5 early warning signs that your health needs attention

Don’t ignore the natural warning signs your body gives. They could indicate that something is wrong!

There are numerous tell-tale signs that could indicate the onset of something nasty. If you know what to look for and are more self-aware, you can spot it early enough and can take steps to correct the issue before it becomes a full-blown health issue that requires medical intervention.

Here are 5 common signs that your state of health kinda sucks right now…

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1. You wake up every morning at 3am

Waking up every night at around 3am isn’t a coincidence, nor is it a body clock ‘quirk’.

One of the main reasons for this is adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are important endocrine organs that are located atop the kidneys, and one of their roles is to produce the stress hormone cortisol.

While this important hormone has been demonised due to its association with stress, we all need it to function optimally.

Firstly, it is an important mediator of the sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm.

When adrenal function is normal, cortisol levels are highest in the morning to wake us up and gradually decline throughout the course of 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, be it from work, life, environmental, dietary or exercise stress, 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 at 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 and interferes with healthy endocrine function, impairs digestion, metabolism and mental function, and weakens your immune system.

Adrenal fatigue is also associated with many related conditions, including fibromyalgia, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and arthritis.

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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 such as leaky gut syndrome, which lead can to Hashimoto’s disease. 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.

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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, particularly leaky gut syndrome, as well as food intolerances or allergies.

When we eat food stuffs that the body – primarily the digestive system – has an intolerance to, chronic inflammation occurs.

Over time, with regular exposure, this reaction worsens and creates fissures in the spaces between cells in the digestive tract. These holes make the gut wall permeable, allowing microbes and other things that shouldn’t be circulating in the body to escape and do so serious damage.

These can include bacteria and toxins, as well as partly digested food. When these particles “leak” out of the gut and into the bloodstream, the immune system is alerted and tries to rectify the problem. This usually results in many 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 food stuffs to which the body is intolerant to or those that cause an allergic reaction.

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4. Cheilitis

Cracks at the corners of your mouth? No, it’s not because you’re using the wrong brand of lip ice.

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 illnesses 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 include 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.

If you’ve got one of those painful cracks forming, it’s worth getting an immediate boost of B vitamins in supplemental form in addition to bolstering your intake from whole foods.

The richest dietary source of B vitamins include brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast, red meat, egg yolks, wheat germ, whole grains, legumes, sweet potatoes, salmon, liver, and poultry.

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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 a number of 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 can indicate anaemia, congestive heart failure, 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 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 are linked to thyroid disease or iron deficiency.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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