When your skin isn't healthy, there's no way to hide it. I've struggled with acne breakouts since I was a teenager, and my complexion was a source of intense insecurity for me. Few things will make someone more self-conscious than having bad skin. Your problem is all there for the world to see, written right on your face. I thought that after my teens passed, I'd get clear skin. But that didn't happen for me. At times, it seemed like I would be plagued with acne for the rest of my life.
Our skin can say a lot about our health. Conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis are typically a symptom of something wrong going on in the body. It’s easy to forget that our skin is a vital functioning organ.
In fact, my skin problems only started dramatically improving after I found functional medicine. It helped me implement the latest cutting-edge findings in the medical literature and health science into my own life.
Here's what I did for optimal skin health:
1. I looked for clues in my microbiome.
The microbiome is the trillions of bacteria and yeast in your gut. We know that gut health impacts just about every other system in the body, and exciting research looking at the gut-brain-skin axis gives us insight into how our gut health controls our skin.
The first step to finding out about my gut-skin axis and microbiome health was 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.
A few things to look out for if you have skin problems:
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) happens when bacteria from the colon grows into the small intestines, where it doesn’t belong.
- Dysbiosis happens when there’s a microbial imbalance. An increase of harmful bacterial imbalances has been shown to be a factor in skin problems.
- Hypochlorhydria is a decrease in stomach acid, which has been shown to be common in people who have skin problems such as acne.
- Candida overgrowth can wreak havoc in the gut, contributing to inflammatory skin problems.
- Chronic low-grade infections like parasite or yeast infections can be a source of continual inflammation of the gut-skin axis.
I found out that a bacterial imbalance and candida overgrowth were contributing to my skin health.
2. I found out I had leaky gut syndrome.
In addition to what's in your gut when dealing with skin problems, you want to know the health of your gut's defense system itself, namely your intestinal lining. Leaky gut syndrome, or intestinal hyper-permeability, is linked to just about every chronic inflammatory health problem, including those of the skin. I assumed that I had some level of leaky gut syndrome, but I wanted to find out for sure, so I ran a simple blood test. Sure enough, I did. (Here's how to help heal your gut.)
3. I checked my hormones.
It's important to get tested for hormone imbalances. The communication lines between your brain and endocrine system are essential when understanding what might be causing your skin problems. For example, problems like high testosterone (androgen dominance) can contribute to skin problems. I found out I had adrenal fatigue, which contributed to my body's inability to handle stress well, which wasn't good for my skin. (Here's how I healed from adrenal fatigue naturally.)
4. I supported my genetic weaknesses.
One group of genes that can increase problems for the gut, brain and skin are responsible for something called methylation. Methylation is a biochemical superhighway that happens more than 1 billion times a second in your body to keep you alive and healthy. Take-home message: It's super important.
I found out I had several genetic methylation impairments when I ran a gene test on myself, including the MTHFR gene. This means my body isn't the best at converting the B vitamin folic acid into the activated methyl-folate that we all need for healthy methylation pathways. This was a major contributor to my gut and skin issues. With careful supplementation and a proper food plan, I was able to support my gene mutations.
5. I discovered my food intolerances.
The foods we eat can contribute to radiant skin or flare-ups and breakouts. We are all different and can tolerate different foods. It's crucial to start uncovering which foods cause your body problems by going on an elimination diet, which I explain in my mindbodygreen course. Personally, I found that my body didn't tolerate dairy and sugar well.
6. I avoided foods harmful to my gut-skin axis.
The foods that damage your gut can also damage your skin. So it's important to avoid certain foods for a glowing, healthy complexion. Sugar and gluten are on top of my breakout list, although we all have different tolerances.
7. I ate egg yolks.
Pasture-raised, organic egg yolks are rich in nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and B; choline; as well as iron; calcium; phosphorus; and potassium, which all contribute to healthy hormones and skin. Not everyone who has inflammatory problems can tolerate egg whites, so having the yolk by itself is one way to mitigate this issue.
8. I used coconut oil often.
I find that healthy fats are essential to healing the gut-skin axis. Coconut oil also has natural antimicrobial benefits. So I cook with it, eat it off a spoon, use it for oil pulling, and put it on my skin!
9. I ate avocados.
Avocados are rich in healthy fat that helps our bodies absorb and use fat-soluble nutrients needed for healthy skin, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K2. They are also full of magnesium and a variety of B vitamins, needed for a healthy complexion and methylation pathways.
10. I drank bone broth.
Bone broth, an ancient healing food with beneficial collagen, is great for healing the skin and gut.
11. I took Swedish bitters.
I’ve found this herbal tonic to be very effective in healing chronic infections and balancing low stomach acid production.
12. I soaked up some sun rays.
Spending around 30 minutes in the sun every day is a great way to get enough vitamin D, which can be associated with skin health.
13. I drank green juices.
Drinking freshly juiced greens, especially those with celery, helped me nourish the gut-skin connection and detox pathways.
14. I ate forkfuls of fermented vegetables.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchee are great ways to provide your microbiome with beneficial probiotics. I eat them by the forkful or with my meals.
15. I drank coconut kefir.
16. I focused on eating nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits.
Antioxidant-rich plant foods like berries, Swiss chard, and watercress are essential for great skin.
17. I supplemented with turmeric.
This super spice helps calm inflammation throughout the body. I recommend mixing it with full-fat coconut milk and black pepper.
18. I drank green tea.
This one wasn't hard for me, since I love tea. Green tea has been linked to skin cell rejuvenation, so drink up!
19. I took fermented cod liver oil.
This nutrient-dense oil is a great source of skin-healing vitamins A, D, and K2. It’s also a balanced and stable source of omega fats.
20. I ate grass-fed, organic liver.
Liver is one of the most bioavailable nutrient-dense foods on the planet. If you eat meat, it's a great whole-food source for skin nutrients like zinc and vitamins A and B.
21. I took liquid vitamin A.
True vitamin A, or retinol, is only found in animal products like fish and liver. Plant carotenes, which are a precursor to vitamin A, are found in sweet potatoes and carrots. However, the conversion rate to usable retinol is very weak.
So in addition to eating foods rich in skin-healing vitamin A, I also supplement with retinol-based vitamin A drops.
22. I ate wild-caught fish.
It's important to focus on fish that are low in toxins and high in skin-healing omega fats, such as Arctic char, rainbow trout, pole-caught albacore tuna, Alaskan salmon, and barramundi.
Bottom line: Listen to what your skin is telling you, as it will give you important indicators about your general health. I now continue to follow this healthy regimen every day to keep my skin clear.