What our skin tells us about our general health
Even though skin is the largest of our organs, many people are still in the dark as to just how many vital functions it performs. Our dermis and epidermis, the two primary layers that make up human skin, serve as a barrier to infection, protect our muscles, regulate temperature and relay key signals to our brain about everything from moisture and heat to pain and irritation. Despite its size and reach, its role in our overall health is often overlooked. Skin is a window to the rest of our bodies, so it’s worth taking notice of common issues because your body might just be trying to tell you something.
Acne / spots
Our brains and our skin are derived from the same cells and this causes us to break out when we are under stress. So if you’re experiencing a particularly stubborn run of spots, the first place to look is your stress levels. Acne is often a sign of an underlying hormone imbalance, so treating the underlying issue usually solves the acne. And not just to improve the quality of your skin, since hormone imbalance can lead to more serious medical issues. High insulin levels are another cause of acne, as insulin is the hormone responsible for acne. To counter this, adopt a high-fat, low-carb diet, which will usually clear up the problem within six to eight weeks.
Dry, often red, patches, usually found around the elbows, knees and face, are a common symptom of gluten allergies, which may already be wreaking havoc with the rest of your body, as it has been linked with a host of autoimmune diseases and can lead to leaky gut syndrome.
A reddening of the skin can be caused by many factors – stress, changes in temperature, alcohol, and humidity among them. Many skin experts believe rosacea to be caused by abnormalities in the blood vessels of the face, but it is not known what causes these abnormalities. Sun exposure is most definitely a factor, so sufferers should avoid exposure. Other treatments include mineral cream, or laser treatment, but these will only manage symptoms. The real key is to avoid any further damage to skin by the sun.
This is often caused by dusty conditions and air-conditioning, but if moisturiser isn’t cutting it anymore then it’s time to look deeper. The first place to check is diet, as dry skin can be a sign of a mineral or nutrient deficiency, such as a lack of Omega-3, found in oily fish, nuts, and fruits such as avocado. A lack of it can slow the natural exfoliation cycle, leading to dry and flaky skin. As a tip, coconut and olive oil are very good natural remedies. You may be simply dehydrated, so ensuring you get plenty of liquids can be enough. If you are experiencing any other symptoms, such as fatigue or sudden weight loss, then consult your doctor in case these symptoms indicate something more serious.
Eczema and psoriasis
Like other conditions on this list, eczema is not caused by a single factor. Anything from stress or irritants through to genetics are all thought to play a part. And a 2015 study pointed to a possible correlation between obesity and the skin condition. Let’s also address psoriasis here, which is a more severe eczema. Often revealed as rashes affecting the extensor surfaces (example, the elbows), this is usually a chronic condition and very resistant to the normal cortisone creams used for treatment. I’ll stress here again the connection between these skin conditions and leaky gut. Again, gluten in wheat is a major cause of leaky gut, but so too are excessive use of antibiotics and OTC medicines, high stress levels, excessive alcohol, and lack of sleep. These can all affect our gut, which is home to 100 trillion plus microbes. It is the ecosystem that impacts our skin (and brain) the most.
What is your skin trying to say?
Keep in mind that our skin is a reflection of what is going on inside our bodies – especially the gut. Therefore we must safeguard our overall health, and many people know exactly what I will say next: Start with a clean diet of fruit, vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, and pre-biotic foods like onions, garlic, and lots of plant fibres. Fermented foods are also excellent for gut healing. Don’t forget to stay well hydrated, cut out smoking, reduce the drinking, and avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight. Finally, if you are experiencing any of the above issues, be sure to visit your physician, not simply to alleviate the symptoms but to draw out a full picture of your overall health to discover what may lie beneath.
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Mark Janowski (MD, USA) is an internal medicine specialist at Intelligent Health, a preventative health centre located at Sunset Mall, Jumeirah. The opinions in this column are not necessarily those held by Esquire or ITP.