Modern medicine is highly reactive as we tend to only see our doctor once we’re sick.
Well, why not turn the tables on ill-health by being more proactive? Your body constantly gives us warning signs of waning health, long before we get seriously ill.
You just need to know what to look out for. If you can spot potential issues early enough, you can then take steps to manage it before it becomes serious.
Here are 5 common signs that your state of health kinda sucks right now…
1. You wake up every morning at around 3am
Waking up every night at around 3am isn’t a coincidence, nor is it a body clock ‘quirk’. In fact, just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s normal.
A major reasons for unwelcome wake-up is adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are important organs that produce cortisol.
While this important hormone has been demonised due to its association with stress, we all need it to function optimally. Firstly, it mediates the sleep-wake cycle (aka the circadian rhythm).
When adrenal function is normal, cortisol levels are highest in the morning to wake us up and gradually decline throughout the day, eventually reaching levels in the body that make us tired and ready for sleep at night. While it’s not the only hormone in this complex process, it’s certainly an important one.
Cortisol also affects our physical, mental, and emotional strength, and our general well-being.
However, when we’re overstressed, our cortisol levels remain elevated into the late afternoon and evening. This often makes it hard to fall asleep, and once we do, we often tend to wake up in the early morning, usually, around 3am.
Chronic cortisol dysregulation can eventually start to destroy tissue such as muscle and bone. It also:
- Slows down healing and normal cell regeneration
- Disrupts the production of other important hormones
- Interferes with healthy endocrine function
- Impairs digestion, metabolism and mental function
- Weakens your immune system.
Adrenal fatigue is also associated with many related conditions, including fibromyalgia, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and arthritis.
2. Lethargy and brain fog
Are you struggling to get out of bed every morning, even after a long night of uninterrupted sleep? Are you forgetful, or do you struggle to concentrate during the day?
If so, you could be suffering from waning thyroid function. If left unchecked, undiagnosed or untreated, it can rapidly develop into hypothyroidism or, depending on the root cause, something as severe as Hashimoto’s disease.
Hypothyroidism is also referred to as an under-active thyroid, and while it is most common among women, it can affect anyone.
It is another endocrine disorder where the thyroid gland does not create enough of a thyroid hormone called thyroxine, either due to an imbalance along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which means the thyroid gland is not stimulated properly or due to a failure of the thyroid gland to function properly.
This is often associated with the adrenal fatigue and cortisol dysregulation mentioned in point 1 but has also been linked to other auto-immune diseases. Thyroiditis, which is an inflammation of the thyroid gland, can also result in sub-optimal function.
As thyroid hormones regulate energy metabolism, with insufficient thyroxine many of the body’s functions slow down. This results in the lethargy and brain fog already mentioned.
Other issues could include uncontrolled weight gain, cold intolerance, joint and muscle pain, dry skin, thin, brittle hair or fingernails, constipation, bradycardia (slow heart rate), high cholesterol, or a puffy face, feet, and hands.
3. Skin issues
Acne breakouts, eczema, or rashes can indicate a number of health issues, but a few of the more serious include chronic systemic inflammation, food intolerances or allergies.
When we eat foods that the body, primarily the digestive system, has an intolerance to, inflammation occurs. Over time, with regular exposure, this reaction worsens and can make the gut wall permeable. This allows microbes and other things like bacteria, toxins and partly digested food which shouldn’t be circulating in the body to escape.
When these particles “leak” out of the gut and into the bloodstream, the immune system is alerted and tries to rectify the problem. The resultant chronic and overblown immune reaction can result in skin problems, like eczema, acne, psoriasis or other rashes, as the skin is the body’s largest elimination organ.
When this happens it is best to try to identify the stressors, usually through an elimination diet and the use of a food journal. Once identified, it is best to stay away from those foodstuffs to which the body is intolerant to or those that cause an allergic reaction.
Cracks at the corners of your mouth? No, it’s not because you’re using the wrong lip balm. Those cracks are known as cheilitis and are a sign that you have a B-vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin B12, which can put you at risk of conditions such as anaemia.
Any kind of nutritional deficiency, be it from a poor diet or excessive nutrient depletion from intense or voluminous training tend to first present in tissues that have the highest turnover rate, which includes the tongue, lips and nails. Another tell-tale sign is dark circles under the eyes.
B-vitamin deficiencies are closely linked with poor diets that are heavy in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, or high alcohol intakes as the body depletes essential vitamins and minerals trying to detox and rebalance.
Endurance athletes are also prone to iron depletion and B-vitamin deficiencies due to the nutritional demands they place on their bodies during heavy training blocks, especially those nutrients are needed to boost the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood such as iron and vitamin B12. A deficiency in either, or both, can also result in cheilitis.
If you’ve got one of those painful cracks forming, it’s worth getting an immediate boost of B vitamins (and possibly iron if you’re in a heavy training block) in supplemental form – a B-complex or B12 supplements are a good option – in addition to bolstering your intake from whole foods.
The richest dietary source of B vitamins includes:
- Brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Wheat germ
- Whole grains
- Sweet potatoes
5. Nasty nails
If your eyes are the windows to your soul, then your fingernails may well be the windows to your body.
There are numerous conditions for which early tell-tale signs affect fingernails first. From changes in colour to variations in the texture and surface, your nails can indicate issues with internal organs such as your lungs, liver and heart, as well as deficiencies in vital vitamins or minerals.
For instance, pale-looking or very white nails could indicate anaemia, cardiovascular issues, liver disease or general malnutrition. Liver issues are commonly associated with very white nails that are accompanied by dark rims.
Yellow nails are often the result of a fungal infection, but could also indicate thyroid issues, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis. In the case of psoriasis, the nail surface can also become pitted or rippled, which are also signs of inflammatory arthritis.
Blue nails, on the other hand, should start ringing alarm bells as they indicate poor oxygenation, either due to vascular issues, poor lung function or even serious cases of anaemia. Dry, brittle nails that frequently crack or split could indicate thyroid disease or iron deficiency.