Think Nail Biting is Harmless? You Won’t After Reading This


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

I’m an occasional nail biter. It’s a habit I’ve had for years. Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. And I’ve always thought this habit was pretty harmless, until I came across this recent news story.

Twenty-eight-year-old Luke Hanoman was biting his nails and tore off a bit of skin.

“I bit the nail and it pulled down the side of my nail and got infected,” Hanoman said.

And it wasn’t just any infection he got. It was sepsis.

Sepsis occurs when chemicals released in the bloodstream to fight an infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. Think of it as your immune system going into overdrive to battle the infection, whether it be bacterial, fungal or viral. The resulting inflammation can end up damaging your organs and causing them to fail.

I was in work throughout the week and started to get flu-like symptoms which were gradually getting worse," he said. “I had cold sweats, I was shaking, and then going hot. And then my finger started swelling up and I had this unbearable throbbing. I started going really weird and I couldn't focus."

Luckily, he survived sepsis, which reportedly affects more than a million Americans every year (15 to 30 percent die). But the outcome could have been very tragic, considering he waited a while to get medical attention.

This is, obviously, an extreme case. It’s not like you hear about people getting sepsis from nail biting often. We also do not know much about this young man’s medical history. It is noteworthy that last July he spent four days in the hospital where he was treated for sepsis with intravenous antibiotics, so this makes me believe that he may have a compromised immune system due to an existing health issue.

(“Studies have shown that people who have experienced sepsis have a higher risk of various medical conditions and death, even several years after the episode,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH)).

But I think a big misconception about sepsis is that you cannot get it from a minor cut. Most people may associate sepsis with pneumonia, an abdominal infection or a kidney infection.

And although sepsis is more common in older people (over the age of 65) and more difficult for them to fight, sepsis can affect people of all ages.  

One medical doctor stated in the report that the most common infection sources for sepsis are pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

“However, skin infections are not terribly far behind," the doctor said.

About two years ago, a 44-year-old mother of two died from sepsis after getting a small scratch on her hand from gardening.

The scratch had been on Lucy's hand for just a week before she visited her GP to complain about pain in her shoulder,” according to the story.

After a simple blood test in hospital, medics diagnosed her with sepsis and placed her on intravenous antibiotics. Sadly, Lucy's condition worsened over the next few days and she was placed on a ventilator in a critical care ward to assist with her breathing. On her sixth day in hospital, her internal organs began to shut down and she suffered a cardiovascular, renal respiratory failure and died.”

So it is imperative to seek medical attention right away if you experience symptoms of sepsis. If you do have the infection, you will need antibiotics right away. If you wait too long, antibiotics may essentially be useless.

On top of this, sepsis experts are concerned about antibiotic resistance.

“Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria do not respond to the drugs designed to kill them. It is one of the most serious public health problems in the United States and threatens to return us to the time when simple infections were often fatal,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC estimates that each year, in the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria causes more than 2 million illnesses and about 23,000 deaths.

To help prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria, you can do the following:

  • Take prescribed antibiotics exactly as your doctor instructed
  • Never save antibiotics for the next time you get sick
  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else

So what we can do to be proactive about sepsis is arm ourselves with the strongest immune systems possible. And the best way to do this is by eating a nutrient-rich diet with all of the essential vitamins and minerals.

To learn about specific vitamins and minerals that may help strengthen your immune system, read here.

And remember to always properly wash a cut with warm, soapy water and cover with a bandage. Be sure to keep the cut dry. This will help reduce the risk of infection.

If you are taking antibiotics for sepsis or any other infection, it is highly recommended you take probiotics. Antibiotics may deplete the good bacteria in your gut.

“The main factors that affect your personal microbial mix are age, diet, environment, genes, and medications (particularly exposure to antibiotics, which can deplete gut bacteria),” reports Harvard Health.

“Your gut microbiota plays many roles. It metabolizes nutrients from food and certain medications, serves as a protective barrier against intestinal infections, and produces vitamin K, which helps make blood-clotting proteins.”

Some clinicians say that probiotics should be taken until at least a week or two after the course of antibiotics is completed.

Ask your doctor about good quality probiotic supplements. You can also get probiotics from foods, including yogurts, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha.

To learn more about protecting your digestive system when taking antibiotics, read here.

I don’t know about you, but I will definitely think twice before biting my nails now. I will also keep an eye on any minor scrapes or cuts I get. As an amateur gardener, I’m always at risk for minor cuts.

But just because something is initially minor, does not mean that it cannot turn into a major health issue. We must be proactive and take the necessary precautions.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.   


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