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A Naturopathic Approach to Skin Conditions

The condition of our skin can make a tremendous difference in how we perceive ourselves and has been linked to a profound impact on psychological health which in verse can also impact our gut health too. I know how much we should be able to accept and love ourselves, regardless of our appearance. But when you know something is causing skin concerns - it's not just about feeling and looking confident. It's a gut feeling.

Here at The Feel Good Society our naturopathic approach is to take into consideration your mind, body and spirit. As naturopathic practitioners we work with our clients to uncover the root cause of skin issues and mitigate impacts in other organ systems.

Skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis are commonly seen by naturopaths for support due to their various affecting symptoms like itching, redness, burning, consistency, flare-ups and overall impacting confidence to do what we love and how we see our selves.

Uncovering the root cause of skin issues

We have many tools to aid in the treatment of skin conditions and the overall cause and effect towards you as a whole. Because the practice of naturopathic medicine is rooted in finding and removing the cause of the problem, the issue of chronic and ongoing “flares” and “break outs” may be less common with a naturopathic approach. Utilising a holistic, whole-person perspective means that the entirety of you will be supported, not just the symptomatic area of concern. Some of the most common ways as naturopath's we approach treating skin conditions include:

Support digestion and gut health

Treating skin conditions can be challenging as there are many factors that may affect skin health. Diet, Stress, Genetics and Environment all contribute to various skin conditions. There is increasing research indicating a relationship between digestive health and skin conditions. Though, some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing a skin condition, there may be however an environmental trigger. Particularly, the microbiome may be one of those impacted by a possible environmental triggers.

But what is the microbiome?

The microbiome is made up of the microorganisms that live within our digestive tract and on our skin. Bacteria, fungus and parasites primarily make up the human microbiome. It is the ecosystem that lives within us and on us. Our skin and digestive tract share many similarities. Both contain probiotic or “friendly “bacteria. Both protect us from the outside environment. Both influence our immune system. Both communicate with each other via the blood stream. So it is not surprising to see research establishing an association between skin and gut health (1).

Most clients have heard of the “mind-body connection” but what about the “gut-skin connection?” The gut and skin are uniquely related in structure and function, and share a common embryological developmental origin. Serving as our primary interface with the external environment, both have a dense vascular network and extensive nerve supply that is core to their role in neuroendocrine and immune function (1a). Mounting scientific evidence has confirmed the depth of the connection between the gut and skin, and multiple studies link gastrointestinal health to skin health, particularly for inflammatory skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis 2. We have long been aware of this link, and will take steps to assess, measure, and treat gut health as part of the approach to dermatological care.

A number of different studies report a relationship between the types of bacteria found in the microbiome and the severity of psoriasis (3) (4).

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and its possible relationship with Rosacea is discussed in a 2008 study which demonstrated a higher prevalence of SIBO in Rosacea patients compared to controls. The authors report almost complete regression of the Rosacea lesions after eradicating the SIBO for at least 9 months (5).

Addressing food allergies and sensitivities

The digestive tract is home to about 80% of the human immune system (6). Since the gut regularly interacts with bacteria, yeast, viruses, and other microbes from the external environment, the job of the digestive tract immune system is to help protect you from the onslaught of microbial invaders. Sometimes the immune system can become a little too vigilant in its protective role, and can mistakenly start to attack normal food that we have eaten, resulting in food allergies and food sensitivities. This immune reaction sets off an inflammatory cascade that can manifest in the skin in the form of various breakouts and blemishes as well as inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema. Fortunately, there are blood tests that can assist in the identification of foods that may be causing the body to mount an inflammatory response. Knowing which foods are problematic and avoiding those foods in your food intake for a time can help control a variety of skin conditions and allow the skin to recover.

Mitigate inflammation pathways

Inflammation is a normal and beneficial facet of immunity. In the short term, it helps drive the appropriate cells to an area where they are needed, supports removal of damaged tissue, and advances the healing process. However when inflammation becomes long-term and chronic, the consequences can be quite serious (7). Inflammatory skin conditions can be impacted by local inflammation and reactivity of the cutaneous immune system, as well as by inflammation in other areas such as the gut and overall systemic inflammation. Taking steps to minimise inflammatory activity in the body can be a key component in managing skin conditions. Utilising specifically targeted anti-inflammatory herbs, spices, and other nutrients are all ways that we as naturopathic practitioners seek to curb excessive inflammatory activity in our clients.

Balancing detoxification pathways

There are multiple pathways by which the body eliminates waste and toxins. Collectively, these organs and systems are known as emunctories, which include the liver, kidneys, GI tract, and the skin. These organs of elimination must be functioning well in order to ensure proper detoxification of the body to keep up with the accumulation of toxins (8). When any one of these pathways is blocked or impeded, the others must pick up the slack. The result is that they can become congested and overloaded from managing the increased workload. This can lead to the skin becoming a veritable wasteland for excess toxins, and blemishes, rashes, acne, and inflammation can increase. We are well-versed in the emunctory systems and how to encourage its proper and balanced function through a variety of methods that promote elimination of toxins and toxic metabolic byproducts.

Utilising herbs and supplements

As experts in the use of supplements and herbs as therapeutic agents in disease management. The internal and external use of nutrients can also be an important part of the management of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne. Vitamins such as A, D, and E play crucial roles in skin health, integrity, and immune function. Low levels of some vitamins, such as vitamin D have consistently been observed in serious skin conditions like psoriasis (9). Other fats like omega 3 and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) can also be important supplement considerations. Omega 3 fats have been shown to mitigate inflammatory pathways in the skin and aid in balancing an overactive immune response (10) (11). GLA is found in high concentrations in evening primrose oil as well as borage oil. Research has revealed that supplementing with evening primrose oil standardised to contain 40mg GLA led to significant improvements in eczema severity scores (12).

Many minerals are also important for skin health. Deficiencies in zinc, copper, selenium, and iron may result in cutaneous abnormalities. For example, scientific research has revealed a correlation between low serum zinc levels and the severity and type of acne lesions (13). Further research has shown that zinc and selenium deficiencies may make eczema lesions worse (14).

Herbs can also play a vital role in supporting skin health. Studies of multiple botanical acne remedies have shown positive results, and several have resulted in equal or superior benefits compared to conventional therapies (15). Herbs like Curcuma longa have also been found to significantly inhibit inflammatory processes as well as reduce T cell proliferation in psoriasis (16). Topical botanical therapeutics are also an option. Studies have shown topical application of Mahonia aquifolium, Indigo naturalis, and Aloe barbadensis to be among the most effective in the treatment of psoriasis lesions (17).

Utilising foods

Fatty fish, such as herring, mackerel, and salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to keep skin healthy and soft, and may decrease the effect of harmful UV rays (18). One symptom of omega-3 deficiency is dry skin, so if you notice that your skin is particularly dry, increasing your consumption of fatty fish may help to restore your skin’s moisture (19). Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation, which in turn can help some people reduce redness and acne (20).

Try: swapping your regular burgers out with salmon burgers, topping your favorite salad with grilled salmon, or taking fish oil supplements.

* Pro Tip: Make sure your fish oil is sourced from wild fish and screened for heavy metals. Additionally, storing in refrigeration is important to improve shelf life and decrease the oxidative process.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene (the pigment that gives orange fruits and vegetables their color and is converted to vitamin A in the body) (21) (22). Eating foods rich in betacarotene may give skin a healthy glow and help to protect it from the sun’s rays (23).

Try: making oven-roasted sweet potato fries, mashing sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, adding diced roasted sweet potatoes to salads, rice bowls, or tacos.

Avocados are a good source of healthy fats, vitamin E, and vitamin C, all of which contribute to healthy, supple skin (24) (25). The consumption of avocados is associated with reducing the look of ageing, including wrinkles and sun damage (26) (27). More research needs to be conducted, but one study found that women who increased their avocado consumption saw their skin become tighter, smoother, and reduced the appearance of wrinkles (28).

Try: topping toast with mashed avocado, adding avocado slices to your favourite salad, adding avocado to your morning smoothie, or mixing mashed avocado into scrambled eggs.

Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and has been shown to improve skin health (29). One study found that consuming dark chocolate increased blood flow and nutrient delivery to the skin (30). Another study found that participants who ate 20 grams of high-antioxidant dark chocolate per day could withstand twice the amount of UV radiation before developing a sunburn compared to before they began eating dark chocolate (31).

Try: swapping out chocolate bars for fair trade organic dark chocolate, topping your favorite frozen dessert with dark chocolate shavings, adding dark chocolate chips to oats, making a batch of double chocolate avocado cookies.

Other studies that discuss the gut-skin axis include:

A great 2011 study proposed a potential pathway of the gut-skin axis. The authors suggest a high fat diet with processed foods and low fiber affects the gut microbiome. This change affects intestinal permeability and allows toxins from the gut to enter the blood circulation. This creates increased inflammation and oxidative stress which can have a direct negative effect on skin health in those who are genetically susceptible to acne. The authors also suggest both probiotics and antibiotics may reduce this inflammation at the gut level (32).

A recent 2019 study provides a great systemic review on the potential relationship between a diet high in sugar and processed foods, its impact on the gut microbiome and the resulting inflammation that can trigger acne (33.)

In a recent meta-analysis study, the authors report a significant association between Irritable Bowel Disease and Rosacea. They recommend further studies to investigate possible treatment options related to digestive health and the gut-skin axis (34).

If Testing is Needed/Requested

As naturopathic practitioners we commonly investigate digestive health when treating skin conditions with testing opportunities if needed. This is a personalised approach which considers our clients full medical history including digestive health history, current diet and laboratory testing. Specific tests for digestive and skin health include a comprehensive stool analysis, IgG food sensitivity test, IgE food allergy test or Small intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) test. From these test results, we will develop a comprehensive treatment plan to optimise microbial diversity and address any digestive issues that may be affecting your skin health.

Final Goodness

The skin is the largest organ of the body, totaling over 20 square feet. It protects us from the environment, including infectious agents, helps regulate body temperature through sweating and goosebumps, and has nerve endings that allow for the sensations of touch, vibration, heat, and cold. The skin can also be the site of a number of medical conditions, and clue us in to underlying conditions. Dermatology and the treatment of cutaneous conditions can be extremely complex and notoriously difficult to treat. In conventional care, individualising therapies can be extremely challenging, and pharmaceutical regimens may result in side effects that may be more unpleasant than the disease itself. As your naturopathic practitioner we are uniquely trained to use a multitude of techniques and therapies to manage your health concerns.

If you suffer from a skin problem such as acne or rosacea, book an appointment with one of our naturopathic practitioners here at The Feel Good Society. Your gut may be playing a role in your skin health but we will help you navigate your root cause!

In good health,

Suzzi Hartery

BHSc Naturopath (Distinction) The Feel Good Society Founder & Head Practitioner


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