Catching them early may do more than save you discomfort—it could save your life.
We all know the telltale signs of aging: crow's feet, wrinkles, age spots. But those are just on the surface. What really matters for your long-term health is how your body is aging on the inside. Keep an eye out for these red flags.
Cotton Mouth Cotton mouth in the morning may be a sign of sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. To figure out if you have it, determine your "snore score" by answering the following questions. For every "yes" answer, give yourself a point:
Do you snore?
Do you wake up groggy or with a headache?
Do you feel constantly tired or fatigued during the day?
Do you fall asleep reading, watching TV, or driving?
Do you have problems with memory or concentration?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you're at risk for sleep apnea and you should see your doctor. In the mean time, be sure to sleep on your side. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and soft palate to rest against the back of your throat and block your airway. Taping a tennis ball under your back or placing a pillow between your legs can be helpful way to ensure a safer night's sleep by ensuring you stay on your side the entire night.
Red Eyes Inflamed eyes could be a sign of arthritis, the painful inflammation and stiffening of joints. The same cellular process that causes inflammation in your joints can cause inflammation in your eyes, turning them red.
Studies have shown that the sooner you treat arthritis, the better the long-term results, so visit your doctor at the first sign of trouble. To help stave off or relieve arthritis, try taking feverfew, a plant with a long history of use in traditional and folk medicine. Available at health food stores, feverfew has great anti-inflammatory properties; take 1 to 2 capsules per day.
Next: Test your sense of smell to catch this debilitating diseaseGraying Skin If your skin doesn't seem to "glow" in the way it used to, it may be a red flag for kidney problems. Your kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from your blood, which are then excreted in your urine. When chronic kidney failure reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes, and wastes can accumulate in your body. The "good news" is that kidney problems can cause anemia, which will lead to a gray-skin warning sign. If you notice your skin looking duller than usual, be sure to check in with your doctor.
Loss of Smell Losing your sense of smell may be an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease. The degenerative nerve disorder usually starts slowly and worsens over time, leading with muscle tremors to slowness of voluntary movements, muscle stiffness, imbalance, changes in speech, and dementia.
Catch this debilitating disease early by testing your sense of smell. Start by holding an open rubbing-alcohol swab by your belly button and slowly raising it to your nose. If you can smell the swab 8 to 12 inches away from your nose, your sense of smell is normal. But if you only start to smell it 4 inches away, it indicates a loss of smell.
There are other reasons your sense of smell may be lacking, and alpha-lipoic acid may be able to help in some of those cases. Made naturally in the body and available from food sources like spinach, broccoli, and yeast, alpha lipoic acid has been used for decades in Europe to treat nerve conditions. Try taking just 600 mg daily.
Next: Why it's important to keep an eye on your feet and toesHairless Feet or Toes While our culture encourages women to get rid of every last hair not on their head, hairless feet or toes are actually a red flag for vascular disease, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks! Ordinarily, of course, your legs have hair. Beneath the skin, hair follicles are kept alive by the blood flowing through your veins and arteries. When you gain weight, over time, your cholesterol level rises and plaque builds up in arteries, clogging them up and cutting off blood flow. As a result, all the little blood vessels under the skin die off, killing hair follicles. If you notice shiny, hairless skin around your feet, it may indicate plaque buildup, which could eventually lead to a deadly heart condition.
Fortunately, you can often stop or even reverse the build-up of plaque in your arteries with proper diet and exercise. Be sure to consult with your doctor.
Bumped Toes While you're down checking your feet for hair, linger an extra moment to check your toes; toes that bump upward at the tips could indicate lung cancer. Known as "digital clubbing," if you notice an elevated bump between your toe's knuckle and nail, it means oxygen isn't getting delivered properly throughout your body, and could indicate disease of the lung or the heart. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you notice this.
Hearing Loss Many of us assume hearing loss is an inevitable part of life, but it's actually the number-one red flag you're aging too fast, and can be a sign of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. As you probably know, the brain has multiple "centers" that control different bodily functions: One part controls sight, another part controls smell, another stores memory, one controls hearing, and so on. One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease is the formation of plaques on the brain, located between nerve cells. These plaques cause neurons in the brain to stop functioning properly, making it unable to send all the signals it wants. As a result, your various brain centers begin to shut down. Thus the hearing center's ceasing to function may be directly linked to the formation of the plaques associated with Alzheimer's. To make matters worse, as hearing ability decreases, our ability to function in daily life decreases as well, contributing to further mental decline.
While doctors don't have a cure for Alzheimer's just yet, you can start protecting your hearing right now by taking 300 mg of magnesium a day. According to a recent study, oral magnesium treatment has been shown to reduce the incidence of temporary and permanent noise-induced hearing loss. Studies have also shown the benefits of keeping an active brain through reading or doing crossword puzzles or brain games. Break out an interesting book or finish that Sudoku puzzle. Your brain's health could depend on it.