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Diagnose Everyday Health Symptoms

What breakouts, cravings, and other minor bodily complaints may mean.

By Michele Bender
Wooden human figure model wrapped in yellow caution tapeYasu + Junko


What You Can Learn From Your Cravings

If you crave salt: You may need some stress relief. Your constant search for a salt fix could signal that your adrenal glands, which pump adrenaline and other hormones into your blood when you’re feeling anxious, have been working so hard that they’re temporarily exhausted. “The adrenal glands produce a hormone that holds sodium in your body, so if they’re not making enough of that hormone, you may crave salt,” says Susan Blum, M.D., the founder and director of the Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, New York. To keep stress in check, try exercise, meditation, or just saying no to yet another PTA request.

If you crave fat: It’s well-known that eating sweets and simple carbohydrates can lead to the infamous sugar crash that leaves you craving more. Consuming fat has a similar self-perpetuating effect, says Sarah Leibowitz, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology at Rockefeller University, in New York City. “Eating fatty foods stimulates the brain to produce peptides that make you crave more fat,” she says. A recent study at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida, showed that rats who were fed high-fat foods (bacon, icing) began eating more and more—a hallmark of addictive behavior. (They actually refused nutritious food when it was offered.) Fight the urge for chips by eating plenty of lean protein and low-fat dairy products, which will help you feel more satisfied.


What You Can Learn From Your Hair

If your hairline is receding: If you have a family history of thinning, you might be experiencing female pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia), which occurs in 30 to 40 percent of women. A dermatologist can prescribe medication or a topical treatment to help. It’s also worth noting that your ponytail may be too tight, tearing strands from the hairline and creating a condition called traction alopecia.

If your part seems wider than usual: Your body could be under stress. (But be aware: Losing a handful of hairs a day—or about 100 strands—is normal.) A significant physical event, such as surgery, childbirth, or even a dramatic weight loss, can cause hair follicles to shift into a resting state and temporarily stop growing. Stay calm: Once you fully recover, your hair will gradually return.


What You Can Learn From Your Mouth

If your gums are swollen or bleed: “You may have periodontal disease,” says Greg Diamond, a periodontist in New York City. About 75 percent of people over the age of 40 do. “Most people think nothing of it if they spit blood after flossing,” says Diamond, but your gums should never bleed. And though periodontal disease may not be painful, the bacteria that create it have been linked with systemic problems, like strokes and heart disease. So keep up with your professional cleanings (twice yearly), flossing (daily), and brushing (ideally, after every meal).

If you have whitish or reddish dots on the back of your tongue: Have your primary-care physician or dentist test you for the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is on the rise. HPV is tricky to detect and typically goes away on its own, but in some cases it can lead to cancer of the mouth, throat, or cervix. So if you do have the virus, you’ll need to be monitored going forward.

If your tongue is smooth and shiny and you can’t see your taste buds: You may be lacking in vitamin B12, says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., the Kona, Hawaii–based author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now! ($17, Cracks at the corners of your mouth may also signal a B vitamin deficiency, says Minka Schofield, an otolaryngologist at Ohio State University Medical Center, in Columbus.


Read More About:Preventative Health

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Juice may serve up vitamins, but it won’t do much to ease hunger: Unlike solid foods, liquids don’t trip the brain’s satiety mechanism. For a more effective snack, pair a glass of 100 percent juice with a few nuts. Get more tips.