If you suffer from a skin condition, you know that skin conditions can be incredibly irritating. You’ve probably also tried everything under the sun, moon and stars to cover up, alleviate, treat, cure, and eradicate this obnoxious intruder that seems to own your life. Always trying to cover up dry, flaky skin, eczema, or psoriasis can be draining. Not only are skin conditions annoying, but they can also be downright painful! They are also not biased. We see skin condition in adults, skin conditions in toddlers, and skin conditions in babies alike. Good news…there are natural health solutions.
But you already knew all of this. So here are some things you may not know.
Our skin is a reflection of our gut.
I remember hearing that statement for the first time and being in shock. No way could this be true. After almost a decade of study, and seeing countless patients seeing clinical results, and my own personal experience, I am now a firm believer: skin conditions and gut health ARE related! There’s also plenty of gut research to support my belief.
To get clear on what our skin is and does, let’s start by taking a gander at what purpose our skin serves:
-protects us from outside world
-protects us from infections
-regulates body temperature
-allows the sensation of touch
-There are over 1 trillion bacterial cells on our skin(Don’t get freaked out, we need these cells! Step away from the Germ-X!)
-It is the largest organ our body has. Our skin takes up approximately 21 sq. ft.
If you paid attention in kindergarten, you know that everything in our bodies is connected. Likewise, our skin microbiome is in contact with our gut microbiome. When needed, the gut can release antimicrobial substances to protect the body. Antibiotic exposure has been hypothesized to dampen this connection. So when we take an antibiotic for an infection we are actually disrupting our microbiome, and if not reestablished, this can wreak havoc. Have you ever played dominoes? It’s not much different than that. You knock over one little piece, and you can mess up everything! You see this frequently when looking from a natural health and functional medicine standpoint.
Common Skin conditions:
Gut health and acne go hand-in-hand. Almost everyone (85%) has struggled with this frustrating condition at one point in their life. This leaves you searching for acne treatments, and acne medications; to which the retail options are bountiful. These acne treatments and acne medications don’t treat the true cause of the acne though.
Acne can have a few different causes, but there is one underlying thread (I bet you can guess it!): immune and gut dysfunction. Some researchers have found a connection between the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, and the immune system. This link implies the connection between acne and an autoimmune connection, and is something we see frequently in our functional medicine practice in St. Louis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that 7.5 million Americans, and 120 million people worldwide suffer from! It is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the immune system attacks tissues, and can lead to swelling and quicker turnover of cells. This leads to plaques on skin cells, leaving a red and scaly area.
Those with psoriasis have a greater risk of developing other conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study showed that those with psoriasis had almost a fourfold increased risk in developing Crohn’s disease and sevenfold increased risk for Ulcerative Colitis.
Rosacea is a red rash on the face which can be caused by a few factors. However, many people dismiss this, or cover up with medications. This is also linked to gut health, and it has been found that SIBO is 10x more prevalent in acne rosacea patients.
Scaly condition on the scalp, which can be due to insufficient amount of fatty acids from poor digestion or ingestion, psoriasis, or eczema. The good news is you can stop spending all that money on salon products (that are mostly toxic anyhow)! Correct your gut health and get flake-free manageable hair. Win-win!
Typical Treatment for skin conditions
Corticosteroid creams– these medications are used topically and can be used orally to decrease the immune system’s response. Although they may bring temporary relief, long term steroid use can be detrimental for your health, as the immune system should not be suppressed for long periods of time.
Antibiotics- antibiotics not only rid the body, skin, and gut of bad bacteria, but also can wipe out good flora. This can lead to an imbalance in bacteria, which causes immune imbalances.
Antihistamines- histamine released by the immune system is a source of many allergic skin conditions. Although antihistamines address the histamine, this still does not address the root cause.
Moisturizers – many moisturizers are full of toxic ingredients that damage the gut microbiome and skin. If the skin is constantly dry, you may want to look deeper for a trigger.
Accutane (now under names like Clavaris, Sotret, and Amnesteem)- has paid out tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits due to the dangers associated with the drug. Severe symptoms such as depression, nausea, vomiting, suicide, stroke, seizures, blurred vision and brain swelling can occur. Bottom line: stay away!
Our gut microbiome is determined by how you were born. C-section babies have been shown to have drastically fewer microbes populated in their gut, and have a higher incidence of asthma and allergies. Breastfed babies have more microbes, and therefore see fewer incidents of asthma and allergies. Gut health and allergies are directly linked. This is one of the reasons natural health and functional medicine practitioners recommend breastfeeding.
The gut microbiome is built in the first few years of life. So things like toxic exposure, stress, and medication history can have a profound impact on the long-term health of little ones.
Other occupants in your microbiome
Bifidobacteria are bacteria which aid in the normal health and function of the gastrointestinal tract and are significantly reduced in the presence of processed sugars and fats.
LPS (lipopolysaccharides) are chemicals that make up part of cell wall of bacteria.
When the gut is inflamed from many different sources (diet, stress, lack of sleep, toxins,etc), chronic inflammation is turned on as a protective mechanism, and these LPS molecules are released into the body. The circulating gut toxins can travel to different body parts and organs, leading to many different symptoms, such as: brain fog, joint pain, and abdominal pain.
We know that leaky gut and dysbiosis can cause these skin conditions, but what causes leaky gut?
Stress- When we are under stress for long periods, such as 99% of Americans, our bodies go into protective mode. When this happens, the body will slow down gut enzymes, slow gut motility, and actually strip the nutrients from the gut to stay alive. This can lead to gut infections, nutrient depletion, and leaky gut.
Toxins- Toxins like lead, aluminum, fluoride, chlorine, mercury, BPA, and many others are pervasive today due to pollution and sanitation techniques. These toxins are directly toxic to the gut and are detrimental to the immune system.
Medications (birth control pills, antibiotics, NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, Tylenol)-Medications such as these increase gut permeability (space between gut cells), which can lead to unwanted food or bacteria particles in the body where they shouldn’t be.
Gut Infections- Infections like H. Pylori, SIBO, parasites, Candida, and more can reside and overgrow in the gut. These can directly damage the gut lining, steal nutrients, and trigger a continual immune response.
Food Allergens- Food allergens such as gluten, dairy, nightshades, and soy activate the immune system releasing inflammatory molecules. These molecule can travel all over the body, leading to symptoms from head to toe.
The gut-skin connection
When the gut is leaky, the gut microbiota is imbalanced, and the immune system is activated, substance p is released. This can lead to excess sebum (sebum- regulated by lipids, tissue fatty acids profiles- produces sebum – produced by sebaceous gland).
Chris Kresser: “If you want to heal your skin, you have to heal your gut”
Probiotics and skin health
The first case report with probiotics was done in 1961. Robert H. Siver,a physician, studied 300 patients who were given a commercially available probiotic. The participants were given probiotics for 16 days total. The results speak for themselves: 80 percent of those with acne had some level of clinical improvement!
Probiotics can modulate (balance) the immune response and decrease LPS release; which can reduce inflammation and acne.
What to do if you have a skin condition?
Cut out problematic foods (Sounds hard, but it’s not so bad once you get going!)
Foods like dairy, gluten, sugar, and grains can be hard to digest and can activate the immune system. This leads to inflammation and can perpetuate skin conditions. Eating refined carbohydrates leads to a rise in Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) , which causes keratinocytes to multiply, which is seen in acne. Leaving out milk, butter, cheese, breads, rice, pizza, pasta, refined foods, and sugar can make a great impact in some with skin conditions.
Get infection- free
Finding and eradicating potential gut infections is an enormous step in getting healthy. Infections like H Pylori, SIBO, candida, parasites, and other fungal overgrowths can steal nutrients, cause leaky gut, and can drain the immune system. Find a functional medicine doctor who can walk you through these steps.
Rebalance gut bacteria
In order to regain body balance, the gut microbiome must be in balance. Too many bad, or pathogenic bacteria with too few good bacteria is a recipe for disaster and for your gut health. Too many bacteria in the wrong location can be detrimental also. Once gut infections are eradicated, repopulating the gut with prebiotics from certain vegetables, probiotics from fermented foods and supplements, and fiber can help restore beneficial bacteria, which can regulate the immune system, our mood, inflammation, nutrient absorption, and metabolism, to name a few. Fermented foods= sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables. Fiber= fruits and vegetables.
Cod Liver Oil- Cod liver oil is high in Vitamin A, which can keep skin from getting scaly and rough. Vitamin A also helps the skin cells turnover and can decrease mucous secretion. Cod Liver oil also has anti-inflammatory compounds like EPA and DHA, as well as the all-important pro-hormone Vitamin D.
Vitamin C –Important for integrity of collagen, can improve scar tissue, and has been shown to reduce wrinkling and dry skin.
Bone Broth (bone broth protein can be purchased in our office)-Collagen from bone broth helps form elastin, keeping the skin looking youthful. Collagen has also been shown to reduce wrinkles and hydrate the skin.
Avoid anti-bacterial products like soaps, cleaners- The chemicals, such as Triclosan, can alter the skin microbiome and gut microbiome, leading to dysbiosis and antibiotic resistance, and can exacerbate skin conditions. Essential oil-based hand sanitizers or soaps are good replacements.
Replace harsh shampoos, body and face washes- These common household products can contain serious toxins that are harsh to the skin, gut and immune system. Instead, visit EWG.org and find out which brands are safe, non toxic, and healthy.
Hydrate-The human body is made up mostly of water. Keeping the body well-hydrated keeps organs functioning, flushes out toxins, and keeps the skin healthy.
Coconut oil- Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties and can be as effective as medical creams and lotions. You can put coconut oil directly on a skin condition to moisten and treat, or ingest orally to reap the benefits from all the good fats!
Follow these tips for better skin health! If you still have symptoms after applying these, you should seek out a functional medicine doctor. If you would like to schedule a consultation with us, please click here.