From di­a­betes to diet prob­lems, your feet can re­veal a lot about your phys­i­cal and emo­tional health, re­veals Astha Gupta

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - HEALTH -

Tem­per­a­ture: Check. Weight: Check. Blood pres­sure: Check. Feet... When did you last check in with your feet? They lit­er­ally carry us ev­ery­where, but be­ing fur­thest from our eyes means they’re also often fur­thest from our mind.

How­ever, the nerves and blood ves­sels in your feet link to your brain, heart and spine, and there­fore mir­ror your body, so a peek at your toes could tell you if you need to head to the doc­tor or just slightly al­ter your daily rou­tine. The next time you think ‘my feet are killing me’, stop and pay at­ten­tion – they may just need a lit­tle TLC or they may be try­ing to tell you to check in with your GP. Here’s what a look at your toot­sies might re­veal.


“The nat­u­ral colour of your toe­nails is an im­por­tant tool in a health check,” Bodell says. “Any dis­coloura­tion could be cos­metic (such as an overuse of nail pol­ish) or more se­ri­ous.”

Yel­low toe­nails gen­er­ally point to an in­fec­tion. Most of the time it’s a fun­gal in­fec­tion, but it can be a sign of other in­fec­tions such as si­nusi­tis. Yel­low nails can also oc­cur along­side pso­ri­a­sis or hy­pothy­roidism. In rare cases, they can be a sign of yel­low nail syn­drome, which also causes swelling and fluid in the lungs.

Pale toe­nails might mean a lack of nu­tri­tion or anaemia, while blueish ones sug­gests re­duced blood flow. “Ques­tions to ask are: Do you have enough oxy­gen in your body and are your heart and lungs func­tion­ing prop­erly?” says Bodell.

Mean­while, a dark line un­der your toe­nails could be an easy-to-fix fun­gal in­fec­tion or some­thing more sin­is­ter like a melanoma. And if your toe­nails crack eas­ily, it’s worth ask­ing your GP for a thy­roid check.


No-one likes to be Hob­bit-level hairy but even the tiny hairs on your toes pro­vide use­ful health in­for­ma­tion. “We’re all born with hair on our toes, and a grad­ual loss is a sign of poor cir­cu­la­tion,” says Char­lotte Bodell, spokesper­son for the Aus­tralian Po­di­a­try As­so­ci­a­tion. “It can oc­cur when the heart is un­able to pump blood to the ex­trem­i­ties prop­erly or can be a sign of a nar­row­ing of the pe­riph­eral ar­ter­ies.”


‘Get­ting cold feet’ may be an ev­ery­day phrase, but hav­ing con­stantly frigid toot­sies points to poor cir­cu­la­tion.

“Since feet aren’t viewed as vi­tal or­gans for the body’s sur­vival, if it’s cold, the body ad­justs the cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem to move blood to­wards the vi­tal in­ter­nal or­gans, leav­ing the feet cold,” says Dr Ryan Har­vey, of Queens­land GP ser­vice House Call Doc­tor.

“If your feet con­tinue to feel cold when they’re rugged up, it may be a sign of vas­cu­lar dis­ease or di­a­betes.”


Numb feet are a com­mon side-ef­fect of chemo­ther­apy, how­ever, if you haven’t had the can­cer treat­ment and your feet start to go to sleep un­ex­pect­edly, with the numb­ness last­ing for a long du­ra­tion, it could be due to a tem­po­rary com­press­ing of the nerves that run to your legs and feet. This results in that dead-leg feel­ing you ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter sit­ting a cer­tain way for an ex­tended pe­riod.

“Patho­log­i­cal causes of numb feet are many and var­ied but one of the most com­mon is di­a­betes, which can dam­age the nerve sup­ply to your feet, re­sult­ing in numb­ness,” Har­vey says.


If your feet re­main dry de­spite your mois­tur­is­ing rou­tine, it could mean your thy­roid isn’t func­tion­ing prop­erly and it’s worth rais­ing with your GP. How­ever, if you no­tice the skin on your feet, es­pe­cially be­tween the toes, is un­usu­ally dry, flaky and itchy, a fun­gal in­fec­tion could be to blame.


Ev­ery­one ex­pe­ri­ences stinky feet at one time or an­other, and it’s nor­mal for feet to per­spire, es­pe­cially when you re­alise they have a quar­ter of a mil­lion sweat glands. When shoes and socks are worn and the at­mos­phere is warm and moist, it en­cour­ages the growth of the ex­ist­ing

bac­te­ria, cre­at­ing the smell. You can re­duce the whiff by ap­ply­ing foot and shoe de­odoriser, and wash­ing your shoe in­soles on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.


Cramp­ing is rel­a­tively harm­less but for those few min­utes when it oc­curs, it can take your breath away. “If your calves or balls of your feet are cramp­ing, you might have a nutri­tional de­fi­ciency, like a lack of sodium, potas­sium or mag­ne­sium,” Bodell says. Spasms could also oc­cur if you’ve overex­erted your­self, not stretched enough be­fore ex­er­cis­ing or you’ve been wear­ing ill-fit­ting shoes.


If your big toe sud­denly be­comes en­larged, swollen and painful, it could be a bac­te­rial or fun­gal in­fec­tion or an in­grown toe­nail.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is an acute gout at­tack, Har­vey says. The big toe is the cold­est part of the body and often shows the first signs of gout or arthri­tis.


Swelling and/or pain in your feet as well as other joints can be one of the first signs of rheuma­toid arthri­tis. A study in the Jour­nal of Foot and An­kle Re­search re­vealed that 50 per cent of peo­ple with rheuma­toid arthri­tis in the UK had re­ported foot pain symp­toms at di­ag­no­sis, and early foot health in­ter­ven­tion can go a long way in help­ing to man­age the con­di­tion. Swollen feet can be the re­sult of a long flight, hot weather or preg­nancy, but Har­vey says it can also oc­cur due to “a build up of fluid in your tis­sues due to a lack of move­ment, cir­cu­la­tory prob­lems or kid­ney and liver is­sues”.


If you have sores that don’t heal over time, try to keep your feet dry to give the wound a chance to re­pair it­self, and cut down on booze and smok­ing. Also ask your GP to check your blood sugar lev­els as hard-to-heal sores can be a sign of di­a­betes.

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