Thursday, February 8, 2018

Treating skin conditions: Part 2 - From the inside, out

Although soothing and cleansing your skin with creams and oils can make a huge difference in skin healing, the root cause of many inflammatory skin conditions comes from inside the body.

The challenge is in figuring out which part of your system has been compromised, as there are multiple reasons why we break out in acne, psoriasis, or eczema. Although each one of these disorders is unique, they all share the common thread of being inflammatory in nature, and typically arising from an internal disorder.

Common culprits of inflammatory skin disorders:

  • Food sensitivities: IgG immune system reactions
  • Stress, leading to chronically abnormal cortisol levels
  • Hormonal fluctuations, as with estrogen and testosterone
  • Dietary nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies, such as, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin B5, vitamin D, and zinc.
  • Compromised or delayed liver detoxification pathways leading to increased toxin and/or metabolite burden.
  • Oxidative damage from an imbalance in free radical production vs antioxidant action.
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders: causes a barrier disruption and give substances like toxins, allergens, and microbes greater access to your system. 
  • An immune system imbalance, promoting a greater TH2 response and suppressing TH1 responses --> more serum IgE --> "allergic diseases" including eczema and asthma.
The detective work can be frustrating for a lot of people. A medical doctor can give you a steroid cream and they work really well at suppressing skin inflammation. Lesions will easily disappear in a matter of hours or days. But once you stop using them, many eczema sufferers find their lesions come right back, just as fast. So, by needing to take weeks, or even months, to get to the root cause of the problem without the use of steroid creams, it can be frustrating for many. 

It is also important to note that steroid creams can cause skin thinning, and therefore should be avoided on or around delicate skin (like around the eyes).

The bright side is that it can get better. A lot better. Treatment requires patience but is well worth it when you realize that you're not only fixing your skin, but you're creating a healthier body inside as well. 

For example, you might resolve skin lesions by changing the diet and improving the gut microbiome. In treating the gut as the root cause, we also improve digestion and can lessen symptoms of IBS like gas and bloating. 

As another example, in treating the immune system, and promoting TH1 responses with substances such as echinacea, reishi mushroom, plant sterols, and others, we could potentially see a decrease in concurrent asthma or sinusitis symptoms. 

There are multiple ways to treat skin conditions internally, but figuring out the root cause and correcting it is a process. The good news is that we are not limited only to the quick-fix of steroid creams - though they can be helpful at times! 

What can you expect when you see a naturopathic doctor (ND)?

An initial appointment is often 60-90 minutes in order to get a full picture of your health and health history. A physical exam may be warranted, at least to visualize any current lesions. In some cases, your ND may feel it necessary (or will give you the option) of having tests run to rule out specific causes. 

Examples of tests that may be run:
  • Blood glucose/sugar levels, testing fasting blood glucose, HbA1C, and fasting blood insulin
  • IgG Food Sensitivity test (often done as a finger prick or blood test): Can outline each specific food that your immune system is reacting to. 
  • 4-point cortisol test to monitor your cortisol levels throughout the day
  • A blood test for the hormones such as FSH, LH, and androgens (to help rule out PCOS and androgen-related acne)
Otherwise, treatment is often started right away based on your intake information and physical exam. This may include:
  • Dietary changes and modifying eating habits
  • Modifying the gut microbiome with probiotics or probiotic foods to improve immune responses
  • Botanicals and medicinal mushrooms to promote TH1 responses
  • Antioxidant, vitamin and nutrient supplementation
  • Working on stress management 
  • Avoiding exposure to toxins and irritants
  • Promoting phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification pathways with either food or supplementation
(Be sure to seek individualized advice and treatment from a licensed naturopathic doctor before starting any supplement or major dietary change. The above is for educational purposes only)