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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Where do you get your Iodine from?

Iodine is critical to healthy thyroid functions. Its deficiency can cause weight gain, low energy, cognitive decline, and is link to a variety of cancers.  75% of adult may not be consuming enough iodine.

Our thyroid gland is located in the front of our neck, just below the Adam’s apple. Thyroid hormones, derived from the amino acid tyrosine and iodine, control our metabolism; regulating everything from body temperature and heart rate to glucose consumption and blood lipid levels.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) results in a set of symptoms: a slower than normal heart rate, feeling of being cold, inexplicable weight gain, dry skin, hair loss or dry hair, weakness, muscle aches and fatigue. Iodine deficiency can produce symptoms of low thyroid function even without abnormalities in measured thyroid hormone levels.

The most visible symptom of iodine deficiency is goiter, which is the enlargement of the thyroid gland that can cause swelling around the larynx. While goiter was fairly common a few generations ago, most don’t know what it is. The practice of salt iodization, implemented in the 1920s, resolved the problem. By lowering our salt intake for health reasons and/or using non-iodized salt we are also cutting our iodine intake.

In nature, iodine is a relatively rare element. It’s found mainly in the oceans, but its presence in our depleted soil, is very low.

Micrograms (mcg)
per serving
Seaweed, whole or sheet, 1 g 16 to 2,984
Cod, baked, 3 ounces 99
Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 1 cup 75
Iodized salt, 1.5 g (approx. 1/4 teaspoon) 71
Milk, reduced fat, 1 cup 56
Fish sticks, 3 ounces 54
Bread, white, enriched, 2 slices 45
Fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, canned, 1/2 cup 42
Shrimp, 3 ounces 35
Ice cream, chocolate, 1/2 cup 30
Macaroni, enriched, boiled, 1 cup 27
Egg, 1 large 24
Tuna, canned in oil, drained, 3 ounces 17
Corn, cream style, canned, 1/2 cup 14
Prunes, dried, 5 prunes 13
Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce 12
Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup 11
Lima beans, mature, boiled, 1/2 cup 8
Apple juice, 1 cup 7
Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup 3
Banana, 1 medium 3

The United States recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iodine is 150-300 micrograms (mcg) for adults. They were first established as a minimum requirement to prevent goiter. These guidelines may be inadequate to address certain health conditions.

By comparison, the estimate of the Japanese iodine intake (largely from seaweeds), averages 1,000-3,000 mcg/day (1-3 mg/day). The Japanese illustrate the importance of iodine, not only for thyroid health, but on other body functions as well. When you compare the Japanese and Western diets against cancer incidence, Japanese women have a third of the breast cancer rates of American women, a difference that disappears in women who immigrate to the US, where they consume less seaweed.

Scientific evidences are emerging about the role of iodine in preventing breast and reproductive system disorders (like menstrual irregularities, infertility, early menopause, and ovarian diseases), a major concern for millions of women. It has been shown to have a powerful antioxidant effect equal to vitamin C. Human breast contain higher concentrations of iodine than the thyroid gland; the evolutionary reasons for this are understandable: iodine is indispensable for the developing brain, so the mother must supply iodine to the nursing baby.

Daily doses of 3,000-6,000 mcg have been used, in short and medium term studies, to help women with iodine deficiency linked to endocrine health conditions such as fibrocystic breast disease.

Iodine is known to play an essential role in prostate health and immune function.  It is a potent anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and anti-viral agent.

Iodine is part of a class of chemical elements called halogens. Once reduced, they become halides: iodide, bromide, fluoride, and chloride.  We may not be aware of it, but we encounter them all the time; bromated flour, fluoridated tooth paste, fluoridated and chlorinated tap water, as well as some medications and pesticides. The problem is the amount we find in our environment. Because of our low intake of iodine/iodide and the unnatural high intake of other halides, they will bind to iodine receptors and block the action of iodide. Making sure we have enough iodine/iodide in our system to compete with other halides is very important, as well as having an adequate intake of vitamin C and taking Epsom salts baths to help eliminate the surplus in our system.

Also important to note that selenium is an essential co-factor of the enzymes used in thyroid, breast and reproductive system tissues. It is important to make sure we get between 200-400 mcg/day in order for our body to make optimal use of dietary iodine. 2 medium-sized Brazil nut (10g) will do the trick.

Understanding Omega-3 and Omega-6 pathways; how it could change your life.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids i.e. we cannot produce it in our bodies and have to obtain them from our diet.  Omegas are the building blocks for hormones, it control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as being components of cell membranes. In our modern diet, there is hardly any good source of omega-3 fatty acids, except wild fatty fish. By contrast, sources of omega-6 fatty acids are abundant.  Our diet, which is rich in commercially farmed animal product and polyunsaturated vegetable oils will causes an omega 3 deficiency.

The simplified pathway graph below will help us understand what is happening in the body.

Omega-3 and omega-6 simplified pathway.

Omega-3 and omega-6 simplified pathway.

The boxes named ALA and LA represent omega precursors.  Precursors are building blocks from vegetable origin.  The body cannot convert and use them without the help of the enzymes ∆6 and ∆5 desaturase.

Let’s say we eat a piece of multigrain toast that contains flax and corn.  Our body will make the enzymes and indiscriminately convert the ALA in EPA, then DHA and the LA in AA.  If we eat as much of one as the other, we will have approximately a 1:1 ratio output. We’ll be in a balance of anti-inflammatory vs. inflammatory factors i.e. life is good!

But if we put peanut butter on our toast, we get in trouble!  Peanuts have a 5162 : 1 LA to ALA ratio, meaning it will skew the balance in the favor of AA, resulting in inflammation in the body.

This is why we hear so much about the importance of taking fish oil.  It is speculated that a couple of capsule of fish oil a day would counteract the overwhelming amount of omega-6 and omega-6 precursor we consume in our modern diet.  But is that so?

EPA and DHA have distinct functions

The omegas in fish oil are directly available to us, because it has already been transformed fish, from ALA in phytoplankton, to EPA and DHA.

Simply put, EPA would be the antagonist of AA.  EPA counteracts the inflammatory action of AA found in commercially farmed beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and dairies, as well as the AA produced from excess LA found in most of our foods like vegetable oil, margarine, grains, nuts, seeds and so on.

DHA has more of a structural function,  is the most abundant fat in the brain and is a large contributor to brain growth. Oxidative damage that comes with age diminishes DHA concentrations in brain cell membrane, and is linked with its degenerescence.  The important benefits of fish oil on moods and attention disorders is often attributed to DHA.

AA is not a bad guy. We need AA, it is an essential component in membranes of our body’s cells, and it is abundant in the brain, the muscles and the liver.

The problem is that we do not have the right balance in our modern diet. To function optimally, we should keep a ratio of 1 : 1 O-3 to O-6.  If you have been eating more O-6 to O-3 in your diet (everybody raise their hand), a 2-3 : 1 ratio in favor of omega 3 would be more appropriate to correct the overabundance of omega-6 already in our body. It is pretty discouraging and almost unrealistic to achieve this, in the context of our modern life.

I’m prone to inflammation, like most PCOS sufferer.  I always make sure I make the best food choice for myself, under the circumstances I’m in.  Beside the obvious culprits like commercially produced polyunsaturated vegetable oils, it is important to tend toward foods with a favorable ratio, and remove/replace those with an extremely inflammatory ratio (replacing peanut butter with almond butter would be a good example).  Grass-fed animal products have a more favorable fatty acid profile than grain fed animals because of the different omega precursors in their foods (Grass = ALA, Grains = LA)

Beware of misinformation, even from reputable sources!  We always have to keep and mind that we are looking at for high sources of ALA/O-3 AND a favorable ratio.

Let’s take a closer look at 3 of the food richest in ALA:

Their fatty acid profiles for 1 oz (28 g):

Flax seeds                                            Chia seeds                                           Walnuts

Total Fat:      11.8 g                               Total Fat:           9 g                              Total Fat:     18.3 g
Omega-3:   6388 mg                            Omgega-3: 4915 mg                           Omega-3:   2542 mg
Omega-6:     962 mg                            Omega-6:   1620 mg                           Omega-6: 10666 mg (!)
Ratio:  4:1 = anti-inflammation       Ratio:  3:1 = anti-inflammation      Ratio:  1:4 = inflammation

Let’s look at salmon too! Their fatty acid profiles per 100 g:

Atlantic salmon (farmed)                                                Wild Alaskan Sockeye

Total Fat:    13.4 g                                                                Total Fat:     7.3 g
Omega-3:  2506 mg                                                            Omega-3:  1130 mg
Omega-6:    962 mg                                                            Omega-6:      80 mg
O3:O6 ratio:  2.5:1 = anti-inflammation = good!       O3:O6 ratio:  14:1 = anti-inflammation = best!

It’s definitely worth to take some time to do our research!

Once we have the tool to make better choices for ourselves, we can add helpful supplements, if we wish to.  I use a two prongs approach.

  1. Using Chia seeds, Flax seed meal and Flax seed oil as a source of ALA.
  1. Using good quality Fish oil as a source of EPA and DHA.

Most people agree on taking the Fish oil but some frown on flax. The argument is that fish oil is superior to flax because the ALA in flax need to be converted by our enzymes in EPA and DHA. So it make sense to think that  1 g of fish oil would be more potent than  1 g of flax oil. It sounds logical but I still take flax with my fish oil!

My logic behind using flax, besides being very beneficial for PCOS, is that I want to make sure I provide some ALA to compete with the LA for the attention of my enzymes ∆6 and ∆5 desaturase.  I speculate that if my intake of ALA is very low compare to my LA, my enzymes we’ll be busy pumping out a huge amount of AA into my system.  A higher intake of ALA would slow down the output of AA and augment the circulating O-3 in my system. Then I take my fish oil to balanced the rest of the AA.  Without getting too technical, I get noticeable benefits from each independently and I feel they even work better when they are taken together.

The key is always to balance one, with the other.

Fish oil, at the right dosage, does wonder on insulin sensitivity, mood and energy. If I’m traveling and I forget my supplement, there is a noticeable change it my mood within days.

Almost everybody can benefit from this key supplement!

Best sources of Omega-3 and its precursor

Best sources of Omega-3 and its precursor

*It is important to say that omega-3, being involved in so many functions in our bodies, can have some interaction with certain medications.*

Impaired Metabolic Flexibility, what it means and could it be at the root of your health issue(s)?

Burning Fuel: Car vs. Human

Our body is often compared to a car or a machine.  We hear things like “Your tank is on empty and you have no energy until you refuel” or “ensure your tank/battery never runs empty”.  What is our tank?  Our battery?  Is it our stomach?  Some other body part?  Could it be much more complex?  What is actually happening, when we “fill our tank” and can we “run empty” if we skip a meal or a snack?

A Primer: Cellular Respiration, Glycolysis and Beta-Oxidation

Cellular respiration is what takes place in the cells to convert energy from nutrients (what we eat) into usable metabolic energy (ATP).  The two main types of cellular respiration are anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen).

Anaerobic metabolism, think sprinting or lifting heavy weights, is glucose based and can only be maintained for short periods.

Most of our life is spent in an aerobic metabolism. Our two primary aerobic sources of energy are glycolysis, which uses glucose, and beta-oxidation, which uses fat.  Our cells ability to effectively switch from a primary fat metabolism to a glucose metabolism and back to burning fat is called metabolic flexibility.

Metabolic flexibility varies considerably from individual to individual.

Insulin, the fuel selector

All food intake result in the release of the hormone insulin by the pancreas.  When insulin is high (after food consumption), the body shifts towards burning excess glucose and storage of nutrients.  When levels of insulin are low (between meals and in fasting condition), the body burns mostly fat.

Genetic predisposition and long-term exposure of our cells to high level of insulin could be major contributing factors in the development of a condition called insulin resistance, where cells fail to respond to a normal amount of insulin.  It is very similar to our body adapting to loud music during live rock music concert by tuning down our hearing.

The pancreas tries to keep up with the increased demand for insulin by producing more.  Excess glucose accumulates resulting in high levels of both glucose and insulin in the blood at the same time, which impairs the body’s ability to switch back to burning fat for fuel.  This vicious cycle often result in hunger and fatigue/lethargy because our body thinks it’s starving.  There is an issue in communication and fuel utilization.

If our ability to switch from burning glucose to burning fat after a meal is impaired, we’ll become excessively hungry no matter how much stored fat we have available to burn.

If we were a hybrid car, it would be the equivalent of going from our primary electric fuel to gas, for a moment, but not being able to switch back to electric.  Our need for gas would be dramatically increase even if the car batteries are fully charged.

How does this affect our health?

The scientific literature states that an impaired cellular ability to increase fatty acid oxidation precedes the development of insulin resistance in genetically susceptible individuals.  This is important because we can relate impaired fat oxidation to the causes, not the consequences of metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and the list is long.

So we could state that genetics (impaired fatty acid oxidation) + environment (exposure to high level of insulin leading to developing insulin resistance) = health issues linked to metabolic disorders.

As an example: I have a genetically impaired fatty acid oxidation i.e. several family members have insulin resistance related health issues.  I was bottle fed, raised a vegetarian and consumed the majority of my calories in the form of very insulinogenic food such as grains, starches and fruits.  I was constantly hungry and consuming a lot of food but being still young and not as metabolically damage, I had energy and was thin.  Within one to two hours after a meal I was already back in the fridge and pantry looking frantically for more food (symptom of low blood sugar/cells having a hard time switching back to burning fat).  As a teenager, I developed Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (linked to insulin resistance) and a rapid and stubborn weight gain.

In practical term there is two main ways to deal with the issue and the hunger (I’ll elaborate in a subsequent post):

  • Eating several small lower-insulinogenic meals and snacks thought out the day, keeping our body mostly in glycolysis.  Hunger is managed by frequent feeding.
  • Depriving our body of excess dietary glucose in order to facilitate the adaptation of using fat as the main fuel.  With time, hunger will almost disappear