Skin Disorders: Part One
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As with most health issues, there are generalities that apply to the majority of cases, and the exceptions, which are more complicated to solve. Here, as usual, I can only discuss the most common approaches to treating skin conditions, but there will always be some with conditions that defy this generalized approach. In such cases, it is time to find a good naturopath, or doctor of Chinese medicine. However, forget about going to a medical doctor: most of what they have to offer is corticosteroid creams, which, in the long run, only worsen the problem.
Usually, the root of a skin problem is due to one, or more, of three factors: a nutritional deficiency; something living on the surface of the skin which is causing the disorder, such as bacteria, fungus, or skin mites; or something toxic inside the body trying to come out through the skin. This toxic substance, if it is not chemicals, fungal overgrowth, or heavy metals, can be a result of an individual’s allergic response (e.g. dairy or gluten), so diet often plays a big role in skin issues.
Also known as Atopic Dermatitis (AD), eczema is a general term for a rash-like skin condition that causes dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. Often very itchy, which when scratched, worsens the condition. While eczema occurs more commonly in children, it can strike at any age. Now note this statement, which I will be referring back to: “People with atopic dermatitis are at risk of developing food allergies, hay fever and asthma.” (Source)
As I mentioned above, in the medical community “the primary pharmacologic treatment is topical corticosteroids,” something I believe should only be used as a last resort, and only for a brief time. (Also, for those who use these creams, pay attention to this comment from medical researchers: “Twice-daily or more frequent application has not been shown to be more effective than once-daily application.” Given the danger of overusing corticosteroid creams, it is good to be aware that one application is sufficient.)
The next thing to be aware of is that eczema is often categorized as an autoimmune condition: “For the first time, a team led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has proven that atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is an immune-driven (autoimmune) disease at the molecular level. The study, a collaboration with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi and Rockefeller University, was published online earlier this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. (December 31, 2014)” (Source)
Notice how a pharmaceutical company is one of the collaborators on this study. Guess what type of drug is in the most profitable category? Drugs for autoimmune conditions, which are immune suppressing. Thus, there is a vested interest for a drug company to have these skin ailments defined as autoimmune conditions.
“AbbVie’s immunosuppressive for psoriasis, arthritis, Crohn’s disease and more, is still the industry’s heavyweight champ. In fact, its $19.6 billion in sales is worth 21 percent of the top 10’s total sales.” (Source)
Now to the next most common skin disorder. Psoriasis causes a rash with itchy, scaly patches, and is most commonly located on the elbows, knees, scalp, and trunk of the body, and in severe cases, can be quite painful.
As is common with the medical approach to most ailments, psoriasis is considered a chronic disease “with no cure”.
“Psoriasis occurs when skin cells are replaced more quickly than usual. It’s not known exactly why this happens, but research suggests it’s caused by a problem with the immune system…Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that part of the body’s own immune system becomes overactive and attacks normal tissues in the body.” (Source)
I have a feeling that “autoimmune” may be medical-speak for “we have no idea”.
And, as per usual, the medical treatment for psoriasis is corticosteroids: “these drugs are the most frequently prescribed medications for treating mild to moderate psoriasis.” However, “even with successful treatment, usually the disease returns”. (Source)
Other treatments, for severe cases, can include light therapy (phototherapy), and sometimes “oral or injected medications”, which would be more corticosteroids and/or immune suppressing drugs. Because, after all, it is an autoimmune condition, right?
Yet, do you know what kind of light therapy is used? Ultraviolet light, which produces vitamin D in the skin, and in fact, some doctors will actually use topical vitamin D as well. (One reason I favor liquid vitamin D, like our Quick D, is that it can also be used topically.). Could it be that much of psoriasis is simply due to vitamin D deficiency, and maybe is not an autoimmune condition? The answer is yes, as we will see a bit further on when discussing vitamin D.
The most dangerous approach to treating skin disorders is the use of corticosteroid (also known as Hydrocortisone) creams. While corticosteroids have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, and can occasionally be of short-term benefit, its consistent use has two drawbacks. It will thin the skin over time, weakening its integrity, but even worse, if the body is trying to expel a toxin or allergen, the corticosteroids will push it back into the body, allowing it to accumulate below the surface, possibly leading to worse health issues down-line. Let’s take a brief look at the medical warnings surrounding the use of these creams.
“With long-term use of topical steroid the skin may develop permanent stretch marks, bruising, discolouration, or thin spidery blood vessels (telangiectasias). Topical steroids may trigger or worsen other skin disorders such as acne, rosacea and perioral dermatitis.”
“Topical steroid withdrawal may occur when prolonged treatment with a moderate or potent strength topical steroid is stopped. Symptoms may include red skin, burning pain or stinging, itch, skin peeling and excessive sweating.”
“Some topical steroid gets through the skin and into the bloodstream. The amount is usually small and usually causes no problems unless strong topical steroids are used regularly on large areas of the skin.” In which case symptoms can include: “Fluid collection in the legs; High blood pressure; Bone damage (thinning)”.
“The main concern is with children who need frequent courses of strong topical steroids. The steroid can have an effect on growth. Therefore, children who need repeated courses of strong topical steroids should have their growth monitored.” (Source)
Now, let’s recall that statement from above: “People with atopic dermatitis are at risk of developing food allergies, hay fever and asthma.”
Those familiar with my blog, How 3 Nutrients Can Heal Most Ailments (which I have successfully used as a basic protocol with hundreds of people over the years), are aware that I see the root of many ailments as being due to a thinning of mucosal membranes in the body. In the case of thinning of the sinus and lung linings we end up with allergies and asthma. When the gut lining thins we get ailments like food allergies and autoimmune conditions.
To briefly summarize, when food particles that have not yet been fully digested enter the bloodstream via a porous gut, the body perceives these proteins (worst offenders being gluten and casein) as invaders and marshals an antibody response to clear them out. A doctor perceives this as an “autoimmune” condition.
Aside from the obvious culprits of gluten and casein, the other worst protein particles for triggering inflammation, and an antibody response, are what are known as “lectins”. While one popular internet doctor (Gundry) advocates the avoidance of all lectins, his is a perfect example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Lectins are found in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, many of which are healthful, longevity enhancing foods, and often part of the Mediterranean Diet. No, the only lectins to be concerned about are those which are offensive to your blood type. (For more info read the “Lectins” portion of this newsletter.)
Blood Type Diet
When skin conditions are of the “autoimmune” variety, or an allergic response that is hard to pin down, it is time to incorporate the Blood Type Diet into one’s regimen. Aside from autoimmune conditions, very common otherwise healthful-foods can also cause inflammation, poor digestion, and insulin spikes in certain blood types, all of which can also be linked to skin disorders. (For full information on this diet read “Eat Right 4 Your Type” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo. For a rudimentary overview have a read of this newsletter.)
For some blood types, meat will contribute to acne-like symptoms, since these types (A and AB) are low in the stomach acids required to properly digest animal protein. For other blood types (B and O) a vegetarian diet might worsen a skin condition because their higher protein requirements are not being met, and the skin does not have enough protein to properly repair itself. Try following your blood type diet for at least a month to see if it helps.
I have spoken endlessly in my blogs and newsletters about vitamin D, how it is the single most important nutrient that we (almost) all must supplement with, and how a deficiency is literally linked to almost any ailment and disease you can think of. This holds true when we look at skin disorders as well, as I will illustrate briefly with a few clinical reference points.
- “Indeed, significant associations between low vitamin D status and psoriasis have been systematically observed.” (Source)
- “This meta-analysis showed that serum vitamin D level was lower in the Atopic dermatitis (AD) patients and vitamin D supplementation could be a new therapeutic option for AD.” (Source)
- “The serum 25(OH)D levels in acne patients is lower…Articles also revealed the prospect of a therapeutic breakthrough through the supplementing of vitamin D for acne patients.” (Source)
Our first approach to a skin problem is to ensure that one is getting the basic skin nutrients. These include vitamins A (at least 50,000 IU weekly; also helpful when used topically); vitamin C (at least 1000 mg three times daily) and, obviously, vitamin D (25,000 IU weekly), as well as the omega-3 fatty acids (a teaspoon of fish or algae oil, or a tablespoon of flax oil). These are maintenance doses; more info on therapeutic dose will be found in the aforementioned blog, How 3 Nutrients Can Heal Most Ailments.
Eczema and psoriasis are often related to fatty acid deficiencies, but also usually require high levels of vitamin D (10,000 IU 5 days a week for two weeks minimum, and then a maintenance dose of 5,000 IU daily, skipping weekends). If one finds relief at the high doses of vitamin D, and wish to continue that dose for longer than two weeks, it is imperative that they also take a vitamin K2 supplement.
In the natural healing field, it is believed that eczema is often linked to a deficiency in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), a therapeutic dose being 1,000 mg of evening primrose oil, three times daily. Whereas, psoriasis is more commonly linked to a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids. When using an omega-3 fatty acid for this purpose, it is best to use pre-formed DHA and EPA, rather than relying on flax oil since one may be a poor converter. The seed oil form of omega-3 has to undergo a transformation in the body in order for it to produce DHA and EPA, and those who are not well may not be able to make this conversion easily. (For more on EFAs see previous newsletters.)
For cases of acne, which can be hormonal related, much success has been obtained by using high levels of vitamin A (50,000 IU for a month), and zinc (30 to 50 mg for a month). For young women with skin problems, who also have PMS symptoms, Evening Primrose oil can be helpful (3000 mg daily). Remember to skip weekends with these protocols, and to reduce dosage once relief has been obtained.
Other Dietary Factors
If following the blood type diet does not help, one then resorts to a food diary and an elimination of the most commonly offensive allergens: eggs, soy, milk products, GMO foods, wheat and gluten-containing foods. Eczema is more commonly linked to these allergies than is psoriasis.
This approach is the most difficult, as it requires a close observance of ones’ diet and corresponding changes in the skin. But it does have the advantage of often leading to an improvement in general health, when the offending foods are finally identified and eliminated from the diet.
Remember to eat organic whenever possible as I have seen one case of bad skin lesions in a couple who were eating too much Mexican fruit one summer and were literally dumping pesticides out of their skin (see my blog: Why Organic?).
In part two we will examine topical treatments and detoxification.