Look for causes of skin conditions
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Eczema (atopic dermatitis), acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and rashes of all sorts are common skin conditions affecting many Canadians. Some are told that they have dermatitis (general skin inflammation) while doctors continue to search for a diagnosis.
Although classifying skin symptoms (e.g. red, itchy) within a specific disease (e.g. eczema) is important, finding the cause for one’s symptoms or disease is even more significant. Causes provide doctors and patients a road map to finding the solution of their health condition.
In a previous article, I outlined the underlying causes of skin conditions. I discussed the concept that most skin conditions are actually not a skin problem. Although symptoms appear at the level of the skin, such skin conditions are actually caused by internal versus external problems.
Although hydrocortisone cream can be an effective short-term measure, it does not offer a long-term solution. This form of treatment suppresses skin inflammation and does not promote true health because ultimately it does not address the underlying problem, i.e. the actual cause(s) of one's skin condition:
- Chronic food reactions: food sensitivities (IgG reactions) and other food reactions that cause inflammation (e.g. gluten).
- Acute allergic reactions (food/environmental): IgE reactions
- Nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, excess alcohol, excess sugar
- Toxins: pesticides/herbicides, PCBs, heavy metals, xenoestrogens, smoking…
- Stress, mental/emotional issues (worry, anxiety, etc…)
- Genetics predispositions
- Lack of sleep or excess exercise: prevents skin repair
- Lack of exercise: decrease blood flow to skin & therefore less skin repair
- Pharmaceutical medication side-effects
Imbalanced Bodily Systems:
- Inflammatory conditions (Crohn’s or colitis, arthritis, skin cancers, etc…)
- Decreased detoxification function: poor liver & kidney function, liver inflammation, congested lymphatic system
- Poor digestive health: presence of abnormal microbes, constipation/diarrhea, gas/bloating, inflammation, etc…
- Viral infections (shingles, etc…)
- Autoimmune disease (celiac, lupus, Scleroderma, etc…) or predispositions
- Hormone imbalances (e.g. hypothyroidism predisposes dry skin)
In this column, let’s explore the three most important (and often overlooked) causes in more detail: 1) toxicity; 2) autoimmunity; and 3) digestive tract problems.
Decreasing our exposure to toxins and improving our body’s detoxification capability are important steps to healing many skin conditions.
We are exposed to a great number of toxins during the course of our lifetime. All our cells create waste products that also need to be dealt with. Our lymphatic system, lungs, kidneys, digestive tract, and liver can normally remove most toxins and wastes on a daily basis, but sometimes these detox mechanisms become inefficient or overwhelmed.
Please review my previous articles entitled
“Jump start your health with spring detox program” for additional details about detox programs offered at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic.
There are two major groupings of toxins that are linked to chronic health problems: 1) persistent organic pollutants (POPs); and 2) heavy metals.
POPs are chemicals that are resistant to environmental degradation (i.e. they hang around for a long time). Examples include pesticides and other chemicals found in drinking water or within foods, chemicals used in beauty and skin care products, all types of industrial waste by-products, and other chemicals in the environment that have a chance of ending up in our bodies.
Many heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, arsenic and lead are well known to be dangerous for our health even in very small amounts. Humans are exposed to heavy metals mainly via:
- the consumption of fish/seafood caught in contaminated water;
- the consumption of foods grown from contaminated land;
- the consumption of supplements derived from plants grown from contaminated land;
- exposure from certain types of pipes, paints, and cookware;
- drinking contaminated drinking water;
- breathing polluted air (e.g. mercury derived from coal burning);
- improper removing of dental amalgams;
Preventing our exposure to heavy metals is key, but sometimes we may find ourselves already exposed to too much.
Heavy metal toxicity evaluation offered at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic includes: 1) hair analysis to determine shorter term exposure to heavy metals (e.g. from fish/seafood consumption); and 2) urine toxic metals testing which includes pre- and post-provocation testing using a chelation agent. Such urine testing is used to determine total levels of heavy metal toxicity in the body resulting from our lifetime exposure (aka total body burden).
Consult your naturopathic doctor or medical doctor before starting any detox program. A medical history, physical exam, as well as a review of your diagnostic laboratories and imaging studies should be conducted on all patients with underlying health conditions.
When skin conditions become chronic and do not respond to usual treatments, it is very important to determine whether autoimmune reactions are occurring in the body.
Our immune system orchestrates inflammation in the body. If it becomes imbalanced or hypersensitive, the immune system can have increased reactivity to foods, other allergens and even to our own cells in the body. When the immune system is unable to shut off or control it’s own inflammatory processes it can lead to autoimmune conditions. Such imbalances can be important contributors to skin problems.
Diagnosis can be made by evaluating the presence of an existing autoimmune condition (e.g. celiac disease, lupus, diabetes type 1, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc…), exploring one’s family history for any autoimmune disease, reviewing other risk factors for autoimmune conditions, and performing laboratory testing such as the anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test.
There are several naturopathic treatment options to help balance or modulate the immune system. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about options that are specific for your needs.
Heal the skin by healing the gut
Many of my patient’s skin problems improve when we heal the digestive system.
Sometimes our own internal organs can be an important source of inflammatory waste products. Remember that blood circulating from internal organs eventually circulates to the rest of the body (including the skin!). Because our digestive tract is such as big organ with tremendous blood flow requirements, its health can greatly influence other systems in the body.
Poor food choices, food allergies/sensitivities, the presence of abnormal microbes in the body, and certain diseases can lead to gut inflammation and cause the release of inflammatory molecules into the blood stream. By solving food sensitivities and healing the digestive tract, it no longer creates inflammatory wastes that can end up affecting the skin.
Determining and avoiding foods that cause inflammation and immune system responses is therefore one of the most important strategies to addressing many skin problems. The different options to determine your food sensitivities were discussed in great detail in my last column. Let’s briefly review info about the IgG food sensitivity blood test offered at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic.
The IgG food sensitivity blood test is the most important test to determine the cause of chronic (versus acute) skin conditions. Many of my patients have completely resolved their eczema for example by eliminating their IgG foods sensitivities and by healing their digestive system. Although, foods such as grains (especially gluten containing grains), dairy, eggs, corn, nuts and soy can be important culprits, this test measures blood concentrations of IgG antibodies for a large number of foods; in fact it can tests for 96 or 184 different foods (depending on the panel chosen).
As always, a combination of naturopathic approaches tailored to each individual provides the best clinical results. Assessing for food sensitivities and creating a feasible eating plan is paramount. The use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses (antioxidants for example) and individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations can address inflammation and can help control skin symptoms. Naturally-based creams are equality important to repair the skin, mitigate unpleasant symptoms and speed up the healing process.
Treating skin conditions is a whole body approach. By treating factors that aim to provide relief and address the underlying causes, we can find a long-term solution to your skin problems.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Saturday, February 9th 2013 in Times & Transcript.
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