When you go to see a naturopath, you usually expect to answer a whole bunch of questions regarding your state of health, your diet, lifestyle and those fun subjects such as bowel habits, and just how many times per day you poop! Questioning is the foundation of a naturopathic consultation. In comparison to the majority of general practicing doctors, naturopaths want to spend time with you, learn all about you and get your whole story before making recommendation about your direction of treatment. But there is a second level to the questioning foundation. Naturopaths use the time we have to observe you, weather you know it or not, and help piece together what your body is actually saying.
Ok, don’t get all creeped out. We don’t peer at you through a crack in the door while you’re filling out your forms or anything. We just take the time to look at you, really look at you while we talk. And believe it or not, these simple naturopathic signs are often apparent from a few meters away in general conversation. Sometimes we might ask to have a better look at certain areas, such as your nails, your tongue or the inside of your eyelids, but often the signs are clear enough not to ask you to poke out your tongue. Here are a few simple signs we look at, what they mean and direction so you can go check them at home yourself!
Lots of people know about this one! White spots on your nails are traditionally thought to represent zinc deficiency. I have heard it said that white spots on your thumb and pointer finger indicate calcium deficiency while white spots on the middle, ring and pinky finger indicate zinc deficiency. This is a sign only, naturopaths usually ask questions in regards to healing time and diet to make sure zinc deficiency is a factor for you. They may also ask you to take a zinc tally test, the test where you hold liquid zinc in your mouth and describe the taste. An immediate foul taste is what you want, sweet or very mild taste means you are zinc deficient. But basically, healthy nails shouldn’t have spots.
Bleeding gums after brushing or flossing can be a sign of vitamin C and bioflavaniod deficiency. The occasional trace of blood if you have been a little rough with the dental floss is understandable, but blood in your toothpaste froth after your regular brushing or flossing indicates to naturopaths that your capillaries are weak, requiring the cofactors for healthy structure, in particular vitamin C. This can also be a sign of gum disease, so if you do suffer from this problem and a good course of vitamin C does not help, it is wise to investigate this further with your holistic dentist.
In many traditional cultures, the state of your tongue is often of interest and can give a deeper insight into the workings of your digestive tract. In Western naturopathy we usually look at the coating on your tongue and the scalloping where your tongue meets your teeth.
The tongue should have a nice clean coat of white, not too thick, not too thin. Not cracked or coloured. Your tongue itself should not be too red or too fat, and the tip should not be noticeably redder than the rest of the tongue. If your tongue has a coating other than this or any of these other signs, it can indicate digestive dysfunction such as low hydrochloric acid, toxicity, infection, mineral deficiency or even cardio-vascular disease.
A scalloped tongue- teeth marks where your tongue presses up against your teeth on the side, indicates liver dysfunction. This scalloping remains after the tongue has been poked out for inspection. Liver support and detoxification is to be considered in this scenario.
Many people think that dark circles under your eyes simply mean you’re tired. Yes this can be the case, but if you have constant dark circles and you do get enough sleep (7 hours per night), it can be a sign of allergies, intolerances or adrenal dysfunction.
I always seem to notice allergy related circles in young children. In fact the thoughts that spring to mind straight away are “Allergy kid, take them off gluten and dairy.” This can be obvious in kids I see walking down the street. When you know what you are looking for it becomes very easy to spot. These kids often have low vitality, sniffly noses and get sick quite a bit. These signs most certainly fit an allergenic picture.
In adults too, dark circles can mean allergies and intolerances, but can also indicate underactive adrenal activity. This is where questioning becomes invaluable. A few quick questions and it will become clear as to whether the cause of the circles are more likely to be from items in the diet, or adrenals that are crying out for help.
Pale Mucous Membranes
The mucous membranes of your inner eye lids, lips and gums can give you a good indication about your iron status. If you have very pale mucous membranes that look faintly pink to almost white, naturopaths will usually suspect deficiency. Your inner eyelid should be a nice healthy pinky-red.
Your palms and fingertips too should be a healthy pinky-red. The colour should disappear from your finger tips when pressed and then quickly flood back. When you spread your hand wide you should still be able to see your palm lines in red while the rest of your hand goes pale.
The black pupil in your eye can tell us a lot about your state of mental health. No, it can’t tell us if you’re mental, but rather how stressed your nervous system is. People suffering from an acute stress such as a deadline at work or uni, will often have tiny pupils, while in people where the stress has dragged on a long time and their nervous system has suffered as a result, are often seen with large and ‘blown out’ pupils. If I ever see a patient with huge pupils I always know some serious nervous system support needs to happen in order to get the patient feeling better.
So now as I leave you running off to find a mirror to check your pupils, tongue, mucous membranes in your eyes and so on, I will also leave you with this: these are naturopathic signs that help us identify areas of concern. They are not definitive alone. That is why we ask so many questions. We back up the signs with information from you about your health and put together a treatment plan based on the total information gathered. It is a little hocus pocus, but that is what I love about natural medicine! Come and see a naturopath like me to help sort out some of the signs your body might be displaying.