Save Those Toenail Clippings, They Could Be Useful!

by DavalosMcCormack on June 13, 2008

I spend probably more time than is healthy looking at scientific studies. Sometimes they are really interesting and offer some provocative new information. Often they’re just studies that echo findings from previous ones. Sometimes they are just ridiculously obvious (such as the study that found that parents of newborn twins are at higher risk than other people of sleepless nights. Duh!). But sometimes they are just so weird you have to wonder, who thought of this?

That’s what I thought when I came across this latest study from researchers at both University of California at San Diego and Harvard University. Now these are people who are probably quite smart and charming in their own way, but surely one of them, at some point, could have said “Maybe this is not such a good idea!”

The study found that looking at the amount of nicotine found in toenail clippings can help predict a person’s risk of heart disease. I kid you not. Toenails! They used toenail clippings from 62,641 between the ages of 36 and 61 and analyzed them for nicotine concentrations and compared those to women who subsequently went on to have heart disease.

Where do you find the toenail clippings from 62,641 women? Well, in this case they found them in the files of the Nurse’s Health Study. Can you imagine what a fun job it must be to be the curator of clippings? What a fun conversation you’d have going home every day. “How was your day dear” “Lovely, we got some really interesting clippings today. One still had polish on it. Ever so pretty.”

But let’s for a moment put aside the fact that they are using toenails. What is it about them that makes them such good biomarkers for heart disease. Well, the researchers say because they grow slowly they provide a much more stable estimate of how much nicotine is in a person’s blood stream over a long period of time. The higher the nicotine concentration in your blood the greater the risk for heart disease. Oh, and the researchers say that toenail clippings are also useful because they are easy to collect and cheap to store.

The lead researcher, UCSD’s Wael Al-Delaimy, Ph.D, said of the findings “Using toenail nicotine is a novel way to objectively measure exposure to tobacco smoke.” Well, he’s certainly right about it being “novel”.

So next time you trim your toenails, don’t throw the clippings away. They could come in useful some day!

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