How your nails can reveal vitamin B1 deficiency

We live in a world of fancy lab testing, drug therapy and surgery.

Doubtless, this technology is helpful, but we often neglect simple ways of gauging our health that give us early warning signs of declining body function.

You can tell a lot about your health, digestion and nutrition by the condition of your nails. In fact, your nails provide an excellent barometer of overall wellness.

Vertical or horizontal ridges, nail spots, brittleness, peeling and other factors can provide meaningful insight into how your body is working.

The issue I want to talk about here is vitamin B1 (thiamin) deficiency and how you can check for it by looking at your nails.

Why worry about a vitamin B1 deficiency?

B1 is a critically important nutrient, helping burn fuels to make cellular energy. Literally every cell in your body needs B1 to make energy – that’s how important it is.

You need B1 to optimize your energy level, liver, skin, hair, eyes and everything else!

If your B1 levels are low, you can feel crappy, including the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability – feeling tense, anxious
  • Low tolerance to stress
  • Depression


These symptoms are remarkably common. Vitamin B1 deficiency won’t be the cause of such symptoms in everyone, but it definitely plays a role for some people.

Horizontal nail ridges can indicate B1 deficiency

Take a look at the picture below, showing horizontal nail ridges. When nails look this way, it’s usually the result of a vitamin B1 deficiency.


If your nails look like this, AND you have some of the symptoms listed above, there’s a fair chance that vitamin B1 depletion may be causing a problem.

Symptoms can develop from minor deficiencies

Your vitamin B1 level doesn’t have to be rock bottom to feel the effects – it’s not about whether you have an advanced B1 deficiency disease such as Beriberi (see below).

It’s about gauging how you feel each day, and your quality of life:

Could your quality of life be better? Will it continue to decline if you take no action?

Your B1 level may not below enough to cause disease, or even raise your doctor’s suspicion.

Instead, subtle deficiencies can simply lower your energy level by 20-30%, affect your mood, or cause headaches and irritability.

Vitamin B1 deficiency diseases – Beriberi

I doubt very much whether you have Beriberi, but this disease is important because it helps explain why B1 deficiencies occur.

Beriberi is the main vitamin B1 deficiency disease. It causes the following symptoms:

  • Swelling, tingling, or burning sensation in the hands and feet
  • Confusion
  • Trouble breathing because of fluid in the lungs
  • Uncontrolled eye movements (nystagmus)

Historically, Beriberi developed in certain parts of the world because of excessive processed and polished rice consumption.

The equation is simple:

The more you process rice, the less nutritional value it has (including vitamin B1).

People in the developed world usually do not get beriberi because foods such as cereals and breads are fortified with vitamin B1.

The fact that food companies have to fortify their products with B vitamins shows you how depleted those foods are!

To reiterate, you don’t have to have a severe B1 deficiency to the point that you develop Beriberi in order to feel unwell.

Mild to moderate B1 deficiencies can lead to fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, aches and pains, and poor nail quality.

People walk round with these sub-clinical deficiencies without outright disease, but with poor energy levels and quality of life.

A skilled clinician can assess blood work and other markers of nutritional status to help you correct these subtle deficiencies.

How to eat enough vitamin B1

Most foods contain a little bit of vitamin B1, but remember you need it to produce energy all day long in every cell of your body, so getting adequate amounts is important.

Larger amounts of B1 can be found in foods such as:

  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Organ meats

Other good dietary sources include the foods below.

  • Whole-grain or enriched cereals and rice
  • Legumes
  • Wheat germ
  • Bran
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Nuts
  • Blackstrap molasses

However, when people have digestive problems, I personally feel it’s a good idea to minimise or avoid some of these foods because they can be very irritating to the stomach and intestine (e.g. nuts, wheat germ, legumes, grains/cereals that contain gluten).

It’s important to realise that the more calories you consume from processed cereals, breads, and other grain products, the less B1 and other nutrients you will get.

The nutrition and dietary information in The H Pylori Diet and Digestive Reset Plan will help you optimise your diet.

What if you already eat a good diet?

As with all nutrients, you only get their benefit if you’re able to extract them from the food you eat and absorb them into your body.

Unfortunately, when people have digestive disruption due to H. pylori, Candida, parasites, and so forth, nutrients may not be properly absorbed.

This is why digestive health testing is so important: it’s not just about the digestive symptoms you have – it’s also about understanding your risk for nutrient deficiencies that tank your energy, create aches and pains, and flatten your mood.

Lab tests for B1 deficiency

Using lab tests to check for nutritional deficiencies can be very helpful, and for many of our clients has meant the difference between staying unwell and optimising their health

Because symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, digestive problems and irritability can have different causes, lab tests can distinguish in your individual case why you’re not feeling at your best.

Here are some lab test markers that provide information about vitamin B1 status.

Blood test for B1 depletion

Doctors run routine blood testing all the time, but they only measure your blood markers against wide reference ranges that identify medically diagnosable diseases.

You may not have a medical disease but you may feel way below optimal.

Your blood test can reveal much more than your doctor tells you, and there are some indicators of B1 deficiency:

  • Elevated blood glucose (even mild elevations that would not bother your doctor)
  • An elevated anion gap
  • Low CO2 or bicarbonate
  • Low lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)

To reiterate, your doctor will almost certainly not flag these markers because they do not indicate disease.

Instead, they provide evidence that your metabolism is out of balance, and indicate some of the reasons you feel unwell.

You can also analyse the level of B1 itself in whole blood, but this test is not included in standard blood tests, and must be ordered separately (we occasionally run this test for clients, but it is rarely needed if basic testing is performed).

Organic acids test (a simple urine test you do at home)

Elevated pyruvate in your urine is a very strong indicator of vitamin B1 deficiency

Home stool test

Stool tests don’t directly measure nutrient levels, but they do show how much digestive inflammation there is and whether you’re digesting your food properly.

Often times, nutrient deficiencies begin with poor digestive function, so stool testing is surprisingly helpful in uncovering reasons why nutrient levels have declined.

Furthermore, in order to fix your nutrient levels over the long term, you must fix your digestive health.

Where to start

I realise all this information can be a little confusing, so let’s simplify.

First, check your nails – do they have horizontal ridges? Indeed, do they peel and crack easily?

If so, something is going on.

Look at your diet.

Clean it up.

Eat less processed food and more whole, unprocessed natural food (organic if possible, as you will get more nutrients into your body this way).

Regarding lab testing, it’s going to depend on your individual situation.

If you experience digestive symptoms such as heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, constipation, loose stools, gas, etc. then a stool test is the best starting point.

If your digestion feels pretty good, then having someone interpret your blood work in detail (more detail than just a medical interpretation) is a great starting point.

If you’re not feeling well, do something, because doing nothing isn’t going to resolve a damned thing and the solution could be really simple.

Our job is to help you get better, sooner, so if you’d like some assistance to cut through the noise and confusion, consider one of the options below.

Click here if you’d like more about getting stool test done, or to order one.

Click here if you’d prefer to schedule a 60min consultation where we can review your case and help you plot a course of action.

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing, and remember that the path to optimal health may be simpler than you think.

All my best,