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Like your skin, nails need moisture to keep them healthy. Lower oestrogen levels brought on by the menopause can lead to dehydration and this can leave your nails brittle and weak.
The menopause affects our bodies right down to our fingertips – literally. You might notice that your nails seem drier and more brittle than usual. And it could be because of the menopause transition your body is going through.
Nails are made from layers of a protein called keratin, which also makes up your hair and skin. Keratin is a protective protein, less prone to scratching or tearing than other types of cells that your body produces.
When there’s too little moisture in your nails, they can become dry and brittle. Nail changes that are caused by the menopause are likely to be linked to the natural drop in oestrogen and dryness of the skin.
But the menopause may not be the only culprit. Other non-hormonal causes of brittle nails include:
Dry, brittle nails become more common as we get older, though it’s uncertain how many women experience changes that are directly related to the menopause.
Dry and brittle nails can occur at any time and it’s uncertain whether this is linked to any particular stage of the menopause. Certainly, they become more common as we age.
Even though none of us can do anything about age-related nail changes, you can reduce the risk of split, cracked and brittle nails. To keep nails healthy and strong, try the following tips.
Make sure you rub it around and directly onto your nails. Always moisturise after washing and at bedtime.
Wear gloves when doing household jobs that involve detergents and cleaning fluids. And wear gloves when it’s cold outside.
Keep them short to minimise contact with any chemicals. File them regularly to prevent splitting. Consider using a hardener for extra protection.
This dries out your nails even more. You can find acetone-free products instead.
If your nails are damaged and brittle, be patient while you wait for them to grow out. It takes about six months for a fingernail and up to 18 months for a toenail to grow back.
Taking supplements may help. Replace iron if you suspect that you may be low in it. The symptoms of low iron include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and pale skin. If this is the case, you should see your doctor.
To check your iron levels you need a blood test, particularly if you have heavy periods. You can buy iron supplements over the counter – but be aware of the side effects, which can include constipation and nausea.
Eat iron-rich foods, including dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale, cereals and bread with extra iron (fortified), meat and pulses (beans, peas and lentils). A dietician or nutritionist can help find the right diet for you. You can find out more about our nutritionist partner here.
See your GP if you are concerned about your nails, as you may need investigations and treatment. If you would like to discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause, you can also book an appointment with our specialist menopause clinic.
Dr Clare Spencer
Registered menopause specialist, GP and co-founder
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