Take a look at yourself in the mirror - what you look like, your measurements and your weight can all determine your future health, says Charmaine Yabsley
Take a look at yourself in the mirror - what you look like, your measurements and your weight can all determine your future health
It’s a rare woman indeed who doesn’t have a part of her body that she’s unhappy with, whether that’s stocky legs, a burgeoning waistline or a lack of height. But research shows that these aspects of our bodies might also hold the key to our future health, determining whether we have a predisposition to certain illnesses later in life. Here we take a look at the health conditions certain body quirks can lead to – and suggest some steps for preventative care.
Is your index finger shorter than your ring finger? It might be an idea to make sure your joints remain supple. According to a 2008 study in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, women whose index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers may be twice as prone to osteoarthritis in the knees. “This difference in finger length may indicate lower levels of oestrogen, which is thought to be a common characteristic in those with osteoarthritis,” says Lisa Ferneyhough from Sheffield Orthopaedics Limited.
Take action: “Strengthen the muscles surrounding your knees,” says Kirsty Gardner, assistant manager at the Third Space (thethirdspace.com). “While sitting, straighten each leg parallel to the floor 10 times; hold each rep for five to 10 seconds.”
Legs on the stocky side? Then you need to look after your liver. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, British researchers found that women with legs that measured between 20 and 29 inches tended to have higher levels of four enzymes that indicate liver disease. Factors such as childhood nutrition may not only influence growth patterns, but also liver development well into adulthood, say researchers.
Take action: According to Allergy UK (allergyuk.org) you can keep your liver healthy by avoiding the amount of toxins it has to process. The charity’s advice is to wear a mask and gloves while cleaning or working with any type of harsh chemical. “And limit alcohol intake to a small glass of wine or just one bottle of beer daily,” says nutritionist Christine Bailey (thefoodandhealthadvisor.co.uk).
Older adults who can’t identify the scent of bananas, lemons, cinnamon or other items are five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease within four years, according to a 2008 study in the Annals of Neurology. “It’s believed that the area of the brain responsible for olfactory function may be one of the first impacted by Parkinson’s disease – somewhere between two and seven years prior to diagnosis,” says Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society.
Take action: “Some people with Parkinson’s do mention a number of difficulties, for example, deteriorating handwriting, depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety and a loss of sense of smell for years before a formal diagnosis is made,” says Dr Breen. “An earlier diagnosis combined with the development of treatments that can slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s will be central to finding a cure.”
Shona Wilkinson, a nutritionist at the Nutri Centre (nutricentre.com) also recommends a daily intake of fish oil supplements. “Omega 3 fatty acids can boost your brain’s resistance to MPTP, a toxic compound responsible for Parkinson’s,” she says. Try Nutri Eskimo-3 Capsules (£13.59 for 105 capsules) and Ascenta NutraSea Capsules (£13.61 for 120 capsules).
Do your jacket sleeves reach over your fingers? According to a study in the journal Neurology, women with short arm spans were one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who have a longer reach. (Find yours by spreading your arms parallel to the floor and having someone measure fingertips to fingertips; the shortest spans were less than 60in.) According to researchers at Tufts University, Massachusetts, nutritional or other deficits during the critical growing years may also predispose a person to cognitive decline later in life.
Take action: Put your appendages to good use by taking up a hobby, such as painting, sewing or knitting, says Alzheimer’s expert Dr Anthony Fitzpatrick from Cambridge University. A five-year study from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, found that adults who spent the most time engaged in leisure activities were more than 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who rarely challenged their grey matter.
Multiple studies show that linear wrinkles in one or both lobes may predict future cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or the need for bypass surgery. According to a study in The American Journal of Medicine, a crease on one lobe raises the risk by 33 per cent whereas a crease on both lobes increases it by 77 per cent. Though experts aren’t exactly sure, they suspect a loss of elastic fibres may cause both the crease and the hardening of arteries.
Take action: Keep your heart healthy in other ways, says nutritional consultant Michael Van Straten (michaelvanstraten.com). “Lose weight and follow a low cholesterol diet,” he advises. “This will have the added bonus of lowering your blood pressure too.” Van Straten suggests walking for at least 30 minutes every day and keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum.
If your waistline measures more than 35 inches around, it’s time to hit the treadmill. According to a report in the journal Neurology adults over the age of 40 who have larger stomachs are up to 3.6 times as likely to develop dementia in their seventies. “This may be because the visceral fat, which is the dangerous fat which surrounds your organs, secretes inflammatory hormones which may affect your heart’s health,” says Shona Wilkinson.
Take action: “Eat a portion-controlled Mediterranean-style diet,” says Shona. “Research shows that the mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in foods such as olives, nuts, seeds, avocado and dark chocolate prevent the accumulation of visceral fat.” Or try Nature’s Plus Mega CLA 1200 (£30.30 for 60) available from the Nutri Centre.
If your bra size is a D cup or larger, then it’s important that you take care of your health. According to a 10-year study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, women who wore a D cup or larger (at the age of 20), were one and a half times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This was in comparison to women who wore an A cup and even those who had a family history of diabetes. “It may be that the fat tissue in a woman’s breast is hormonally sensitive and influences insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes,” says the Diabetes Association (diabetes.org.uk).
Take action: “Diabetes can be prevented in the first place by developing a regular habit of exercise, eating healthy vegetarian food and managing stress effectively,” says nutritionist Subodh Gupta (subodhgupta.com). He adds: “Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, and cut out fast food, hich is packed with salt.” Gupta also recommends meditating for at least 20 minutes every day and incorporating a regular 30 to 40-minute morning walk into your daily routine. “This will help create balance and a sense of calm in your life,” he says.
If you’ve got ‘cankles’, then let out a shout of joy! It seems that we’re much healthier than our dainty-ankled sisters. A 2009 French study in the journal Stroke found that women with small calves (13 inches or less around) tended to develop more carotid plaques, a known risk factor for stroke. The subcutaneous fat in larger calves may pull fatty acids from the bloodstream and store them where they are less of a risk factor, say researchers.
Take action: Sip green tea to stay heart healthy. In a study of more than 40, 500 Japanese men and women, those who drank five or more cups of green tea every day had the lowest risk of dying of heart disease and stroke.
People with blood type A, B or AB were 44 per cent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with type O, according to a recent study of 107,503 adults by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Harvard Medical School. This may indicate that the gene that determines blood type may also carry a genetic risk for pancreatic cancer. However, Ross Carter, a specialist pancreatic surgeon, (pancreaticcancer.org.uk), warns that we should remain open-minded: “The genetics of cancer development are enormously complex, so this finding is just one piece of the 1,000+ piece jigsaw,” he says. “Whilst it is interesting and allows the researchers to target further study of this region it unfortunately isn’t a clear marker of a high risk group that could be screened.”
Take action: “Take a vitamin D supplement,” says nutritionist Kate Cook (purepackage.com). In one study, adults who consumed 300 IU or more daily reduced their pancreatic cancer risk up to 44 per cent, compared with those who consumed less than 150 IU daily. Kate recommends a diet of fortified lowfat dairy and fish such as salmon as the best ways to get vitamin D from your plate.
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