Watch for Early Signs of Disease

Suddenly it seems like your eyelid is twitchy and drooping in a way you hadn’t noticed before…or you notice strange marks on your fingernails…or you get an odd rash…or your hair suddenly starts falling out. These are the sorts of bodily changes that seem to show up more and more as we age. The big question is, are these changes normal or is there something wrong—perhaps seriously so? For a medical perspective, Andrew Rubman, ND, offers some tips on how to distinguish between variations that are normal, or perhaps typical signs of aging — e.g., age spots and gray hair—and the sorts of strange or surprising symptoms that may mean something is really amiss.

Suspicious Symptoms: What to Look For

There is a fine line between overreaction and underreaction, counsels Dr. Rubman, who has plenty of patients on both ends of the spectrum in his Connecticut practice. He took the time to go over some symptoms that, though subtle and seemingly unimportant, might mean something’s not right.

Symptom(s): Dry hair, hair loss and brittle nails.

It may be: A simple sign of vitamin D deficiency. Spending 15 minutes outdoors in the sunshine every day is a good place to start. Or, suggests Dr. Rubman, consider supplementation.  “For people living in the US, 1,500 to 2,000 IUs/day in the winter is conventional, while in the summer no more than 400 IUs should suffice.” If that doesn’t make a difference, these symptoms may indicate you have a thyroid problem. See your health care provider to evaluate whether your thyroid gland is manufacturing the correct level of hormones.

Symptom(s): Droopy eyelids.

It may be: A thyroid disorder or Bell’s palsy. While in some cases, a droopy eyelid is a normal part of aging, it also may indicate a thyroid imbalance or Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis that almost always affects one side of the face (and, in addition to the eyelid, often involves the cheek and mouth muscles). See your physician for evaluation.

Symptom(s): Yellowish tinge to eyes and skin.

It may be: Liver dysfunction. When the liver is performing sluggishly and not properly eliminating toxins from the body, metabolites such as bilirubin (which is yellow) build up in the blood. Dr. Rubman advises that you eat more cruciferous vegetables — cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, etc. — which contain sulfur compounds used by the liver to detoxify blood. In some people, not only the whites of the eyes, but also the inside of the lips and even the palms of the hands may have a dusky-yellow hue. See your doctor if you notice these symptoms.

Symptom(s): A cut that just isn’t healing as fast as you are accustomed to.

It may be: Fungal overgrowth. Dr. Rubman often finds that slow healing and inflammation occur when overgrowth of fungi — frequently candida or dermatophytes — overwhelms friendly microbes living on the skin. To restore balance, he advises that you follow an anti-inflammatory diet, including an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and deep-water fish (e.g., wild salmon or Arctic char) twice a week. He notes, however, that it is important to pay attention to how you heal the next time you get an injury. If you often have cuts that are slow to heal or even seem to not heal at all, call your doctor — it could be a sign of diabetes or some other underlying medical condition.

Symptom(s): Shiny, red tongue.

It may be: A vitamin B-12 deficiency. Dr. Rubman sees this in patients who are functionally deficient in B-12 (often because they take too many antacids). He prescribes B-12 tablets that dissolve under the tongue in combination with a vitamin B complex supplement.

Symptom(s): Whitish skin on your face, hands, feet and nail beds.

It may be: Anemia. If your skin and nail beds appear unusually pale, see your doctor to get a complete blood count.  Though iron supplements may seem an easy solution, they should be used only when deficiency is confirmed by blood testing. It’s better to get iron from food than supplements, anyway. Look for so-called heme-iron sources, including clams and mussels and, to a lesser degree, beef, turkey and chicken. Treatment varies but often includes B-12 supplementation.

Symptom(s): Bad breath.

It may be: Digestive issues or diabetes. Once you have eliminated common causes, such as poor dental hygiene or diet, consult your doctor to consider possible causes — for instance, an intestinal blockage (a fecal odor) or diabetes (a fruity, sweet odor).

Symptom(s): A diagonal crease that you’ve never noticed before across one or both ear lobes.

It may be: A sign of heart disease. Sometimes such creases are caused by a circulation problem. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.

Symptom(s): Foul-smelling stools.

It may be: Internal bleeding. Dark tarry stools that smell bad or look like coffee grounds and are accompanied by gas mean you should get to a doctor as soon as possible, advises Dr. Rubman. They may be a sign of a bleeding ulcer or other digestive disorder.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions — But Do Pay Attention

Don’t panic when simple changes occur in your body, but do pay attention — especially if they are persistent, severe or accompanied by other symptoms. To get to the root cause of your own suspicious lumps and bumps, see your physician.