While it’s true that some health conditions pop up suddenly and catch you unaware, most come on gradually with warning signs. In fact, your body is always communicating with you, dropping subtle—as well as not-so-subtle—hints about potential problems on the horizon. By paying attention to these early warning signals, you can catch serious health problems in their earliest, most easily treated stages.
Here are five signs of hidden health problems and how to address them.
Cracked, calloused skin on the heels and feet could signify a deficiency of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that is crucial for optimal immune system function and eye health. To rectify this, take high-dose vitamin A: 30,000–40,000 IU a day, for two to three months.
Caution: High doses of vitamin A should only be taken over the short term, meaning several days to several months. Women who could get pregnant should not take high-dose vitamin A. To relieve dry or cracked skin on your feet, some of my patients have had good success with an aloe vera–based cream called Miracle Foot Repair. It is available in drugstores.
Weak, brittle nails may be a sign of malnutrition, especially inadequate intake of protein. Make sure you eat modest amounts (20–25 grams per meal) of high-quality, low-fat protein from skinless poultry, oily fish (especially salmon), egg whites, beans, and legumes. Occasional servings of lean meat are also okay. Brittle nails may also be caused by low levels of biotin. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: Biotin supplementation (300 mcg per day) has been shown to increase nail thickness. Extreme nail brittleness may denote thyroid disease and should be evaluated by a doctor.
A burning sensation over your tongue, lips, or entire mouth (called burning mouth syndrome), may be caused by something as easily remedied as brushing your teeth/tongue too hard, using harsh mouthwash, or wearing irritating dentures. However, it also may be a sign of an iron, zinc, or B-complex vitamin deficiency. Increase your intake of zinc and B vitamins by taking a high-quality, high-potency daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Caution: Do not take supplemental iron before obtaining a blood test to determine iron levels. Excessive iron levels are a risk factor for heart problems and other conditions. Burning mouth syndrome may also be caused by neuropathy (nerve damage), allergies, insulin resistance, or thyroid disorders, so if symptoms persist, see your doctor.
Diagonal creases in earlobes can signal increased risk of heart disease, according to a few studies. If you happen to have such creases, don’t panic. Some experts believe they are simply a genetic variant, just as some people’s earlobes are attached while others are not. Others note that these creases are age-related. I wouldn’t make too much of this, but I would take all the precautions you can to protect yourself. Eat right, exercise regularly, manage your stress levels, and take cardioprotective nutritional supplements such as antioxidants, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and coenzyme Q10.
Dark circles under the eyes may be indicative of poor sleep, but they are also common in people with food allergies. The easiest way to detect hidden food allergies is with a modified elimination diet: stop eating certain foods, and then reintroduce them to see if they cause any adverse symptoms.
Start with the usual suspects: milk, wheat, eggs, citrus, and corn. Eliminate as many as you want, wait about a week, and then, every other day, reintroduce one food back into your diet. (A two-day wait before reintroducing
If you don’t notice any changes in how you feel, you can assume that food is not problematic. If symptoms return, omit that food from your diet for another week, and then reintroduce it again. Adverse reactions a second time probably indicate that this food should be removed from your diet altogether.
Now it’s your turn: Have you ever experienced these or any other “hidden health clues”?