ACNE, ECZEMA, PSORIARIS AND OTHER SKIN PROBLEMS
Skin problems are often a manifestation of underlying health issues. The problem lies not in a lack of a particular soap, anti-bacterial remedy or a corticosteroid immunosuppressant cream. You need to look deeper than the skin. When I have clients with skin problems we look at their wellbeing holistically, we don’t focus on a skin itself, we look underneath. To heal your skin, you need to heal your gut and address possible root causes. Skin problems may partly be determined by our genetics but our environment, our food, our water, our air, pollution are the important factors too, they may promote or reduce the flare-ups. So if common skin disorders can be influenced by environment, factors such as nutrition and lifestyle may be sufficient to prevent and even reverse many cases. So this is what we want to focus on, we want to find our triggers and our soothers. Below you can find some tips on what to pay attention to when skin problems affect your life.
Managing your skin health with nutrition, improving digestive function, making dietary changes, and optimizing lifestyle habits can provide benefits not only for your skin, but for your overall well-being.
Try to identify the root cause(s) of your skin problems by taking into account:
- Allergies (IgE driven), food sensitivities (IgG driven), food intolerance (histamine intolerance) and/or gluten reactivity
- Gut health issues (dysbiosis, infection)
- Nutrient deficiencies/Poor diet (diet poor in nutrients can be the root cause of skin disease as well as GI dysfunction, which can cause maldigestion and malabsorption of nutrients. Many nutrients work together so that a deficiency of one can make the other ineffective)
- Toxins, pollution, skin irritants
WHAT CAN HELP?
Avoid processed foods, sugar, food additives, foods from the package, and go for real foods, home-made meals, whole-food sources containing healthy skin nutrients as mentioned above. Your skin and your gut will be thankful.
Certain nutrients are particularly important for healthy skin. These include vitamins A, C, E, and K2, zinc, biotin, sulfur, pantothenic acid (B5), niacin (B3), silica, selenium, the omega-3 fatty acids, and beneficial bacteria (probiotics). When we lack these nutrients our skin can manifest it by dermatitis, rashes, acne, poor wound healing, raised bumps on the backs of the arms, and loss of skin firmness. Of note, many nutrients act in concert with other nutrients so a deficit of one can make the other ineffective. Therefore focusing on one nutrient only, may not entirely address the problem. Solution: Eat real foods, eat colors, and diversity of foods.
Top nutrients required for healthy skin:
- Vitamin A, lack of which causes the skin to be rough and dry which often first appears as rough, raised bumps on the back of the arms. Vitamin A-rich foods include liver and cod liver oil, kidney, cream and butter (pastured cows), and egg yolks (pastured chickens). If you take cod liver oil, it will provide you a balance of vitamin A and vitamin D that will reduce the risk of vitamin A over-dosage.
- Vitamin C plays an important role in the regulation of the structural protein collagen, which is necessary for the extracellular stability of the skin. Inadequate vitamin C can contribute to the development of hyperkeratosis pilaris, the common problem with the follicles being damaged when collagen formation is impaired. True deficiency of vitamin C is uncommon but often we consume suboptimal levels, particularly in a diet with few fruits and vegetables. The highest sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, guava, dark leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, citrus fruits, strawberries, cilantro, chives, thyme, basil, and parsley.
- Vitamin E is a potent fat-soluble and anti-inflammatory agent, found in our skin. Our bodies store vitamin E in our fat cells, and we depend on adequate dietary intake to maintain optimum levels. Adequate levels of this vitamin in the skin may prevent inflammatory damage from sun exposure. Food sources of vitamin E include spinach, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collards, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and with moderate amounts in olive oil.
- Vitamin K2 is an important player in protecting us from heart disease, forming strong bones, promoting brain function, supporting growth and development, helping to prevent cancer, ensuring healthy skin, and this vitamin is likely beneficial for preventing wrinkles and premature aging. Vitamin K2 is also necessary for the proper functioning of vitamin A- and D-dependent proteins. Vitamin A is essential for proper skin cell proliferation and cannot work properly if vitamin K2 is not available. Vitamin K2 is important in the treatment of acne, keratosis pilaris, and other skin symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. Good sources of vitamin K2 include butter and other high-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows, egg yolks, liver, natto, sauerkraut and cheese.
- Zinc supports immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, cell division, regulation of gene expression. It also improves wound healing, has anti-inflammatory properties, and protects against UV radiation. People with serious acne are found to have lower levels of serum zinc than healthy individuals. You can find zinc in animal sources including seafood (oysters, scallops, and other shellfish), kidney, liver, and red meat. Plant foods such as pumpkin seeds and other nuts can also be high in zinc as well, but are less bioavailable if not properly prepared by soaking, because the zinc is bound to phytates.
- Biotin (vitamin B7) acts as a cofactor for enzymes that regulate fatty acid metabolism with fatty acids being critical for the health of the skin. When biotin intake is insufficient, fat production is altered, and the skin cells are the first to develop symptoms. Low biotin intake/levels may promote hair loss, dandruff, erythematous (red and inflamed) dermatitis around the mouth and other areas of the face and scalp. In infants, inadequately low biotin amounts may contribute to “cradle cap” and seborrheic dermatitis in adults. Biotin rich foods include egg yolks, liver, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, almonds, and walnuts.
- Sulfur is a critical mineral for skin health and overall wellness. Sulfur is necessary for collagen synthesis, which gives the skin its structure and strength. Having enough sulfur in your diet can help maintain collagen production and keep your skin looking firm. Foods containing sulfur include egg yolks, meat, poultry, and fish, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and kale. Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, with well bioavailable sulfur serve as an excellent source of sulfur and a healthy component of a diet for radiant skin.
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is required for proper growth, metabolic function, energy production and protein and fat synthesis, and is needed by many different types of skin cells for regeneration and growth. Vitamin B5 is also involved in the growth and differentiation of keratinocytes, which are essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Keratosis pilaris (chicken skin) is a common skin condition caused by impaired keratinocyte growth, which may improve from increased pantothenic acid consumption. Pantothenic acid also significantly increases levels of glutathione in the cells, which acts as a potent antioxidant in the skin. Pantothenic acid can be found in various foods, some of the richest sources include liver and kidney, egg yolk, broccoli, fish, shellfish, chicken, dairy products, mushrooms, avocado, and sweet potatoes. Majority of healthy individuals meet their daily required intake of this vitamin however factors such as stress, pregnancy, and a diet high in processed foods can increase the need for this vitamin.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) is a vital payer in cell metabolism as a coenzyme in energy producing reactions involving the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as well as anabolic reactions such as fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis. Niacin deficiency is uncommon however in some health conditions such as in celiac disease, IBS, Crohn’s disease may cause inadequate niacin absorption from the diet. Impaired absorption can lead to the skin-related symptoms such as dermatitis and scaling. Niacin rich foods include meat, poultry, red fishes such as tuna and salmon, and seeds. Milk, green leafy vegetables, coffee, and tea also provide some niacin. For most healthy people, a diverse diet with adequate meat consumption should be enough to meet niacin’s nutritional needs.
- Silica is required for normal collagen formation. It maintains the health of connective tissues by interacting with the formation of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as hyaluronic acid, which are structural building blocks of collagen tissues. Inadequate silica content can result in reduced skin elasticity and wound healing. To ensure adequate silica intake include leeks, green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, cucumber, mango, celery, asparagus, and rhubarb in your diet. Other natural sources of silica certain types of (mineral) water or in trace mineral supplements.
- Selenium is a crucial trace mineral with numerous health benefits, for general health as well as the skin health. One of the most important jobs of selenium is being a component of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme necessary for the antioxidant function of glutathione (master antioxidant in our body that protects against cellular damage from the free radicals that cause inflammation and aging and promote skin cancer). Individuals with acne have been shown to have low levels of blood selenium, as well as low levels of selenium-dependent glutathione activity. The richest food sources of selenium are organ meats and seafood, followed by muscle meats. Fish such as cod, tuna, halibut, sardines, and salmon are excellent sources, along with liver and meats like beef, turkey, lamb, and Brazil nuts. The selenium content of food depends heavily on soil conditions, so eating a range of selenium-rich foods on a regular basis will ensure adequate selenium intake.
- Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have anti-inflammatory properties and are a crucial element of a well-balanced diet. In our modern diet, the high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids likely contributes to the prevalence of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and rosacea. Increasing dietary omega-3 fats is a vital step to promote the skin healing. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease inflammation and may reduce the risk of acne and other skin problems by decreasing insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and preventing hyperkeratinization of sebaceous follicles. These fatty acids are abundant in cold-water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and black cod. The added value of eating fish rather than taking fish oil is that apart of getting these omega-3s, you also get other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium.
- Beneficial bacteria and prebiotic foods. As skin conditions often relate to gut health issues, this is why probiotics and prebiotics can shine. Our gut microbiota can influence systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, glycemic control, and tissue lipid content which have important implications in skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis. Prebiotics serve as “food” for beneficial gut bacteria and are indigestible by humans. Probiotics on the other hand are the beneficial bacteria themselves. You need to eat prebiotic rich foods (dietary fiber) if you want to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. If you have skin issues (and no histamine intolerance) include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir in your diet, alternatively supplement with probiotic and/or prebiotic if needed.
If you want to experiment with foods you may try a Paleo diet, a Low-histamine diet, or a Low-FODMAP diet.
- Stress management. Try to find ways that work for you to deal with stress (meditation, mindfulness, sports, therapy and so on). Find and have available three “go-to” stress relievers that work for you. These could be taking a few deep breaths, stepping outside for a few minutes, reminding yourself to just “let it go,” perking up your posture and carrying yourself confidently (stress can make you hunched over) or planning something you look forward to at the end of your stress-filled day. Taking a detox bath is one of the best ways to relieve stress. In the evening after dinner, add one cup of Epsom salts and 20 drops of lavender oil to a hot bath and soak for 20 minutes. Then drink a warm glass of chamomile tea. Stress is associated with numerous skin conditions as the skin is influenced by many of the hormones and neuropeptides involved in the stress response, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone, adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. (Chronic) Stress compromises the effectiveness of the gut barrier as well as the skin barrier, impairing the integrity and protective function of these barriers, leading to an increase risk of infection and inflammation in the gut and/or skin.
- Increase ultraviolet exposure especially if you spend most of the time indoors. Ultraviolet light (from sunlight or alternatively UVA/UVB tanning beds) can be helpful in the management of psoriasis, vitiligo, acne, eczema, dermatitis, and lichen planus. In addition, sunlight promotes vitamin D3 synthesis and offers additional cognitive benefits of spending time outdoors. Be mindful that sun exposure or too much sun exposure (particularly if it leads to sunburn) can make skin conditions worse, and not all skin conditions (such as rosacea) benefit from ultraviolet light. If you’re your skin condition worsens after sun exposure, then reduce sun exposure until your skin condition is under control.
- Get enough rest! Sleep deeply for eight hours a night: minimize electronic media and distractions. Don’t use smartphones or other screen/electronic devices in your bedroom. Go to bed around 22.00 o’clock.
- Incorporate regular physical activity to your routine but avoid overtraining, choose an activity you enjoy doing
- Try to apply a 8x8x8 rule: 8 hours of sleep, 8 hour of work, 8 hours of rest and for children more sleep
- Reduce exposure to electromagnetic field from electric devices
- Reduce exposure to toxic substances
- Reduce exposure to plastic
- Make contact with nature
- Cultivate pleasure and connection
- Make time for play and laugh
Next to dietary recommendations which should serve as foundation of any therapy, there are certain supplements that may be helpful for people with skin disease.
- Vitamin C
- Quercetin and bromelain
- High quality multivitamin or Vitamin B complex including Folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 to support methylation
- Cod liver oil or omega-3 fatty acids
- Probiotics such as Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum may help to reduce histamine levels
- Prebiotics (inulin, resistant starch) to increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut such as Bifidobacteria
- Diamine oxidase supplement for people with histamine intolerance
If you do all the right things: eat healthy, exercise, sleep well, have stress under control, take the right supplements and yet your skin does not improve – dig deeper to find the reason why. Asses your gut health, digestion, possible infection, allergies, or food intolerances.