What do your hands say about your health? A lot.
If you’ve ever wondered how healthy you really are, and what your health prospects are for the future, the answer could be in your fingers and in your thumbs, in your knuckles and in your nails.
This isn’t palm-reading mumbo-jumbo: new research from Canada, for example, reveals that the length of a man’s fingers can reveal how physically aggressive he is, while another study found that the length of a boy’s ring finger could provide a clue to his risk of a heart attack in later life.
Professor John Manning of the university of Central Lancashire, who was one of the first academics to become interested in finger length and health traits, says that this area of research will become a lot more significant in the future.
What he has discovered, he says, is that there is an important link between the relative length of the ring and index fingers and the amount of testosterone a fetus is subjected to at the end of first trimester of pregnancy. This matters because it’s increasingly likely that the effects of sex hormones on a fetus influence a whole range of conditions, from cancer and heart disease to attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Another study, which Manning says needs to be backed up by further research, found that women with long index finger relative to the length of ring finger are at high risk of early onset of breast cancer. The link here would be that, since a long ring finger indicates a higher exposure to testosterone, the women with long index finger would have more exposure to estrogen, which may be a significant development in the development of breast cancer.
Other studies, says Manning, suggest there could be a relationship between the length of the ring finger in men and likelihood of contracting prostrate cancer (the longer the ring finger relative to the index finger, the greater the risk), and also that digit length could help identify preschool children at risk of ADHD or neuroticism.
There’s other work, too, on hands and what they show: a few years ago, a medical team in Southampton found that a hand with a palm that was long in relation to its breadth could indicate a tendency to high blood pressure.
Another study, in Lancashire, found that people who had a whirl pattern on one or more fingertips were more likely to have hypertension compared with people whose fingerprints were of the simple arch variety – that could, the authors thought, be due to conditions in the uterus.
But hands aren’t only significant in what they signal about medical predispositions, they’re also an easily accessible, and visible, place to watch for symptoms, too – there’s evidence that Hippo crates may have been one of the earliest medics to realize how much his profession could learn from a simple hand examination.
“In the past, doctors were more likely to look at hands for clues as to what condition a patient was suffering from, “says Dr. Graham Archard, a general practioner in Southern England and vice chair of the uk’s Royal College Of General Practioners.
“ There are a whole host of things to look out for. Red palms can indicate liver disease. Knobbly Knuckles, especially on the lower finger joints, can indicate that a patient has rheumatoid arthritis, and the color of the creases in the hand, as well as the redness behind the fingernail, can indicate whether someone is anaemic.
Window to the body
Nails, it seems, could be one of the best windows on the body’s internal workings. According to Archard, it’s not uncommon for the nails to stop growing at a time of medical trauma- and they start to grow again, there’s often a little ridge to mark the point, which eventually grows out. “ It can be helpful in pinpointing exactly when something happened”, he says.” There are other things to look out for in the nails too- pitting, which makes them look as though they’ve been shot with an air gun, can indicate a skin condition like psoriasis. And though you might think psoriasis would be diagnosed by the skin problems, sometimes it only causes joint inflammation, so the nails can give an important clue. Splinter haemorrhages in the nails, which look like tiny red splinters, can be a sign of infection in the heart or blood. And clubbing, where the nail loses its angle at the base and bends in at the top, can be a sign of lack of oxygen in the blood caused by heart or lung disease”.
According to reflexologists, the hands- like the feet- provides a map to the body organs. And while practioners tend to use the feet to diagnose and treat disorders, the hands are a lot more accessible and easier to use for the DIY enthusiast.
“We encourage it, because the hands re so easy to access and work on,” says Simon Duncan, chief executive of the Association of Reflexologists. “ One very easy thing I’d recommend is to put the tips of your thumbs together and roll them around. Can you feel lots of hard little crystals in there? That’s a sign of stress, and what we find is that if people work their thumbs they dissipate the crystals and rid themselves of the stress build-up. Another one is to put your thumb in to the palm of the other hand and rotate it on the point at the base of the index finger- that area represents your emotional center, and it’s an extremely relaxing thing to do.”