|MadSci Network: Medicine|
Aloha, Niki, You asked a very interesting question. I teach a variety of undergraduate and graduate human nutrition courses here at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa, so I know quite a bit about nutrition and a fair amount about human physiology. However, your question made me do a bit of digging in both nutrition and physiology texts. Here is what I think a correct answer is: A hangnail is simply a piece of skin that surrounds a nail, 'gone bad.' The skin has become split, irritated, or otherwise damaged and is pulled away from the nail. Of course, it can then become infected and be very annoying and painful...to the point, even, of having to see a medical doctor to get it taken care of. As far as my nutrition knowledge tells me, there is no direct relationship between either nutritient deficiency or excess and the formation of the hangnail. However, there are a number of nutrients that can affect the health of your skin. So, indirectly, getting a hangnail may be related to your skin being less than healthy. Vitamins, such as, riboflavin (vitamin B-2), Vitamin A (or carotenes), and niacin (another B-vitamin) are important for the health of the skin. Minerals (such as zinc), too, help keep the skin healthy and could also play a part in development of the hangnail. The immune system is the part of the body that helps your body fight off infection; zinc, vitamin C, and adequate protein in the diet all help there. So, I guess the real answer to your question is that hangnails are most likely caused by something damaging the skin around the fingernails, even a rough manicure. Then, if your skin is less than healthy and/or your immune system isn't functioning quite right, you have a chance of it developing into something worse that just a piece of annoying loose skin. Of course, as a nutritionist, I need to get a plug in for keeping your whole body (including your skin) healthy by eating a balanced and varied diet...choosing from food groups such as in the Food Guide Pyramid...and eating to satisfy your hunger, so that you can grow/mature at a proper rate and remain healthy...especially fruits and vegetables, meats and/or meat substitutes like peanut butter and beans, milk and other dairy products, plenty of cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes...and even a few treat foods, now and again. ..yes, even a candy bar, french fries or corn chips, once in a while!
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