The function of skin
It is important to remember that your skin is an organ, the largest organ of the human body in fact. It is made up of two layers, the epidermis and dermis, under which lies subcutaneous fat. Skin has many important functions:
It provides a protective barrier against chemicals, radiation, temperature, harmful micro-organisms and physical impact.
It has the essential role of helping to regulate body temperature through sweating and redirecting blood flow to the skins surface.
It is the primary location in which the essential nutrient vitamin D is synthesised.
A vast web of nerve cells cover our skin identifying environmental changes. We have different nerve cells to detect different sensations from heat, cold, touch and pain which subsequently allow us to adapt accordingly. People with neuropathy (nerve damage) may not feel pain, elevating their risk of wounding.
Common skin problems
Skin is our first frontier for protection, it is susceptible to attack from both inside and out from poor diet, toxic overload, acid/alkali imbalance, digestive issues, intolerances and allergies as well as environmental, sun and pollutants in the air. It is possible to see a person’s health status just by looking at their skin.
Common skin problems include acne, eczema, dermatitis, dry skin, oily skin, psoriasis, melanoma, impetigo, hives and rosacea.
Acne - many adolescents experience acne due to increased hormone production (mainly testosterone). The increase in hormones increases sebum production, which is a natural oil within the skin. There is also an over production of the major skin protein keratin and, along with sebum, they block sebaceous glands. This promotes bacteria production, which in turn causes inflammation and infection. As well as adolescents, it is also seen in some adults. Possible causes are toxic overload, low fibre diet (fibre is needed to remove excess toxins and hormones), constipation, food intolerances, candida, a high intake of refined foods, sugar, fried and fatty foods (all slow down and overload the liver slowing detoxification), essential fatty acid deficiency, too much alcohol, tea or coffee and chronic stress. Premenstrual woman can also experience acne. Basically, acne is caused by poor liver function, an overload of toxins will be excreted through the skin.
Eczema and dermatitis - these two common complaints are generally caused by a poor diet, intolerances, allergies and poor liver function leading to toxic overload.
Dry skin - low water intake, too many diuretics in the form of tea, coffee and alcohol, low essential fats and high saturated fats. It may also be linked to low nutrient dense foods especially minerals essential for hydration.
Psoriasis - often caused by chronic stress, a diet high in sugar, refined foods and saturated fats and low in essential fats.
Oily skin - can be attributed to too many saturated fats, high sugar and refined food consumption, and again poor blood sugar balance.
What are the possible causes of these common skin problems?
Poor liver and digestive function
The first thing we need to do for healthy skin is to ensure that your liver is functioning optimally. There are several factors that can contribute to poor liver function. For example, when the liver is overloaded with toxins or not functioning properly due to damage from alcohol, or the nutrition isn’t in place to aid toxic elimination. Although the skin is also an important organ of elimination, it is the liver that is responsible for the majority of detoxification. When the liver becomes overloaded with toxins it begins to dump toxins in the skin for elimination, contributing to the skin problems mentioned above. Signs that your liver maybe struggling are fatigue, mood swings, bloating, raised cholesterol, acne, dark circles under the eyes, trouble digesting fatty foods, menstrual irregularities and difficulty losing weight. If there is not enough fibre in the diet the toxins absorbed from the body cannot be removed, also if a person is constipated due to a low fibre, high fat, high sugar, refined food diet, toxins will be re-absorbed into the body increasing the toxic burden on the liver.
Food that is not being broken down properly into simple molecules in the stomach, allows larger particles of food to be absorbed into the blood stream, which affects the liver and lymphatic system and creates an immune response where immune cells treat them as invaders. Toxins are absorbed and removed from the body via faeces. When there is a build up of impacted faeces (constipation) the toxins that have been absorbed into faeces to be removed are reabsorbed back into the body. Along with undigested food (from not chewing properly, low stomach acid or low digestive enzymes), bacteria, candida, fungi and dead cells can cause the intestinal epithelial cells that line the intestines to become damaged, which then allows larger food particles and other toxins to pass into the blood stream. Our bodies then create antibodies to nullify any damage these invaders may cause. This happens when the villi (finger like protrusions that line the small intestines) become irritated or eroded.
The food we eat needs to be broken down into its simplest form to extract essential nutrients and also produce the building blocks needed for manufacture and repair of cells, hormones, tissue, enzymes to name a few. This is thought to be a major reason behind many food allergies and intolerances. Stress is also associated with leaky gut because it lowers levels of the mineral zinc, needed to produce stomach acid, which ironically is needed to absorb zinc. Stress also diverts blood away from the digestive system. These two factors prevent the proper killing of harmful germs and the breakdown of food. Eating in a hurry and not properly chewing food is another possible reason.
People with candida, irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes, people receiving chemotherapy or radiation and those individuals that have a high intake of aspirin and alcohol that are damaging to the bowel, tend to have leaky gut. If you suffer from bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, crave sugary refined foods and there are still large food particles in your stool you could well have leaky gut (If this is the case please contact us for more information on this).
An imbalance of gut bacteria can contribute to toxic overload. Harmful bacteria release toxic chemicals, a ratio in favour of these undesirable bacteria can place more pressure on the liver. Antibiotics not only kill harmful bacteria they also kill the healthy flora. Make sure you introduce some probiotics as soon as a course of antibiotics has finished. You should also try to reduce sugary, refined foods as they feed the harmful bacteria further aiding their proliferation.
Studies have shown that patients with acne may not metabolise sugar very well. As already mentioned, sugar can have some damaging effects. Sugar also triggers a process called glycation, where sugar molecules bind to protein fibres, which are the building blocks of the skin. The sugars cover the fibres making them brittle and less elastic, so they become weak and inflexible. They also prevent cells functioning properly and produce harmful free radicals. These proteins mutate, creating harmful molecules called advanced glycosylation end products (AGEs), which cause inflammation and damage to collagen. This causes skin to be saggy, have fine lines and become more vulnerable to UV light from the sun, pollutants and smoke. Antioxidants obtained through eating colourful fruit and vegetables will help to neutralise these damaging effects. High glycemic sugars, which are rapidly converted to glucose (sugar in the blood stream), should be avoided. Not only are these AGEs damaging to skin, they are also linked to arterial stiffening, atherosclerosis, cataract formation, neurological damage, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and age-related memory loss. An anti-glycating, anti-inflammatory nutrient, called alpha lipoic acid has been shown to be beneficial both taken as a supplement and topically in the fight against AGEs. Whether it be stress, or consuming sugars and sweeteners (which are sometimes up to 700 times sweeter than sugar), insulin is produced. Insulin increases inflammatory chemicals, not only contributing to acne but other inflammatory conditions too.
Sebum production is partially controlled by hormones, as is keratin. Testosterone is responsible for both keratin and sebum production, which subsequently blocks pores causing an infection. People with acne show a greater activity in the enzyme alpha-reductase, which converts testosterone to a more potent form, DHT (dihydrotestosterone). Vitamin A (found in dark green and yellow vegetables, liver, carrots, eggs milk) has been shown to help reduce the manufacture of excess testosterone.
Stress interferes with so many bodily processes that affect the skin. It can reduce nutrient absorption, interfere with blood sugar and also upset microbial and hormone balance.
What should we be eating for healthy skin?
Vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants are essential, not only in nullifying free radicals produced through normal metabolism, but their antioxidant properties are also required by the liver. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to combat free radicals that attack collagen and elastin (flexible tissue helping skin regain shape) in our skin. Zinc and vitamin A are important nutrients for the skin. Vitamin A (found in carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, avocado, eggs, milk and liver) due to is testosterone decreasing effects mentioned earlier and zinc (found in meat, eggs, seafood, cheese, nuts and seeds) is not only a powerful antioxidant, it has also been shown to help in skin healing. Vitamin E (found in fish, nuts, seeds) helps to protect the essential fats which are so important for skin. It is a powerful antioxidant that is important for the immune system in times of stress. Stress has many negative effects on the body. Vitamin E helps to keep skin plump, along with essential fatty acids. It is also found in nuts and fish. Stress also puts additional pressure on the liver, so reducing it can be really helpful in keeping your skin healthy.
Eat more beetroot, kale, celeriac and artichoke, which help with liver detoxification function.
Specific fibres found in chickpeas, soya, black eyed peas, haricot beans and pulses help with the removal of hormones from the body.
Red berries and apples contain a powerful antioxidant called betacyanin, which helps liver detoxification. One of the main causes of unhealthy skin is a toxic overload. Too much alcohol, medications, nicotine, high saturated diet, low fibre and protein, burnt meat, and exhaust fumes are a few reasons why our liver maybe struggling. If our liver can’t cope the body will attempt to eliminate excess toxins through our skin. Reducing saturated foods, increasing fibre and drinking 2 litres of water a day will aid liver function.
Protein is so important for many body processes, not only does it help with detoxification in the liver, it is also high in nutrients such as zinc. Zinc is another antioxidant that has been shown to help with skin healing.
Wholegrains are full of fibre to aid waste removal, and also B vitamins.
Miso and tempeh have been shown to help regulate hormones. A wide range of colourful fruit and vegetables for their high fibre content are needed to remove excess toxins and hormones, and also for their high vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels, which are essential for detoxification function. Antioxidants are found in good amounts in carrots, tomatoes, watercress, berries, nuts, seeds, kale, broccoli, beetroot, onions, and peppers to name a few.
Drink enough water for your lifestyle, 8 glasses or around 2 litres a day. If you have a manual job, are on your feet or exercising a lot, you will need more. Remember that tea, coffee and alcohol are all diuretics, which increase fluid loss from the body.
Essential fats have so many benefits to overall health. They help with blood flow transporting essential nutrients and oxygen to all organs as well as the skin. They increase cell permeability which allows nutrients, water, hormones and toxins to both enter and leave the cells. Skin cells are constantly replaced, and each cell needs these fats in their membrane structure. Essential fats are also building blocks for skin cells, creating a natural protective barrier keeping skin hydrated, healthier and smoother. Healthy cell membranes provide structure and integrity to skin. As if all those benefits are not enough, they are crucial in decreasing inflammation. A diet low in these fats can cause dry, inflamed skin associated with acne, making it prone to black and white head spots. Psoriasis has been shown to improve when participants use essential fatty acids alongside medication. Essential fats are found in mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, nuts and seeds. Biotin is needed to metabolise fats and low levels of this vitamin can cause dry, flaky skin. Biotin comes from a well-balanced diet (found in beef, egg yolk, liver, milk, peanut butter), beneficial gut bacteria also produce it.
A good quality multivitamin providing vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Providing important nutrients for detoxification. Mineral salts help with hydration, oxygen transport as well as keeping a healthy acid/alkali balance.
A good quality probiotic, rich in diversity with billions of friendly bacteria. Bad bacteria produce harmful toxins, if we have an imbalance favouring the bad bacteria in our guts, also known as dysbiosis, this can put extra pressure on the liver and subsequently effect the skin. It is also important to mention that feeding the healthy gut bacteria is important to allow them to multiply and produce essential nutrients (short chain fatty acids: propionate, acetate and butyrate) for the colon. These fatty acids can be absorbed into the blood stream and can improve metabolic health. Prebiotic foods are a type of fibre that feed the bacteria in the gut.
Good sources of prebiotic include chicory root, as 47% of chicory root comes from inulin, which is a prebiotic fibre. It can also aid digestion, relieve constipation, increases bile production, is needed for fat metabolism and is high in antioxidants needed to protect the liver from free radical damage. You can see how this root has many properties that will support skin health! Jerusalem artichoke is 76% inulin and has been shown to increase friendly bacteria in the colon. They have also been shown to strengthen the immune system, and are high in thiamine and potassium, which help with muscle contraction and also help the nervous system. Garlic is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. It is 11% inulin and 6% fructooligosaccharide (FOS), which is another prebiotic fibre. FOS helps strengthen friendly bacteria, helps with the breakdown of fats, and has a positive effect on the immune system by increasing nitric oxide in cells. While it prevents disease causing bacteria in the gut it also promotes the growth of a beneficial bacteria called bifidobacterial. Garlic has also been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, it has anticancer and antioxidant properties. Onions are 10% inulin and 6% FOS. Onions are high in quercetin which gives onions both anticancer and antioxidant properties. Onions also have antibiotic properties. Leeks come from the same family as onions and garlic. They are 16% inulin, are high in flavonoids (plant metabolites thought to have health benefits, through cell signalling pathways and antioxidant effects) which support the body’s response to oxidative stress. Leeks are also beneficial for heart and bones due to their high amounts of vitamin K. Asparagus contains the fibre inulin and it appears that the combination of inulin and the antioxidants it contains are anti-inflammatory. Green bananas are high in resistant starch which has prebiotic effects and have been shown to increase friendly bacteria and reduce bloating. They are also high in vitamins and minerals. Barley contains another prebiotic fibre called beta-glucan, which like all prebiotics promotes friendly bacteria growth in the digestive tract. Beta glucan has been shown to lower both total and LDL cholesterol. Barley is high in selenium which has antioxidant benefits and aids thyroid function. Oats contain both resistant starch and beta-glucans. They are also helpful in controlling blood sugar. Oats also contain phenolic acid which is absorbed through the walls of the intestinal tract and act as antioxidants reducing cellular damage. They also promote anti-inflammatory conditions in the body. Apples are 50% pectin, another prebiotic fibre. They are high in polyphenol antioxidants. Like leeks, the combination of the fibre, in this case pectin and the polyphenols, appears to improve digestion, fat metabolism, reduce cholesterol and and reduce the risk of various cancers. Flaxseeds are 20 to 40% soluble fibre from mucilage gum, and 60 to 80% insoluble fibre from cellulose and lignin. This fibre reduces the amount of fat we digest and subsequently absorb, also promoting regular bowel movements. The phenolic antioxidants they contain have anticancer properties and have been shown to regulate blood sugar. It is worth noting that cooking these foods reduces their beneficial effects, try and eat them raw where possible.
Try to eat organic foods as much as possible. The pesticides, insecticides, pollutants, antibiotics etc. found on and in our food puts extra pressure on the liver.
What should we be avoiding for healthy skin?
Teas, coffee and alcohol are, as already mentioned, diuretics. Coffee also speeds up phase one liver detoxification. If phase one is moving faster than phase two there is a build-up of toxins and this creates a toxic overload.
Try to reduce our consumption of saturated fat as it reduces the amount of the essential fats needed for the skin as well as slowing liver function.
Aim to reduce stress as it has many damaging effects on skin and overall health.
Identify any sensitivities and try to avoid them. Dairy is a common intolerance linked with skin problems. Soy, almond, oat, coconut and rice milks are all good alternatives to milk.
We’ve created a few smoothie recipes that are especially beneficial for your skin to help you give your skin an extra boost. Follow the links below for the full recipes and to read about the benefits of each.
Skin smoothie recipe - a delicious smoothie with red apple, berries, nuts and swiss chard, topped off with refreshing coconut water.
Detox smoothie recipe - this detoxifying recipe includes plenty of ingredients to help you remove toxins including beetroot, celery, apple, spinach, carrots and more.
Anti-ageing smoothie recipe - a tasty smoothie full of healthy nuts and seeds with avocado and a citrus zing.