You could be the picture of health to everyone who beholds you, feel generally “okay” on a daily basis without any real complaints, and never really feel compelled to visit the doctor for any specific issue. Plus, you’ve cut out all the processed foods, so what could possibly go wrong? Except that many of us, if we stop to think about it, have little niggling symptoms that annoy us. And some of them could portend more serious conditions. I don’t want to worry anyone or freak you guys out. I just want you to be aware of seemingly inconsequential symptoms before they become more serious.
I’ve omitted the obvious signs that people don’t ignore, the sudden inability to bear weight on one leg, to focus on the subtler symptoms that many of us take for granted.
You drag through every day.
Maybe it’s your job boring you to tears. Maybe it’s the long drive robbing you of valuable sleep. Maybe man wasn’t meant to sit in an office during the best hours of the day. Maybe you’ve just had a bad week. Maybe you’re still on a high-carb diet, or you’re transitioning to a no sugar diet. Those are all reasonable reasons to be tired throughout the day, but it could be something else. If you find yourself nodding off on a consistent basis all day, every day, and the aforementioned causes don’t apply, consider conditions like hypothydroidism, diabetes, hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) insufficiency, or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Perhaps its worth getting thyroid and blood sugar tests.
You sleep poorly.
Good sleep is the pillar of good health It’s really, really hard – bordering on impossible – to be healthy, lean, and fit without a solid 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Many people think they’re getting away with it, tossing around pithy quotes like “sleep is for the dead,” but they’re really just getting by. And not for long. Eventually, it catches up. Inadequate sleep is linked to early mortality from all causes, while partial sleep deprivation directly leads to insulin resistance, overeating, and body fat gain.
You snore consistently.
One health risk associated with consistent snoring is being smothered in your sleep by whoever has to listen to it. Another is sleep apnea. Regular snorers may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disease that involves obstruction of the upper airway, frequent (but unbeknownst to the sleeper) awakenings, and 20-40 second long pauses of breathing during sleep. Yes, if you snore all the time, you might be holding your breath while you sleep. People with OSA are often inexplicably tired during the day (because of the awakenings and poor sleep). OSA is also linked to metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes.
You can’t drag yourself out of bed in the mornings.
Beds are hard to leave. I get that. They’re soft, warm, inviting. But you should be able to get out of bed if you really need to get on with your day. You shouldn’t languish daily against your better judgment. If you are, something’s wrong and needs fixing. Remember, that same study showing a link between low sleep duration and early mortality also found a link with long sleep duration (although a later study found that sleeping for a long time only increased mortality in sedentary people). A common culprit (assuming you’re not getting to bed too late or sleeping poorly in general, which I’ve already covered) is low morning cortisol, which has been shown to be an accurate predictor of hypothalamic pituitary axis insufficiency.
Test your diurnal cortisol rhythm. Get plenty of bright, natural light in the morning and during the day, but not at night.
You injure yourself frequently.
Frequent injuries can mean several things: you’re training too much or too hard, you’re not giving yourself enough time or food to recover from your workouts, you’re using poor form, you’re wearing the wrong shoes, you’re moving the wrong way, you’re deficient in key micronutrients. Whatever the cause or causes, someone who’s always injured, or always getting injured, is not a healthy person. You should be able to to move relatively pain-free.
Watch out for overtraining, shore up your micronutrient intake, sleep adequately, and eat an anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritis diet.
Normal physical exertion leaves you winded.
You can be lean, ripped to shreds, and strong as an ox, but if you can’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded or go for a hike and enjoy it, you should probably rectify that. Human beings should be strong, yes, and the presence of good amounts of lean mass is one of the most important health markers we have. It’s not everything, though. Humans should also be able to move their body around the environment, to ambulate and crawl and climb and even run if we have to without wanting to die. I’m not suggesting we all become triathletes or CrossFit champions. I’m not advocating chronic cardio. I’m not even advocating running or “cardio” at all; you can absolutely improve your conditioning using strength training movements done quickly with minimal rest. I’m just saying that cardiovascular fitness matters, too, and if you don’t have any, you’re not as healthy as you think.
Work on sprints and high intensity circuit workouts, not just weights. Be sure to walk every day.
You can run a marathon but struggle with pullups.
Don’t be the person they use in sprinter/marathoner comparison pics. Don’t neglect your lean muscle mass for the sake of a few seconds shaved off your time. Even the top endurance guys are incorporating strength training these days. Chances are lifting heavy things will only improve your endurance performance, not hinder it. It will also make you more resistant to injury.
Lift heavy things.
You have acne.
For many people, teenage acne is part of growing up. Acne as an adult could mean something different. And yeah, check in with a dermatologist if you want, but I doubt the creams, ointments, balms, salves, and other superficial skin treatments will get to the root of the issue if it’s a serious one. There’s a growing amount of evidence that gut health is linked to acne: gut permeability is elevated in many disorders, acne rosacea patients are more likely to suffer GI dysbiosis, and acne vulgaris patients tend to have altered gut flora.
Fix your gut. Eat probiotic-rich foods, consume prebiotic fiber (like resistant starch). Self-experiment.
You have dark circles under the eyes.
Most dark circles under the eyes are caused by poor sleep and/or thinning skin. But dark circles can indicate a few other, more serious issues. You could have food intolerances or undiscovered food/seasonal allergies, which could in turn indicate other issues (see below). They might also indicate anemia or elevated liver enzymes, both of which simple blood work can uncover. It’s probably nothing too serious, but be certain.
Get a complete blood count (for anemia) and/or a liver enzyme test. Try an elimination diet to identify food intolerances or allergies.
You have sudden intolerances to foods.
Have you ever experienced it? Maybe you sit down to your favorite post workout meal of steak and broccoli only to wake up later that night with horrible gas and horribler stomach pain. Or it’s cherry season and you come home from the farmer’s market with a big five kg bag of them, but eating more than a handful gives you the runs and really bad bloating. When there’s a sudden food intolerance, whether it’s to FODMAPs or dairy or anything else, it may indicate imbalanced gut flora, leaky gut, or both. Even if a food you already avoid, like wheat, is giving you more trouble than it usually does, that should be a warning sign to address the health of your gut.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are more, and I may even get to them in the future. It’s just a list of signs and symptoms that in my experience people tend to ignore or downplay. You may well be justified in doing that, but it’s good to find out for sure so that small problems don’t become larger ones.