It's easy to forget that your skin is a vital functioning organ. With an average surface area of more than 21 square feet and 6% to 10% of your body weight, your skin is actually your largest organ! Part of your integumentary system, which also consists of your hair and nails, your skin can say a lot about your health. Skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis are typically a symptom of something else going on in the body.
Having struggled with acne breakouts since I was a teenager, my complexion was a source of intense insecurity for me. From soaps and lotions to creams and pills, there's no shortage of products on the market for whatever skin problem you have. But are they getting to the root of the problem? Most times, the answer is no.
In addition to coaching people all around the world as a functional medicine practitioner, I had the unique advantage of applying this cutting edge field of natural health care in my own case as well. I have a deep conviction that healthcare practitioners should practice what they preach, and unaddressed skin problems are no exception. I needed a comprehensive plan to get rid of my skin problems for good.
Another word for functional medicine is "systems medicine," in which we look at the underlying causes of all the independent, yet interconnected systems of the body. For example, your gut system affects the health of your brain, and there's also exciting research that's examining the gut-skin axis and how the health of your microbiome will determine the health of your skin. Because of this, functional medicine sees acne and many other skin conditions as inflammatory disorders of the autoimmune spectrum.
Since everyone's case is different, functional medicine focuses on customizing care to the individual's needs. Here are some of the tools I implemented in my case, and in the cases of many of my patients, to reverse and heal their skin problems:
1. Get comprehensive labs.
Stool Test: The first step to finding out about your gut-skin axis and your microbiome health is running a comprehensive stool test. I recommend a two- or three-day collection to look at your good bacteria levels and rule out any bacterial, yeast or parasitic infections.
Immunological Blood Test: This blood test will be able to assess if there's been a breach of your gut's defense system, allowing undigested food particles and bacteria to make their away in the blood, causing an inflammatory response throughout the body. This condition is commonly referred to as a "leaky gut."
2. Address any underlying gut issues.
SIBO: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth happens when bacteria from the colon grows into the small intestines where it doesn't belong.
Dysbiosis: Whereas SIBO is an overgrowth of normal bacteria, dysbiosis happens when there's an imbalance of good to bad bacteria. An increase of harmful bacterial imbalances have been shown to be a factor in skin problems.
Hypochlorhydria: A decrease in stomach acid or hypochlorhydria has been shown to be higher in people suffering with skin problems such as acne.
Parasite or yeast infections: Chronic low-grade infections like these can be a source of continual inflammation of the gut-skin axis.
Leaky gut syndrome: All of the previous gut problems can lead to an increased permeability of your gut lining.
I use condition-specific natural medicine protocols to help the gut and skin heal from these underlying problems.
3. Avoid foods that will damage your gut-skin axis.
What will damage your gut will damage your skin, so it's wise to avoid certain foods for a glowing, healthy complexion.
4. Use food medicine to heal your gut-skin axis.
Here are some of the foods that I use to repair the gut-skin connection:
Bone broth: Your grandma may have made this ancient healing food. Its beneficial collagen makes it great for healing the skin and gut.
Fermented vegetables: Sauerkraut and kimchee are great ways to provide your microbiome with beneficial probiotics.
Swedish bitters: I've found this herbal tonic to be very effective in healing chronic infections and balancing low stomach acid production.
Kefir: Fermented dairy drinks like kefir, rich in the beneficial probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus, have been shown to improve complexion over a period of 3 months.
Fermented cod liver oil: Another ancient healing food, this nutrient-dense oil is a great source of skin-healing vitamins A, D and K2. It's also a balanced and stable source omega fats.
Coconut oil: Fats are essential to heal the gut-skin axis. This oil also has natural antimicrobial benefits. Coconut oil is also great to use on your skin!
Liver: One of nature's multivitamins, per ounce, liver is one of the most bioavailable nutrient-dense foods on the planet. If you eat meat, this is a great, whole food source for skin nutrients like zinc and pantothenic acid or vitamin B5.
Photo Credit: Getty Images