out your nails. Make sure you drink plenty of water. When cleaning or washing dishes, wear rubber gloves to protect your skin and nails from harsh detergents and from being in water too long.
Use gloves also for gardening or other kinds of work that will expose your nails to drying substances or conditions. Indoor heating or climate-controlled environments may be affecting your nails, too. Are you a swimmer who spends time every day in chlorinated water? That can dry your skin and nails. There are numerous other possibilities in this category. Think about what you do every day that may be affecting your nails.
As to cosmetics, both nail polish and nail polish remover (acetone) can cause nails to become dry, cracked and brittle. If polished nails are part of your routine, you might want to try to give your nails a break periodically. Try different schedules, such as leaving your nails bare one day a week or a few days per month, and see if that helps.
Some illnesses can make your nails brittle. It is a common symptom of an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. Likewise, brittle nails may be a symptom of iron-deficiency anemia or AIDS. Deficiencies of calcium or vitamin A may also cause nails to dry out.
The issue, regarding your nails, your diet and your overall health, is not that you do not eat meat, but whether you are getting adequate nutrition from what you do eat. A vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs can supply all the nutrients needed to maintain good health — providing you eat a healthy, varied diet.