Acne troubleshooting: An Holistic view

Not many things pains me as much as seeing a person who is suffering from severe acne. Even if it is consider a benign condition by the medical establishment, only someone afflicted with it can understand the deep social and psychological impact it can have on someone’s life. I am one of them. I have used every product, tried every program but I only saw dramatic and lasting results once I gave up on the quest to find the miracle cream or pill and realized that there was no quick fix. The skin is a window into our overall health, and acne is a sign that something isn’t working as well as it should.

While a complete program designed by a holistic professional might be required in order to get completely clear (especially if the root of the problem is hormonal, like most cases of cystic acne), nearly everyone can benefit from the following basics:

  1. Cut out the worst offenders: sugar containing beverages like soft drinks, sport drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, etc. are all inflammatory and put a burden on your elimination system. For someone who is predispose to skin problems, it makes things worst, period. Drinking enough water and maybe some green tea, is a must to make sure you stay hydrated and that you flush out toxins efficiently. The juice of half a lemon (freshly squeeze is best), in a cup of warm water, perhaps with a pinch of salt, first thing in the morning is a great and gentle way to encourage liver and digestive system detoxification, among other things.
  2. Eat an adequate protein diet, with a low-glycemic load and plenty of good fats with a proper Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio. Once again, we want to quell inflammation. Roller coaster of insulin wreak havoc on our system and makes skin problems worst. In many cases, the stabilization of blood sugar, leads to a major improvement in skin’s feel and appearance. We want most of our meals to be composed of: a quality protein, some non-starch veggies, some lower glycemic starches and good fat like olive oil, flax meal, avocado (guacamole), ghee / grass-fed butter, some nuts etc. The protein and fats will provide what we need to build, heal and repair. The fats, veggies and starches will help us with elimination (proper bowel function is extremely important) and hormonal balance.
  3. Consider implementing a basic supplement regiment composed of: a Complete Multi-vitamin and Mineral and Fish oil (for skin health, I like cod liver oil with its naturally occurring extra Vitamin A and D, 10:1 ratio).  Some extra Vitamin C, probiotic and especially Zinc (25-50g/day of citrate or picolinate), can also help, if you wish to add them.
  4. Stress, cortisol and poor adrenal functions affect your skin, be mindful of it. Sufficient good quality sleep, lowering our caffeine consumption and the implementation of stress coping strategies, can have a surprising effect on the level of inflammation in our skin.
  5. Do not use harsh products on already inflamed skin, it makes it worst. Take an Epsom salt / baking soda bath, 2-3 times a week to help your skin and body detox and use gentle cleaner only.
  6. Give yourself time. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the new cells to reach the surface of the skin. Don’t give up too soon! Implement the changes slowly, but make them permanent. Not only will you have better skin, but your overall health will benefit.
  7. If you are still struggling after a couple of months, consider that you might have a food allergy or sensitivity. An Elimination Diet would be worth trying. Once most sugar is eliminated, the most common offenders are dairies and gluten/grains (also oranges and grapefruits to a lesser extent).

Much love and support,

Good Luck!

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Can everybody benefit from going wheat and gluten-free?

Gluten-free is popular these days. The paleo movement promotes it, there are gluten-free cookbooks and grocery stores that carry hundreds of gluten-free products. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and contaminated oats, is a problem for many people. Besides gluten there are other reasons to pass on wheat products.

A variety of foods made from wheat.

Inflammation and Gluten

Celiac disease (IBD), the main condition associated with gluten, is an autoimmune disease that triggers inflammation, damaging the lining of the small intestine. Low-level inflammation to gluten, or gluten sensitivity, also triggers gut inflammation resulting in symptoms like bloating/gas, headache, fatigue, seasonal allergies and water retention. Left unattended, it can lead to the development of IBS -or spastic colon-, resulting in bowel movement issues (chronic diarrhea, constipation and both alternatively).

Gluten triggers inflammation throughout our body and damages the gut lining. We end up with a “leaky gut”.  All the bugs and partially digested food inside our intestine get though and get exposed to our immune system, leading to systemic inflammation. The inflammation is not selective and begins to attack our cells, leading to auto-immune conditions.

Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), another non-gluten protein found in wheat, will increases body inflammation as well. An interesting fact is that glucosamine, often used to help with pain and inflammation in the joints, binds (neutralize) WGA, leading to less inflammation.  If someone improves its condition by taking glucosamine supplements, I would consider experimenting with a wheat-free diet.

Starch and Blood sugar

Modern wheat contains very high levels of a starch called amylopectin A. It is more digestible than other starches and will make our blood sugar rise very quickly. In fact, a slice of wheat bread can raise our blood sugar more than a tablespoon of sugar. There is no difference between whole wheat and white flour products.

We know that foods with a high glycemic index lead to insulin resistance in a lot of people.  It makes us store fat (especially in our abdomen), it trigger inflammation in the body and is linked to a higher incidence of fatty liver.

Drug-like effect

When processed through our digestive tract, the proteins in wheat are converted into smaller proteins called exorphins. They bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, giving us a “high”, and making us addicted similarly to a drug. They are link to multiple problems like schizophrenia, autism, appetite stimulation and addictive eating behavior, including cravings and bingeing.

If you decide to experiment with gluten-free options in your diet, beware that many commercially available gluten-free foods have a high glycemic load (raise quickly blood sugar, leading to insulin resistance). Just because it is gluten-free, doesn’t mean it is healthy!