9 Subtle Clues You're Not Taking Good Care of Yourself
Doctors share the silent clues you need to take care of your body more—and what to do about it.
#1 Super stressed out
Whether it’s work, family, relationship, or general concern with the world we live in, constant stress can wreck your health. The corrosive hormone cortisol will stay elevated, says Dr. Bloom: “When cortisol levels are unbalanced or spiked, this can cause us to feel moody, anxious, depressed, or suffer from poor cognitive function–all equating to lower libido and self worth. High cortisol can also cause a increase of body fat and inflammation, which can lead to less self confidence, frustration, and reduced energy and overall well-being,” he says.
As with brain fog, Dr. Bloom encourages patients to start the road to relaxation via their gut. By cleaning up your diet, you can better control your cortisol, awarding a better balance to your body. “Stress is something that can be managed and fixed with the right support, and reduced stress can be a major player in improving your overall health and quality of life,” he adds.
#2 Brain fog
After what you considered a good night’s rest, you wake up feeling spacey, and you walk out the door without your wallet. Don’t just chalk up forgetfulness to aging, says Martin G. Bloom, MD, a cardiologist and functional medicine expert. He says brain fog can be indicative of something more serious, like a hormone imbalance that impacts cognitive issues. For women especially, mind lapses may indicate a dysfunctional thyroid. “Consider a comprehensive blood test that measures all of your hormones and biomarkers, and a complete thyroid test that not only measures your thyroid hormones but also possible thyroid antibodies, to determine the root causes of your brain fog,” he says.
For both men and women, the bacteria populations of the gut could also cause scattered thoughts. Because your intestinal microbiome is connected to your brain, improving your diet can bring clarity and concentration. “Most patients are amazed by the difference a healthy gut can make in their cognitive function. They report feeling sharper, smarter, and quicker with an improved ability to focus, remember things and complete mental tasks,” Dr. Bloom says. Eating more probiotic foods could help balance your microbiome.
#3 Feeling sleepy all the time
Apart from carving out time to exercise and taking care to follow a good diet, your nightly slumber is a key component to your health. So when you’re struggling to fall and stay asleep or you just feel like you can never get enough snooze-time, talk to your doctor ASAP, advises Dr. Bloom. You might be fighting sleep apnea—your airways collapse and disrupt your sleep cycle throughout the night. The conditions is linked to high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease. Sleep is also crucial for resetting your internal clock, says Dr. Bloom: “In the perfect scenario, your body will have an amazing regenerative sleeping pattern,” he explains. “As we age and some of these internal hormone levels become unbalanced, and this can cause a domino effect of imbalances and deficiencies, thus causing poor sleep.” A simple chat with your doctor can alert him or her to the tests you may need to discover what’s not cycling correctly in your body, helping them to change the pattern and give you the Zzz’s you need.
#4 Sex drive is low
The demands of parenting can drive down desire; so can decades of marriage, for some couples. While your libido will ebb and flow, if you never have the urge, says Dr. Bloom, your hormones may be out of whack. Talk to your doctor about lab testing to analyze your hormones, such as testosterone, estradiol, estriol, progesterone, and more. Hormone imbalance can lead to more serious conditions, like fatigue, depression, weight gain, and even heart troubles. “The hormone test will act as a roadmap, and 99 percent of the time testing will uncover the root causes,” Dr. Bloom explains.
#5 Skin is super dry
With winter right around the corner, dry skin becomes a concern. Keep an eye on those hot spots: According to Janet Prystowsky, MD, those itchy flaky spots could be a clue that your low-fat diet is behind a fatty-acid deficiency. In addition to adding a daily moisturizer that’s compatible with your skin type, she recommends adding more good-for-your-fats to your daily menu. These could be avocados, walnuts, olives and more.
#6 Muscle twitches in your legs
Since most of us spend the vast majority of our day sitting at a computer or in front of a TV, we don’t think twice about the occasional muscle twitch or cramp in the leg. However, medical director at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, Adonis Maiquez, MD, warns frequent spasms in your muscles can indicate low magnesium levels. Over time, it can pose some serious health issues. “It carries a risk of cardiac arrhythmias [abnormal heartbeats] that can cause cardiac arrest or sudden death,” he adds. To help alleviate the random flinch, Dr. Adonis (he’s known by his first name) recommends increasing your consumption of magnesium-rich foods like almonds, pumpkin seeds, and bananas. Or, if your doctor suggests you require an even higher amount of this essential vitamin, consider a supplement.
#7 Acne break out
Though acne is largely a genetic and/or hormonal condition, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, there are several factors that could be enticing an unfortunate zit (or five) to erupt more frequently. “Stress may trigger a flare up,” he says. “It has been well-documented that stress in the workplace or in school during testing periods is associated with worsening of acne,” he says. “When you sleep, cortisol levels naturally go down.” Other culprits could be consuming too many sugary and starchy foods, which lead to high blood sugar levels, encouraging inflammation. Zeichner adds cow’s milk, with a big emphasis on skim milk, has also been associated with flare ups, too.
#8 Hands and feet tingle
The occasional buzz or goosebumps episode is fine, but if your hands and your feet tingle regularly, says Dr. Adonis, you might be struggling with a vitamin B12 deficiency. Left untreated, this lack of an essential nutrient can lead to anemia, and in some severe cases, neurological diseases. To ensure you’re well balanced, consume foods that are rich in blue-green algae, eggs and dairy. Especially for those who lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, a B12 supplement can keep you on the safe side.
#9 Always feeling tired in the afternoon
After sitting through more than a handful of meetings you didn’t actually need to attend, you might find yourself counting down the minutes until it’s time for a snack of coffee break. But if you consistently feel like an afternoon pick-me-up, says Tania Dempsey, MD, you might be reaching for the wrong foods at lunch time, causing you to lose your stamina long before you head home for dinner. She explains that carbohydrate-rich foods, like pizza, sandwiches, or other bread-based meals, can cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash a few hours later. “Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can cause the sleepiness and fatigue that people get in the afternoon without them realizing why they feel that way,” she says. To save you from searching out something sweet or caffeinated, Dr. Dempsey says to focus on mid-day meals that are balanced with protein, fat, and fiber-rich vegetables to maintain your blood sugar levels.