The outward signs of health problems (Nov/Dec issue Wellbeing magazine)

  • Orange faced woman shouting

Taking the time to look at someone’s outward appearance can be hugely important in not missing a health condition. When I see patients on a one to one basis, I’m pretty much assessing them as soon as they come through the door, i.e. do they actually look well and do their eyes, skin, nails etc. tell me anything about their overall health? As a complete unique individual you will have completely unique individual traits, not only in your personality but also how you look. Starting with the eyes (often referred to as the windows of the soul) here are some symptoms that people suffer from and what they could but not necessarily mean: (so please dont all go rushing off to your GP unless you have real concerns!):

Glassy-eyed: too much adrenaline, exhaustion, prescription or recreational drug use
Bloodshot: lack of vitamin B, tiredness, allergy, infection
Itchy/dry: allergy, vitamin B deficiency or lack of tears (sjorgrens syndrome)
Dark circles: tiredness, anaemia, parasites (often seen in children)
Allergic shiners: usually seen in children – an allergy to a food or inhalant
Photophobia: lack of vitamin B, migraine/headache sufferer
Sunken eyes: dehydration/exhaustion
Pallor under eyes: anaemia

White spots on nail: calcium and/or zinc deficiency (often seen after an illness)
Pitted nails: can indicate partial or total hair loss
Ridges: vertical can indicate general poor health and horizontal can occur after severe stress.

Very slow: i.e. if under 50 bpm and little/no exercise done it can be braccycardia – a sign of hypothyroidism
Fast/irregular pulse: heart conditions/anxiety/overactive thyroid

Spots: there are many reasons for spots or acne. Usually where they are on the face can give a clue, e.g. around the chin and hairline is usually hormonal.
Rashes: can indicate an allergy or fungal infection
Dry and scaly: dehydrated, lack of vitamin A, lack of EFA’s (essential fatty acids)

Skin colour:
Lemon Yellow: lack of vitamin B12, pernicious anaemia
White: anaemia, lack of zinc
Orange: can indicate liver problems, jaundice
Dark Pink/Red: high blood pressure/heart problems

Athletes foot: fungal infection
Easy bruising:
can indicate a lack of vitamin C
Dandruff: usually a fungal infection
Psoriasis: stress, lack of EFA’s, allergy
Eczema: stress, lack of EFA’s, allergy
Vitiligo: autoimmune conditions/lack of PABA’s

Cracked: lack of essential fatty acids or vitamin Blips
Sores at the corners: lack of vitamin B3
Dry: lack of EFA’s

Dry mouth: dehydrated, medication or lack of saliva (sjorgrens syndrome)
Ulcers on tongue: run down or allergy
White coating round the gums: oral candida
Bad breath: tooth decay or bad digestion

The Four Humours

Although there is no scientific basis whatsoever, I love the idea of the very old practice of humors. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates (400 BC) and Galen (140/150 AD) classified four types of “humors” in people. Each type was believed to be due to an excess of one of four bodily fluids, corresponding to their character. The personalities were termed “humors”. All diseases and disabilities resulted from an excess or deficit of one of these four humors. The four humors were identified as black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Greeks and Romans, and the later Muslim and Western European medical establishments that adopted and adapted classical medical philosophy, believed that each of these humors would wax and wane in the body, depending on diet and activity. When a patient was suffering from a surplus or imbalance of one fluid, then his or her personality and physical health would be affected. This theory was closely related to the theory of the four elements: earth, fire, water and air – earth was predominantly present in the black bile, fire in the yellow bile, water in the phlegm, and all four elements were present in the blood. Theophrastus then developed a set of characters based on the humors. Those with too much blood were sanguine. Those with too much phlegm were phlegmatic. Those with too much yellow bile were choleric, and those with too much black bile were melancholic. Here are the general personality types of those humors:

A person who is sanguine is generally light-hearted, fun loving, a people person, loves to entertain, spontaneous, and confident. However they can be arrogant, cocky, and indulgent. He/She can be day-dreamy and off-task to the point of not accomplishing anything and can be impulsive, possibly acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion. The humour of Sanguine was once commonly treated with leeches.

A person who is choleric is a doer. They have a lot of ambition, energy, and passion, and try to instil it in others. They can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. On the negative side, they are easily angered or bad-tempered.

A person who is a thoughtful ponderer has a melancholic disposition. Often very kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly creative – as in poetry and art – but also can become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world, thus becoming depressed. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist, being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. This often results in being dissatisfied with one’s own artistic or creative works and always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved. They are often loners and most times choose to stay alone and reflect.

While phlegmatic are generally self-content and kind, their shy personality can often inhibit enthusiasm in others and make themselves lazy and resistant to change. They are very consistent, relaxed, rational, curious, and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats. Like the sanguine personality, the phlegmatic has many friends. However the phlegmatic is more reliable and compassionate; these characteristics typically make the phlegmatic a more dependable friend.

As I said, the humors have no scientifically proven basis, and are out of favour now. Like an astrology chart though, part of the thought process does have a sense of… something.

Type A personality
If we bring things up to date slightly, our 21st century equivalent is the Type A and Type B personality, first suggested by Meyer Friedman, an American cardiologist, who noticed in the 1940s that the chairs in his waiting room got worn out from the edges. He hypothesized that his patients were driven, impatient people, who sat on the edge of their seats when waiting. They labelled these people “Type A” personalities. Type A personalities are workaholics, always busy, driven, somewhat impatient, and so on. Type B personalities, on the other hand are laid back and easy going. “Type A personality” has found its way into our general vocabulary. Since its inception, the theory has been widely popularized and also widely criticised for its scientific shortcomings. It is thought to be that Type As tend to get more fatigue syndromes (the yuppie burn out so common in the ‘80s and ‘90s), and also heart disease, than Type Bs.
Type A can be described as impatient, time-conscious, concerned about their status, highly competitive, ambitious, business-like, aggressive, having difficulty relaxing; and are sometimes disliked by individuals with Type B personalities for the way that they’re always rushing. They are often high-achieving workaholics who multi-task, drive themselves with deadlines, and are unhappy about delays. Because of these characteristics, Type A individuals are often described as “stress junkies.”

Type B personality
Type B individuals, in contrast, are described as patient, relaxed, and easy-going, generally lacking any sense of urgency. Because of these characteristics, Type B individuals are often described as apathetic and disengaged. Whatever your personality, there are certain traits individual to you that make you unique. That is why for me no one is ever treated the same. It’s extraordinary how two people with two similar health problems have completely different symptoms, coping strategies and outlooks and that’s why I love my job so much! Again there is no scientific basis on constitutions but there are certain types of people that are forever strong – Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill showed the same ‘never show weakness’ mentality. For me these people have strong constitutions and good genes, but maybe its more simple than that – perhaps they have a more healthy way of coping with stress than others.

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