Very often, ailments or conditions that can seem wholly unrelated to the food we eat are actually the body’s distress signals for being too low (or even high) on certain nutrients; that’s just how integrated a system the human body is.
Let’s take a look at 5 common problems you wouldn’t have guessed are nutrition-related – with a few tips on how you can fix them.
1] Constant Thirst
Thirst, as we know, is generally the brain’s way of warning us that the body is going through dehydration.
However, an excessive and persistent thirst (called ‘polydipsia’) might just be a sign of an oncoming problem such as diabetes.
The term ‘prediabetes’ is a condition where your blood sugar before a meal is high (‘fasting blood glucose’ of 100 to 125 mg/dl), but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Even so, the body could still be going through the strain of the high blood glucose, putting one at a very real risk of developing type-II diabetes over time.1 In an effort to manage high blood sugar, the kidneys kick into high gear and send more fluid to the bladder, which leads to excess urination. We then get thirsty because the body is trying to replenish lost fluids.
Excessive thirst is, naturally, accompanied by frequent urination, where you even have to regularly get out of bed to use the bathroom at night. This turns into a persistent cycle when the underlying issue – the high blood sugar – remains unaddressed. A healthier lifestyle that includes weight loss measures and more nutritious meals can prevent the metabolic mayhem of full-blown diabetes. 2
Despite tons of research being conducted on the causes of acne, scientific studies are often left inconclusive. That’s because there are countless factors that can affect the growth and occurrence of acne: hormonal imbalances, oily skin, skin inflammation, and so on. There’s also the fact that some people could be genetically more susceptible to skin issues than others.3 The role that our diet, specifically, plays in acne has always been a matter of debate. However, since a person’s diet affects all the known causes of acne, it is reasonable to say that good nutrition can help manage the breakouts.
Take the Gut-Skin Axis theory, for instance. It postulates that our gut’s friendly bacteria – the body’s first line of defence against our food’s broken down products – can affect our skin. Since their presence prevents certain toxins from passing into our bloodstream, the theory suggests that an insufficient number of them would allow these toxins to reach various parts of the body through the bloodstream. This would include the skin, where they can then cause problems like acne.
Fibre from food helps the good bacteria grow. Increasing our fibre intake is a great way to try and maintain a healthy gut, thereby protecting our skin and other parts of the body from toxins. On a related note, an excess of refined carbohydrates in a diet has also been implicated in increased acne.4 These include the sugars and starches that have had their fibrous husks removed; common examples of these in our everyday diet are wheat flour, white rice, corn flour etc. However, the lack of fibre may not necessarily be the sole cause.5 A high amount of refined carbs can increase our blood sugar levels, which, in turn, results in hormonal imbalances. The weight gain that ensues is another confounding factor.
All in all, the hormones of the body work in an integrated fashion, ultimately linking high-sugar, low-fibre diets to skin conditions.
Ongoing research will hopefully make all of this much clearer; until then, sticking to whole-grain foods and cutting down on excess carbsdiet seems to be a good plan – and not only when it comes to acne.
3] Hair Fall
The purpose of the hair on our head is to protect the area’s skin – but when our body’s nutrition status is low, it uses its available nutrients for parts of the body that are more essential to our survival (like our internal organs); in this scenario, our hair doesn’t receive its supply of nutrients. Because of this, its quality, growth and even strength get compromised.
For example, when we aren’t getting enough protein in our diet, there aren’t enough amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to build keratin, the hair’s main protein. Even healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids and an omega-6 fatty acid called Gamma-linolenic Acid (GLA), are needed in sufficient quantities, in order to retain moisture in the hair and scalp. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc and iron, can also lead to hair problems, because these support hair growth.
Most of these nutrients be gained from a balanced diet and lifestyle.
4] Sleepiness and Fatigue
Although one would imagine these being caused by sleep deprivation, they may actually be linked to the lack of certain nutrients like vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in several processes of the body and regulates more than 200 genes. A deficiency could be indicated by the daytime sleepiness and lack of energy being persistent and accompanied by bone and muscle pain, depression, fatigue, mood swings, sleep issues, or reduced immunity. In case these sound familiar, it’s probably time to check your levels and increase foods that are high in vitamin D (like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, cheese) or take a supplement.6
Fatigue can also be related to vitamin B12, which helps create energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose. When you have low vitamin B12 levels, you could experience shortness of breath, tingling in the toes and fingers, fatigue, diarrhoea, numbness or nervousness. This is because vitamin B12 is required for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system.7 Generally found in eggs, fish and meats, vitamin B12 can also be produced by the friendly gut bacteria – another reason to keep our gut healthy.
Deficiencies of B-group vitamins and minerals appear to influence the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that makes us fall asleep and regulates the sleep cycle. Some evidence even points to a connection between the amount of magnesium in our blood and our sleep patterns, because magnesium is involved in the production of melatonin. In fact, magnesium supplementation has been seen to improve both sleep quality and total sleep time in elderly people.8
The more one reads about nutrition, the more abundantly clear its role in our daily lives becomes.
Even more fascinating is the realisation that it is one of the few critical, life-changing factors that are actually within our control. More often than not, all it takes is a few simple steps, involving the right nutrients, to lead a healthier and happier life!
1. Grundy SM. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2012, 59(7): 635-643.
2. Kanat M, et al. World Journal of Diabetes 2015, 6(12): 1207-1222.
3. Bowe WP, Logan AC. Gut Pathogens 2011, 3: 1-1.
4. Mahmood SN, Bowe WP. J Drugs Dermatol 2014, 13(4): 428-435.
5. Smith RN, et al. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 57(2): 247-256.
6. McCarty DE, et al. J Clin Sleep Med 2012, 8(6): 693-697.
7. Pall ML. Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 2000, 8(2): 39-44.
8. Peuhkuri K, et al. Nutrition Research 2012, 32(5): 309-319.