Medical doctors today rely increasingly on so-called objective means of assessment – such as lab tests – and ever less on direct observation. In fact, I was just reading an article about doctors losing the skill to detect heart abnormalities using a stethoscope, the very symbol of medicine.
The problem is that lab tests rarely catch early warning signs.; besides, they only deliver small pieces of information while often missing the bigger picture. In many cases even a visit to an alternative practitioner results in one set of tests replacing another, while the body’s secret code language is still overlooked.
Take the nails, for example. If they’re soft or brittle, some people think that what they need is more calcium, but nails are not bones – they are actually made of dried skin and require a good supply of protein and trace minerals for health. If our diet hasn’t changed but the nails have weakened, it might be that our ability to digest protein has deteriorated, possibly as a result of aging. Of course, if there is a thyroid problem, which could appear at any age, protein metabolism slows down and the nails also become weaker.
Sometimes the nails are strong, but they are covered with white spots. It could be a few spots or many, and occasionally the spots turn into horizontal white lines known in medicine as “Mee’s lines.” Some women notice that new spots or lines appear every month just before their period.
The most unusual story I heard about white spots came from a man who was told as a child that a white spot appeared for every lie someone said; but then he noticed that some of his friends he knew were liars didn’t have any and besides he could go for months without saying a single lie and they’d still pop up. As it turns out the real cause of white spots is zinc deficiency, not lies!
This is an important point, because zinc deficiency is increasingly common as the modern diet and food quality continue to deteriorate, and this mineral is also poorly absorbed from multi-vitamin-mineral supplements. Zinc is essential for the immune system and the brain, and zinc deficiency early in life – possibly even in expectant mothers – has been suspected as a predisposing factor for ADHD and autism. Other signs of zinc deficiency include rough scaly skin, loss of taste or smell and, in severe cases, stunted growth.
In women, whenever estrogen peaks, blood levels of zinc drop and if these are already marginal there could be a recurrent zinc deficiency for a few days before each period. Women may experience this as depression, and may be given a fancy label like Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, but no matter how hard drug companies want to boost sales, the problem here is a deficiency of zinc, not Prozac!
Next consider the lips. Chronically dry and cracking lips could be a sign of iodine deficiency. You won’t find this in a textbook, and there’s no research to back me up on it, but I have seen iodine correct dry lips virtually overnight. The first time I noticed it was in my former assistant who used to drink all the bottled water in the office in a futile attempt to moisten her lips. When I found out that she also happened to be cold all the time it occurred to me that she might need iodine. Sure enough the day after she took her first iodine pill she told me her lips felt smoother. She continued to take it every day and, a few weeks later, she also commented that she wasn’t as cold any more. Since then I have seen similar results many times.
If your lips are not particularly dry, but you experience recurrent cracking and even bleeding at the edges between the upper and lower lips, you have a well-known and researched sign of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency. Vitamin B2 deficiency can sometimes also cause allergies, migraine headaches, and muscle cramps.
If you decide to try this vitamin, be aware that your urine will turn bright yellow for a while every time you take it. However, this is perfectly safe and not a sign that you are paying good money to have expensive urine! It’s actually good for the riboflavin to leave the body after it does its job, otherwise it would become toxic. Also be aware that the dose of vitamin B2 you will need to reverse a deficiency is going to be many times the RDA, and adults have taken 400 mg a day or more on a long-term basis with no adverse effects. It seems that when people are deficient in a vitamin they need higher than normal doses to re-establish balance.
Some people will chew ice whenever they can. While they might worry that this could harm their teeth, they just can’t help it. Actually their problem may very well be that they are deficient in iron, and believe it or not, the habit melts away once they’ve taken a few iron pills.
In small children, iron deficiency has been linked with a variety of odd behaviors, including eating dirt or licking paint. Eventually iron deficiency leads to anemia or low blood count, but many cases will be missed if you don’t watch for these signs or test for iron in blood specifically, not just through a routine blood count.
Incidentally, iron deficiency is also the most common cause of hair loss in women, and a common cause of restless leg syndrome in both children and adults. In restless leg, if the problem is not a lack of iron it’s likely to be folic acid deficiency.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause anemia but you don’t want to wait for this to show up on a blood test, because by then it will also have caused permanent nerve damage and quite possibly loss of sensation or tingling in the hands and feet. Actually vitamin B12 deficiency can do more that this – it can lead to fatigue, heart disease, and more. Experts used to think that vitamin B12 deficiency was rare except among vegetarians, but recent studies have shown this not to be the case, especially in an aging population.
The reality is that, even though a carnivorous diet supplies plenty of B12, this vitamin is difficult to absorb particularly as we grow older and our digestive system weakens. An aging digestive system also leads to protein deficiency and weak or brittle nails, and here we are, back to where this article started!
I am beginning to realize that if I keep writing this piece might end up looking more like a book! However, if you enjoy this type of information, let me know and I will write more.