The Use of Fingernails as a Means of Assessing Bone Health: A Pilot Study


Background: Anecdotally, patients volunteer reports of increasing hardness of their fingernails within months of starting diverse treatments for osteoporosis. The properties of both nail and bone may be linked in a comparable, measurable way. Methods: We examined the fingernails of two groups of patients, with (n = 9) and without (n = 13) osteoporosis at either the hip or lumbosacral spine. We performed nanoindentation to assess the degree of nail brittleness and Raman spectroscopy to assess the disulfide bond content of nail. Results: The mean moduli of fingernails of patients with low bone mineral density (BMD) are lower than those of patients with normal BMD. The mean difference in mean modulus between the groups was found to be 0.996 (p = 0.15 between groups). The spectroscopy data also showed differences between the two sets of nails. The disulfide bond content of the nails sourced from osteoporotic patients was lower than that from healthy patients (p = 0.06 between groups). Conclusions: Bone collagen and nail keratin are two distinct structural proteins, and both require protein sulfation and disulfide bond formation, via cysteine, for structural integrity. A disorder of either process may lead to disordered collagen and keratin synthesis. This is reflected in the structural abnormalities seen in clinical syndromes in which there is either protein deficiency, disorders of sulfur metabolism, or cystathione beta-synthase deficiency. The relationship between nail and bone may exist in a measurable way. This pilot study should lead to further work to explore this relationship. Could nail prove to be a valuable adjunct to diagnosis or provide a means of more rapid follow-up after commencement of therapy. © Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.


Chemical and Biochemical Engineering

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Article - Journal

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© 2023 Mary Ann Liebert, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 May 2005

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