Yellow Toenail Syndrome --- Causes and Cures
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Yellow Toenail Syndrome -- Causes and Cures

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March 11, 2012, last updated June 3, 2015
By ALISON TURNER, Contributing Columnist

Are your toenails yellow?  If so, you may have a condition known as "yellow nail syndrome".  A rare condition, yellow nail syndrome most commonly arises in people between the ages of 40 and 60 , from unknown causes.  Patients with yellow nail syndrome do, indeed, have yellow nails, but they may also lack cuticles, have slow nail growth and loose or detached nails, suffer from lung disorders, and be ill with lymphedema (a condition that is explained below).  Accordingly, many specialists describe yellow nail syndrome as a "triad' of yellowed nails, lymphedema and respiratory manifestations.   What causes yellow nail syndrome? Is yellow nail syndrome always a sign of  a serious health problem? What remedies best treat yellow nail syndrome?

Several disorders have been reported to be associated with yellow nail syndrome, though there are few consistent trends.  As of yet there is no specific treatment for yellow nail syndrome,  though there are techniques to alleviate symptoms and decrease the risk of contraction.  

We have pulled together studies from around the world to uncover the Top 10 remedies for yellow nail syndrome:

1.  Oral Clarithromycin  Can Help Reduce Yellow Nail Syndrome.  Clarithromycin is an antibiotic generally prescribed for treatment of bacterial infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, as well as for non-severe skin infections.   A study in 2011 suggests that oral Clarithromycin may also reduce symptoms of yellow nail syndrome.

Suzuki and colleagues from the Department of Respiratory Medicine at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Niigata, Japan,  reported the case of an 80 year old woman with yellow nail syndrome.  She was treated solely with 400mg of oral Clarithromycin per day.  The team observed that oral Clarithromycin not only improved the patient's nails affected by yellow nail syndrome, but that it also helped to improve the associated sinusitis and lung disease.  If you have yellow nail syndrome, consider asking your doctor about oral Clarithromycin.

2. Vitamin E Can Treat Yellow Nail Syndrome.  Researchers with the Nail Disease Centre in Cannes, France, propose that vitamin E may also serve as a treatment for yellow nail syndrome.

In the 2009 report, Baran Robert and Thomas Luc  treated 13 patients with yellow nail syndrome with vitamin E.  11 of these 13 patients were "clinically" cured.    The two advise that vitamin E as a treatment for yellow nail syndrome has "positive results" on symptoms.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from damage, and is found naturally in foods such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, or as a dietary supplement. 

Vitamin E is believed by some to prevent disease because of its anti-inflammatory qualities and enhancement to the body's immunity.  

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin E for people over the age of 14 is 15 mg.  One tablespoon of wheat germ per day will meet this requirement, and one ounce of either sunflower seeds or almonds will be approximately one third of the daily recommendation.    Consult a dietician or your doctor of you worry that you do not get enough vitamin E, or if you want to consider using it to treat symptoms of yellow nail syndrome. 

3.  Radiation Therapy Can Cause Yellow Nail Syndrome.  Lymphatic dysfunction is one of the most common causes of  yellow nail syndrome.  

Your  lymphatic system is composed of tissues, organs, and lymph vessels that carry white blood cells through the body to fight off germs.  If anything goes wrong with the lymphatic system, be it from infection, blockage, or cancer, infections are not effectively cleared and bodily fluids are not balanced.  

Recent research suggests that lymphatic cells may also be destroyed from radiation therapy.  Radiation is energy released in either particles or waves.  When released in high doses, radiation can destroy cells or keep cells from multiplying, such as when radiation is used as cancer treatment. 

Fortunately, while radiation kills cancer cells, most of the normal cells recover after radiation treatment.   However, a recent experiment suggests that radiation therapy may also destroy dermal lymphatic vessels, and thus interfere with lymphatic function. 

In 2009, Babak Mehrara and colleagues from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York,  treated the tails of mice with radiation and analyzed the lymphatic cells of those mice in terms of lymphatic function.  They found that after radiation the animals displayed "persistent lymphatic dysfunction." The team concludes that "radiation therapy decreases lymphatic reserve."

If you are receiving radiation therapy it is most likely because you have cancer, and if this radiation negatively affects your lymphatic system you may have greater concerns than any resulting yellow nail syndrome.  However, knowing the relation between yellow nail syndrome and lymphatic dysfunction, as well as the connection between radiation therapy and lymphatic dysfunction, may help you to understand why on top of everything else, now your nails are turning yellow.

4. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Yellow Nail Syndrome

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