The skin acts as a window into our internal environment. Many of the common chronic skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and acne are signs of poor elimination. In a healthy state, the body eliminates through the liver, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and kidney. If these organs are not working properly, then the body eliminates through secondary routes, such as the skin, joints and mucus membranes. Take eczema, for example. Typically this is a disorder of the gut, not of the skin. People with eczema commonly have food allergies, resulting in inflammation of the gut lining, poor digestion and absorption of nutrients and poor elimination. The body deals with this internal toxemia by pushing toxins out through the skin. Sluggish elimination of toxins, poor assimiliation of nutrients and chronic inflammation are at the root of the all-too-common skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
If you have a chronic skin condition or you just want to achieve beautiful skin, the key is to treat the INTERNAL environment. Applying topical creams and medications are a band-aid approach, merely covering up symptoms and not addressing the root cause.
Radiant, glowing skin can be achieved by choosing foods that are nutritious, cleansing, and anti-inflammatory. Also, eliminating potential allergies is crucial to skin health. So put down the retin-A, botox, and steroid creams, for these are all pallaiative approaches. Follow these natural tips to clearer, more youthful looking skin from the inside out.
1. Eliminate food allergies. Eating foods that you are sensitive to or allergic to creates an overall inflammatory state in your body. This wreaks havoc on the integrity of your gut, thus decreasing your ability to eliminate properly and also absorb the nutrients from your food. The most common food allergies I see are gluten and dairy. You can do an elimination-challenge diet to see if these foods are the culprits or there are lab tests available to determine your specific allergies. Talk to your naturopathic doctor to discuss the details of an elimination-challenge diet or food allergy lab testing.
2. Drink more water. Water keeps your kidneys healthy and helps flush toxins from your body. Kidneys are a primary route of elimination so if kidneys are working properly the body will not have to utilize secondary routes of elimnation, such as the skin, to eliminate wastes. Healthy kidneys translate to healthy skin. Drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water each day (ex. if you weight 150 lbs, drink 75 ounces of water daily).
3. Nourish your liver. There is no doubt that we live in a toxic environment. Chemicals are found in house-hold cleaners, pesticides, tap water, car exhaust, pharmaceuticals, beauty products and cigarette smoke. This places an incredible burden on our bodies, especially the liver. Like your kidneys, your liver is a primary organ of elimination. The liver can become overwhelmed and congested and become less effective at detoxifying. The body then pushes toxins out via another route, often times through the skin. In cases of acne, for example, I always start with the liver. Foods that love the liver include artichokes, burdock root, turmeric, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts). A naturopathic doctor can also prescribe liver-specific nutrients and herbs if indicated, such as milk thistle, N-acetyl cysteine, glutathione, nettles, dandelion, and licorice.
4. Heal your gut. Similar to the kidneys and liver, if the gastrointestinal tract is backed up, the skin will have to pick up the slack to eliminate. Constipation and skin issues go hand-in-hand due to inefficient elimination of toxins. Fiber helps bind toxins in the gut and eliminate them with a healthy bowel movement. I recommend ground flax seeds as a fiber source because not only are they a good source of fiber, but they are also an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Nutrients such as L-glutamine, slippery elm, aloe, and licorice are recommened to soothe the gut lining and repair the mucus membranes, resulting in improved digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. See my approach to helping patients achieve optimal gut health.
5. Take a probiotic supplement. Healthy bacteria in your gut dampens inflammation and maintains a healthy immune system. Eczema and psoriasis are inflammatory autoimmune conditions in which the immune system becomes confused and dysregulated. The immune system is a complex balance of different cells and signaling molecules. There are two main T cells involved in the immune system’s functioning, Th1 and Th2. Psoriasis is a Th1 dominant state and eczema is a Th2 dominant state. There are many things that can be done to balance these states. Probiotics provide Th3 support, balancing overly-dominant Th1 and Th2 states. Take at supplement with at least 10 billion organisms per day.
6. Take a Vitamin D supplement. In addition to probiotics balancing the immune system and thus promoting healthy skin, vitamin D has also been proven to support a healthy immune system. Like probiotics, vitamin D provides Th3 support. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about vitamin D testing to determine adequate dosing.
7. Eat More Fat! Dietary fats lubricate our skin and create a barrier to help protect our skin. To achieve smooth, youthful looking skin, don’t skimp on fats- especially omega-3′s. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed. A deficiency of essential fatty acids results in dry, flaky skin. Other skin-nourising foods to include in your diet are coconut oil, avocadoes, olive oil, nuts and seeds. For more on the inflammation-fighting functions of essential fatty acids, see my previous blog post, “Inflammation Busters: Fish Oil vs. Flax Seeds.”
8. Increase your Vitamin C intake. Most people associate vitamin C with fighting off colds and flus, but one of its main functions is to promote healthy skin through the production of collagen. Collagen is responsible for healthy-looking skin, wound healing, and the prevention of wrinkes. To avoid those costly collagen injections, opt for a more natural and effective approach to skin health by increasing your vitamin C intake. I’m sure you are aware fruit is a good source of vitamin C but many vegetables provide ample amounts as well. Red bell peppers, for example, have over 10 times the amount of vitamin C as an orange. Broccoli is also a great source of vitamin C. Food sources of vitamin C are always best, but Emergen-C packets are also a great way to pack in an easy 1,000 mg.
9. Combat sun damage with antioxidants. We all know the damaging effects sun has on your skin. UV radiation creates free radical damage, causing sun spots and wrinkles. Eating a diet rich in deeply pigmented fruits and veggies provides antioxidants that will aid in the repair of your sun- damaged skin by neutralizing free radicals. Eat blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries daily (frozen are fine in the winter time!). Dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, collards, and chard, provide ample amounts of antioxidants. If you do not get enough greens (aim for 2-3 cups dark green leafies daily), there are powdered greens supplements available at Lakeside Natural Medicine that you can add to water or smoothies. Dark chocolate and green tea are also a great sources of antioxidants.
10. Cook with anti-inflammatory herbs. Inflammation as at the root of eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Even if you don’t have one of these chronic inflammatory skin conditions, you may have some underlying inflammation if your skin is red, blotchy, itchy, dry, or scaly. Include anti-inflammatory herbs in your diet, such as turmeric, ginger, and garlic. Curry for dinner, anyone?
The goal in any case, whether it be a skin condition, a neurological condition or a hormonal imbalance, is to determine and treat the root cause- not the symptoms. I believe symptoms are a sign that the body is out of balance and investgative work needs to be done to determine that internal imbalance. Once we have determined that disharmony, we can restore function to the imbalanced body systems. This results in true health…with beautiful, radiant skin as an added bonus!