Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective on Nail Health
If you are dealing with abnormal nails, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has several approaches to dealing with nail health. Here are a few examples:
1) Fungal Infections and Eczema
If you are struggling with nail health, whether it is eczema or a fungal infection, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may assess the changes seen in your skin and nails. If you are noticing redness, heat, swelling, or fluid-filled sores around your nails, according to TCM these changes may be attributed to dampness and heat.
What is dampness?
- Dampness is the main cause of numerous skin diseases, especially eczema.
- It manifests with fluid-filled cysts and vesicles, small raised bumps, lesions that ooze fluid, puffiness of the skin, and swelling.
According to TCM theory, dampness is often due to:
- An excess of damp foods in the diet
- The body’s inability to properly digest foods, leading to stagnant water in the body
- Excessive exposure to dampness in the environment such as places with high humidity, or areas with stagnant and standing pools of water. 
What foods can lead to dampness?
- Dairy products
- Pork and other rich, fatty meats
- Roasted peanuts and peanut butter
- Concentrated fruit juices, especially orange and tomato juices
- Excess refined wheat products
- Sweeteners and refined sugar
- Saturated fats, especially deep-fried foods
What is heat?
- Heat can give you a red, hot, flushed face, the desire to drink cold water, sensations of heat throughout your body, and feelings of restlessness.
- On the skin, heat is seen in any raised, red skin eruption that feels hot and that may or may not also have burning pain.
- Heat can come from eating too many hot foods (red meats, warm spices, alcohol, refined sugars) or from excessive emotional stress.
2) Psoriasis and Immediate Reactions to Medications
If you have had an immediate skin or nail reaction to any medications, or if you are suffering from psoriasis, according to TCM, some of your symptoms may be attributed to heat toxicity.
Signs of psoriatic nails can include:
- A new yellow, green, or brown color to your nails
- New ridges or grooves in your nails
- Your nails are lifting up from the skin, often with a white discoloration underneath
What is heat toxicity?
- Heat toxicity is similar to heat but with the addition of symptoms related to toxicity, which can mean the addition of pain, swelling, and pus, sometimes accompanied by a fever.
- Just like with heat, you might have a red, hot, flushed face, the desire to drink cold water, sensations of heat throughout your body, and mental restlessness.
- On your skin and nails, you may often see pain, swellings with pus, redness, and heat.
3) Long-Term Exposure to Medications
According to TCM, changes in your nail health due to prolonged exposure to certain medications can be caused by empty heat.
What is empty heat?
- Empty heat is a type of heat that is caused by the loss of the body’s ability to properly cool itself. This is different from the type of heat discussed earlier, which is due to an excess of heat in the body.
- Heat and cooling aspects of the body balance each other. You can either have excessive heat, that is, too much heat, as discussed earlier, or you can have too little cooling. This is based upon the idea of Yin and Yang as balancing aspects in the body.
- Empty heat can be due to overwork, irregular eating, or persistent heavy blood loss.
- If you have symptoms of empty heat, you might have feelings of heat in the afternoon or evening, a dry mouth, or night sweating.
- Skin eruptions due to empty heat might include scarlet-red, painless skin eruptions that are not raised.
For more information about these patterns and how to treat them, contact a Chinese Medicine practitioner.
- Betts D. Dietary Therapy: Dampness. The essential guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth; 2006.
- Wiseman NE, A. Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine. Brookline, MA: Paradigm Publications; 1996.
- Maciocia G. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Second ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone; 2012.