Those odd symptoms and strange cravings could be part of a bigger health picture

They seem more of an irritation than something worthy of a doctor's visit but whether it's itchy eyelids, white film on your tongue or muscle cramps, the symptoms persist. Maybe they're nothing, or maybe your body is trying to tell you something.

"The body is really a very complicated device and we just don't understand everything about how it functions, so we should be receptive to any information that it's giving us," says Jim Campbell, a British forensic scientist and author of The Body Language of Health (written under the pen name of Hamish MacGregor and available from Amazon).

Maybe your body is trying to tell you something

Maybe your body is trying to tell you something

In fact, Campbell started listening to his wife Elsie's body in 2002, when she developed a sudden and dramatic liking for lettuce. "She took to eating two or three lettuces a day," he says. "She would take a lettuce out of the fridge, cut slices off it with the bread knife and chomp away at it, eating maybe half a lettuce or even a whole lettuce at one sitting."            

When his wife then noticed a small pimple on her breast, he turned to the interest to investigate and found that lettuce is rich in cancer-fighting chemicals called sulforaphanes. Meanwhile, a biopsy confirmed that his wife had breast cancer. Interestingly, as soon as she was treated, the cravings ceased.      

"That opened my eyes to early detection of unusual features,” he says. “I was amazed to find so many." So what's your body trying to tell you? 

Do you crave chocolate? You may lack Phenylethylamine.

Cocoa, sugar, fat and caffeine - what's not to love about chocolate? Here's another reason: chocolate contains Anandamide and tryptophan, substances which are essential for producing the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin. More importantly, chocolate has Phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical that releases another neurotransmitter, dopamine, into the brain's pleasure centers.         

"Chocolate cravings are not unusual," says Campbell, who adds that some people are particularly switched on to the urge to stimulate the reward center in the brain.      

Do you feel sleepy after eating? You could have a chromium deficiency.

Anyone who’s had cause to loosen their belt after Christmas dinner has felt the tryptophan in turkey trigger the calming effects of serotonin in the brain. But for those low in chromium, it happens all the time. After eating, blood sugar rises but without chromium, the pancreas can over-produce insulin, causing an adrenalin rush and subsequent sugar dump that leaves them sleepy and weak. If this happens to you, try taking chromium with your meal - it also helps control cravings.

You could have a chromium deficiency

Are you an obsessive ice cube cruncher? You may be iron deficient.

Thirty per cent of the world’s population suffers from anemia caused by iron deficiency, making it the most common nutritional disorder on the planet, says the World Health Organization. In developed countries, half of pregnant women and 40 per cent of school-aged children have anemia, which can also be complicated by chronic gastric bleeding from taking aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

So why ice cubes? In many cases, iron deficiency can lead to hot mouth syndrome So maybe this is the underlying reason for sucking on an ice cube7 says Campbell. Ask your doctor to run a blood test to check your levels.

Do you rarely remember your dreams? You may be deficient in vitamin B6.

The old wives tale about having vivid dreams if you eat cheese before bedtime may be true. A 2005 study by the British Cheese Board found 67 per cent of 200 people who ate 20g of cheese before bedtime remembered their dreams. Funnily enough, the type of cheese dictated the dream. Cheddar was associated with dreams about celebrities, Stilton evoked bizarre visions, while Red Leicester brought back the past.

Do you rarely remember your dreams?

Do you rarely remember your dreams?

So what's the connection? Cheese is a good source of vitamin B6, which is not only the "master vitamin for processing amino acids - the building blocks of all proteins and a few hormones, too,' Campbell says, but it is instrumental in creating neurotransmitters, helping with brain function and supporting thought processing, such as dreaming.       

If you're watching your weight, cheese could be off the menu. Instead, try a multivitamin with B6, folic acid and B12, the combination of which could also help lower homocysteine levels - an amino acid linked to heart disease and stroke.

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