Getting Under Your Skin
The Only Way to Look at Skin Issues
Anyone who has suffered from acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea – or even wrinkles – will most likely have a drawer full of creams and potions promising some form of relief and a more youthful complexion. And though some of these products might offer temporary respite, their effectiveness will always be hampered by the fact that the root cause of skin problems tends to be internal.
“What’s going on with our skin is a big indicator of what’s going on in the gut and in our body,” explains Tina Christoudias-Spyrou, Neomed’s Functional Medicine Practitioner and Nutritionist. “If someone has severe acne or patches of bad skin it is likely that there are issues going on with the organs, especially the gut. It could be overgrowths, it could be digestive issues, but it is almost certainly something that needs to be addressed internally.”
Step One: Fix the Gut
The most common cause of skin complaints is pathogenic overgrowth whether it be parasites or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), a serious condition that affects the small intestine. Candida might also be to blame, a fungal infection that can lead to scalp problems such as dandruff and overly greasy hair.
“When we are looking at skin problems, like anything else in functional medicine and naturopathy, we are looking for the root cause, and the first item on the checklist is to look at what is going on in the gut,” says Tina. “If your skin is experiencing any issues you can assume there is an overgrowth that needs to be addressed.”
In order to work out what is going on, your medical practitioner may recommend a comprehensive stool test to discover whether there is inflammation in the gut, malabsorption issues, or any pathogenic overgrowth. With a comprehensive stool test, practitioners get a better idea of what they are dealing with so they can give more targeted therapies. Also, this stool test reveals what kind of bacteria or fungus or parasite is the problem and which medicines combined with which natural medications this bad bacteria will be sensitive to.
Psoriasis, for example, is associated with a dysfunction in the immune system, liver disturbances, and a leaky gut. Fixing the lining of the gut to decrease the inflammation, liver cleanses and modulation of the immune system are, therefore, the most strategic ways of dealing with the issues that are causing the skin to react. “You can put as many creams on your face as you like, but if you don’t address what’s going on inside, your skin will always have issues,” warns Tina.
Step 2: Check Toxicity Levels
Dark patches or blotchy skin can be an indication that your liver isn’t coping with the amount of toxicity in the body. There are a number of supplements available that can aid liver function, and a Functional Medicine Practitioner will help you choose the right one for you, but a proper liver cleanse under the guidance of a professional is always worth investigating.
“A liver cleanse is not for everybody and nor is everybody ready for a liver cleanse,” warns Tina, “so make sure this is always done under the supervision of a professional. A liver cleanse is not something to be attempted on your own.”
Another treatment that can be very beneficial for the liver – and one that can be done at home – is a castor oil pack. To do this, take an old cloth, soak it with castor oil and place it on the liver, just below the right ribcage. Next, place a hot water bottle on top of the cloth and hold it there for an hour. “Castor oil is very easily absorbed into the skin and it helps the liver to detoxify better,” says Tina.
Step Three: Check the Thyroid and Other Hormones
Signs and symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include cold intolerance, constipation, slowed thinking, weight gain, slowed heart rate, and delayed relaxation of ankle reflexes as well as dry, coarse skin and puffiness. “If you have very dry, cracked skin, no matter the time of year or how much moisturiser you put on, it’s time to look at the thyroid,” says Tina. “Dry skin is a big factor of a low-functioning thyroid.”
Another cause of dry, cracked skin is a lack of electrolytes in the system, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, all of which help water access cells. Swollen ankles and fingers can reveal how much water is staying outside of the cell, indicating that the body is not getting hydrated. In case of acne, your practitioner may recommend a hormone panel test to discover hormonal imbalances that are contributing to your skin issues.
Step Four: Check your Diet
Anything that feeds bad bacteria will make your problems worse and the biggest villains in this scenario are refined white flour, sugar and anything that turns to sugar in the body such as white pasta, bread and rice. All these food items feed infections, worsening skin problems. Some people will find that simply quitting dairy products will resolve a lot of their skin issues. You may want to try it for a month to see if dairy products are the main culprit for you! Thankfully, one of the easiest ways to improve your diet is to simply add colour to it.
“It’s very important for the skin to have a variety of colours from vegetables every single day,” explains Tina. “Making a very colourful salad every day or a very colourful smoothie will really help your skin to perk up because the fibre nutrients feed the good bacteria and the good bacteria feeds the skin, giving it a healthy glow.”
Vitamins and minerals also play a vital part in good nutrition, not to mention looking good. For example, cellulite and stretch marks are a major sign of zinc deficiency, whereas Vitamin A will help with acne and makes the skin look smoother. “Most people I know that have a thyroid problem are deficient in Vitamin A and zinc,” says Tina. “Vitamin E is also a brilliant antioxidant.”
Despite popular opinion – not to mention marketing – low-fat diets can actually be bad for you, not least because vitamins such as A and E are fat-soluble, meaning they are stored in fat. So, while you may lose weight on a low-fat diet there is also the potential that you’ll look haggard. Thankfully, there are plenty of good fats to turn to such as seeds, nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and Siberian pine nut oil, which is especially hydrating for the skin.
Beware the Quick Fix
These days, botox and fillers are no longer the anti-ageing solutions of the rich and famous. In fact, Botulinum toxin type A/B chemodenervation is the most common cosmetic procedure in the world with nearly 3 million injections taking place per year. However, like skin complaints, if you don’t fix the root cause of prematurely ageing skin you are likely to cause more problems than you solve. Injecting chemicals into the face can have repercussions. “You may look younger, but it’s adding to your overall toxic burden,” explains Tina. “This is just a quick fix and a temporary one. So, start by working within.”
A change in lifestyle is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to attain a more youthful appearance. If you can, reduce stress levels as this shows immediately on your face often leading to dry and pallid skin. Exercise is also a key weapon in your anti-ageing arsenal, as it gets the blood flowing more efficiently which brings a natural, more youthful glow to complexions. A plant-rich diet with good fats will also improve skin tone as well as overall health. If you have digestive issues that interfere with the absorption of protein from food this will lead to a more haggard appearance. And finally, keep away from burned food – it’s ageing. Modern diets are largely heat-processed and as a result, contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). There is ample evidence that AGEs play an important role in skin ageing.
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