Are you concerned about the health of your skin?

September 29, 2015

Our skin is the largest organ in the body.  It is the interface between our internal world and the external environment.  The skin is a reflection of inner health and there are many influences on the skin such as nutrition, hormones, medication side effects, stress, gastrointestinal health and inflammation.

Whenever I see someone with a skin problem, I look for a deeper issue.  I review diet, exercise, family history, hormones, digestive issues and stress.  There is often a connection between digestive issues and the skin.  Gas, bloating, constipation and inadequate hydrochloric acid often accompany skin disorders.  Treatment focuses on healing the gut which insures that proper nutrients get to the skin and the rest of the body.  When there is a leaky gut, this means that the digestive tract mucosa is inflamed and the tight junctions of the intestines have loosened and undigested food and toxins are absorbed.  The immune system then becomes over-reactive.  The result is a vicious cycle of inflammation and further loss of the integrity of the intestinal barrier.  What can often result from this process is the development of food sensitivities and both bacterial and yeast overgrowth. The first step to healing is a formula containing some blend of L-glutamine, slippery elm, DGL and other healing herbs.  I often follow this process with a general cleanse and challenge.  A challenge provides significant feedback if there are symptoms accompanying a particular food.  Once the gut is healed, I encourage each person to consider an anti-inflammatory diet which focuses on fresh organic vegetables and fruits of a rainbow of colors, fish, whole grains and occasional lean meat.

Hormonal imbalances affect the skin.  This is particularly true of acne.  There are times particularly in women when excessive testosterone results in stimulation of sebum and keratin, which obstructs the skin gland function and can block skin pores.   It has been suggested that some people may have an excessive sensitivity of sebaceous glands to androgens.  Zinc and Saw Palmetto have been helpful in reducing the effect of testosterone by decreasing or preventing the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, a stronger form of testosterone.  The result is to normalize sebum and reduce acne.

Fungi and candida trigger inxlammation.  Fungal overgrowth typically shows up on skin, nails and hair.  When these organisms appear, they stimulate the immune system resulting in both inflammation and oxidation.  It is not uncommon for individuals who are hypothyroid or have poor circulation to struggle with fungal infections.  Arturo Casadevall,MD, PhD. et al found that the best temperature for squelching fungal infection is close to body temperature, 98.6.  Typically individuals with low thyroid have cooler temperatures, consequently greater susceptibility to fungal overgrowth, which can drive chronic disease.

Whenever you have a fungal infection, it is necessary not only to eliminate the fungus but also to heal whatever is driving the inflammation in the body.  I have found it advantageous at times to test when it is difficult to eliminate the fungus or yeast and then prescribe herbs or medications that are effective.  To provide anti-inflammatory support, I recommend fish oil, which reduces inflammatory mediators.  Probiotics balance the intestinal microflora and modulate the inflammatory responses of immune cells.  If your TSH is high, then see your health care provider to help bring your thyroid into balance.  Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, C and selenium prevent cell damage.  The primary function of vitamin C is the manufacture of collagen, an important protein for the structure of the skin.  Vitamin C is both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Vitamin A supports the immune system.

Stress is a significant factor in skin conditions particularly how stress often drives habits such as decreased sleep, increased sugar and intake of processed foods.

Skin health begins with your diet.  Foods that stabilize both blood sugar and insulin help to keep your skin clear.  Keep your hormones balanced, exercise to increase circulation and practice being mindful as ways to support your skin.

What should be avoided in skin care products?  Some general ingredients to avoid when looking at skin care products include the following.   Avoid parabens as they are inflammatory.  Note that triethanolamine is estrogen mimetic.  Mineral oil clogs pores and ureas release toxins.  Propylene glycol promotes aging and it is inflammatory.

Focus on skin products that contain antioxidants, which help to protect the collagen layer of the skin.  Some antioxidants in skin products include vitamin E, CoQ10 and Sea Buckthorn.  Traditionally, sea buckthorn has been used in skin support.  It is anti-microbial, including anti-fungal.  Both the berry and leaves of sea buckhorn are high in quercetin, a flavonoid, which is both an anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory. Sea buckthorne is touted for its anti-aging properties.  Topically, sea buckthorn is used to help reverse the effects of radiation therapy as well as facial care.

Take time to appreciate our skin both its appearance and the way it protects and nourishes our body.  When there is a rash or blemish, it is a great opportunity to give thanks for the message and look at what is happening in our inner world.

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Understanding Naturopathic Primary Care

Dr. Moira Fitzpatrick, a specialist in naturopathic care and holistic medicine, promoting well-being and integrative health practices