Alternative Medicine: How to read your body's early signs of health problems
Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series.
To a holistic practitioner, small, physical signs that usually go unnoticed or not thought much of by most doctors provide valuable clues to your health.
These can be used as an early warning system of underlying weaknesses in the body that are best to deal with now to prevent worsening health problems.
I would like to share with you some of these diagnostic signs that I look for when I examine a patient. Close observation can help tell me about a patient's functional state even before I hear about their symptoms or I see lab results. As you read this, perhaps you can check yourself in the mirror or check your spouse.
For instance, brittle hair that breaks easily may signal a hypothyroid (low thyroid) situation. And low thyroid can have a lot of causes, ranging from lack of iodine or the trace minerals needed by the body to make thyroid hormone to a liver that does not help activate thyroid hormone.
Hair loss is usually blamed on a person's genetics, but for some men and women, it is because of too much cortisol, the body's stress hormone, or too much testosterone. Even women can have too much testosterone.
It can also be caused by low levels of estrogen or progesterone. If there is a loss of the outer third of the eyebrow, this is caused by low thyroid hormone.
Dandruff can be caused by low stomach acid, which frequently starts as we get into middle age and worsens as we get older. A lack of stomach acid can lead to indigestion, improperly digested food, irritable bowel, bloating and constipation. Dandruff can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies, including B complex and essential fatty acids.
Redness of the eyes without nasal congestion suggests a sensitivity to some food. The most common food allergies that I find in practice are those to wheat, corn, sugar, soy and dairy products. If the red eyes are combined with a runny nose, this is most likely an environmental allergy, usually because of pollen, inhaled chemicals, mold or even dust mites.
Also, when I see dark circles under the eyes, I suspect food allergies. It can also suggest problems with the liver, the filter of the body. The liver may not be removing toxins from the body effectively, allowing toxins to build up to unhealthy levels.
When the inside of a patient's lower eyelids are pale instead of a healthy pink-red color, there may be a problem of low iron, particularly if they are vegetarian. This can also be caused by heavy menstrual periods or by bleeding hemorrhoids. Another potential reason could be bleeding in the stomach or intestines.
Excessive wax buildup in the ear canals can be caused by a food sensitivity or a deficiency of essential fatty acids.
Now, for signs that the mouth can tell us. Swollen or bleeding gums can indicate a lack of dental hygiene, but there is probably a deficiency of vitamin C or bioflavinoids. This is even more strongly suspected if the patient bruises easily.
Most people don't realize that humans are the only species (other than guinea pigs) that don't make their own vitamin C, so we must have a regular intake. Vitamin C is best taken as vitamin C complex, not just ascorbic acid.
In a vegetarian or someone who takes cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, swollen or bleeding gums indicate a dangerous deficiency of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which helps to protect the heart.
Next month, we will continue with more signs from the tongue. Practice checking the signs that I have just given you to check yourself and your loved ones. You just might find something that could alert you or them to a potential problem.
Dr. Tim Holcomb is a local nutritionist, pharmacist, naturopath and chiropractor.