Your Gut May Be to Blame for Your Skin Disorder
Skin conditions in women over 40 such as rosacea and dry skin are typically considered to be dermatological issues, but they may be a reflection of something that’s wrong inside the body.
Rosacea is More than Just a Skin Problem
You may have heard people refer to rosacea as “adult acne,” but it’s so much more than pimples and zits. While rosacea can result in bumps and pimples, it’s also characterized by facial redness, visible blood vessels, and bloodshot eyes. Those who suffer from rosacea often experience flares during which their symptoms suddenly and very visibly return after remission. While it’s not a life-threatening condition, it can severely and negatively impact those who suffer from it, affecting them personally, socially, and even professionally.
Rosacea is most commonly found in women with fair skin, but that doesn’t mean that people with different skin tones or men can’t develop the condition. In fact, while rosacea is more common in women than in men, the more severe cases are often found in men.
We don’t fully understand what causes rosacea, but it’s often attributed to stress, anxiety, genetics, mites that live on our skin, or even a stomach infection caused by a specific bacterium. Rosacea is typically treated by antibiotics and ointments, but these treatments might only lessen the symptoms of the condition. These treatments try to target rosacea on the surface rather than address the root cause of the disorder to stop it at the source.
Is Our Immune System The Cause of Rosacea?
A number of studies have been conducted on rosacea in an effort to better understand the condition and what triggers it. At least two studies have found that it may be an antimicrobial peptide produced by our immune system that causes the symptoms of rosacea.
The immune systems of rosacea patients produce abnormal amounts of antimicrobial peptides known as cathelicidins, causing the body’s defense system to overreact in a way similar to an allergic response. These cathelicidins are associated with inflammation and large blood vessels.
Sound familiar? It’s because two of the key symptoms of rosacea are inflammation and enlarged blood vessels. It might not be a mere coincidence that rosacea patients tend to have high levels of cathelicidins. Those cathelicidins, produced by the body with the intent of protecting it from invasive microorganisms, may be the cause of rosacea-related inflammation. As if that weren’t enough, rosacea patients often have high levels of an enzyme that activates cathelicidins and further enables the problem.
But why do the immune systems of people with rosacea produce high amounts of cathelicidins? Could it be that washing the face with soap neutralizes the pH of the skin, allowing bacteria to proliferate and cause problems? Could it be that the immune systems of those with rosacea don’t produce antibodies correctly? Could it be that there’s just too much bacteria on their skin?
Or, maybe the answer lies in the gut.
Targeting the Digestive System to Support Your Fight With Rosacea
If the cause of rosacea is the overproduction of cathelicidins, which are created as an immune response, then we could say our immune system dysfunction is the cause of rosacea, not only stress or genetics. With the immune system as a potential cause for the disorder, it stands to reason that the root source of rosacea is the gut where 70% of our immune system is located. We would have to target the gut in order to understand what’s really wrong and in order to fix the issue.
When it comes to fixing your gut, you don’t want to just jump in headfirst and blindly make changes to your diet. You might be best off having your digestive tract tested to see where and how it’s failing you so you can make the appropriate dietary changes. Digestive tract tests check:
- The bacterial overgrowth in your gut to see the levels of good and bad bacteria that you have
- The gut’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food
- Metabolic status
- Gut immunology, as related to allergies, inflammation, gastrointestinal disorders, and so on
- Yeast presence
Once you understand the way your gut works and what it lacks, you’ll be better informed about what kinds of dietary changes and probiotics you can take to try to seal and rebalance your gut. But before we get into the specifics of diet and probiotics, let’s look at another skin condition that can benefit from similar changes.
The Connection Between Inflammation and Dry Skin
Like rosacea, dry skin can be linked back to our digestive system. A faulty digestive system or an inflammatory diet can cause, well, inflammation, even the inflammation associated with rosacea. Inflammation results in what is called a cortisol steal, where cholesterol (which is used to produce cortisol and the sex hormones testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone) focuses more on producing cortisol to stop the inflammation, decreasing the production of the sex hormones as a result. A testosterone deficiency can result in dry skin, especially if that dry skin is accompanied by wrinkled, thin-skinned hands.
The most common condition linked to dry skin is either lack of or abnormal reaction to the thyroid hormone T3. This abnormal reaction may be caused by the presence of a similar hormone occupying cell receptors for T3. It’s kind of like sticking a toothpick in a keyhole. With the toothpick taking up space, the key that’s supposed to be there can’t fit in the keyhole. With this other hormone taking up space in the cell receptor, T3 can’t bind with cell receptors and do what it’s supposed to do. A person’s T3 levels can be normal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their cells are receiving any amount of the hormone.
And just what is linked to this abnormal reception? Could be your diet.
The Digestive System and Dry Skin
If it turns out that your dry skin is linked to abnormal reception of T3, before making any dietary changes intended to support your body’s T3 levels, you have to make sure your body has enough of the nutrients it needs to create T3. If you don’t and go ahead with a new diet anyway, it’d be like building a house when you don’t know the condition of its foundation. If the foundation turns out to be cracked, you’ll only have put in a lot of work that won’t reap any benefits.
Your body needs iodine and selenium in your diet in order to produce T3 and regulate your thyroid levels. But to ensure that your body absorbs the iodine and selenium it needs from your food, you have to have a healthy digestive system. If your digestive system isn’t functioning properly, it won’t matter what dietary changes you make to support your thyroid hormone levels. A faulty digestive system won’t absorb the vitamins and minerals your body needs even if you eat the foods containing them. A digestive tract test could determine what changes you need to make to your diet to seal your gut and optimize your digestive system.
Getting Your Gut Back in Working Order
Most people don’t have a balanced-enough diet with all the nutrients their body needs. The body uses vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as building blocks for cell regeneration, which is important for everything from your skin cells to the cells lining your gut. In the case of your gut, if your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to regenerate cells, there won’t be any new cells to replenish the gut lining as old cells are shed. Certain foods, like those containing gluten, may further weaken the gut lining. This leads to a leaky gut that allows food particles to enter your bloodstream and reach parts of your body where they don’t belong. Since 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, a leaky gut means we also have a faulty immune system.
Balancing your diet could seal your gut and optimize your immune system by removing foods that do harm to your body and introducing foods that will support it. The dietary tract test mentioned earlier could make it easier to understand what specific issues your gut has so that you may change your diet accordingly and ingest foods that may support any issues. In general, though, you’ll likely need to limit your intake of sugar and grains and introduce fermented foods into your diet. Fermented foods:
- Are an excellent source of necessary nutrients like B and K2 vitamins
- Could provide you with a wide variety of bacteria
- Carry good bacteria that might act as excellent detoxifiers
- May support your immune system
If you suffer from skin conditions like rosacea or dry skin, start looking inward for a solution. Ointments and antibiotics may alleviate some symptoms, but they won’t fix the issue. You know the link between your skin and your digestive system now. So instead of trying to fix your skin on the surface, why not focus on fixing your skin by fixing your gut?
Sergey Kalitenko MD is a holistic practitioner, Board Certified in Internal Medicine. He has two practices located in Great Neck, Long Island and Brooklyn. Dr. Kalitenko opened his private practice in 2001. His medical practice is based on the principles of holistic, functional medicine as well as age management principles. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is a keystone of his practice. He is firmly committed to finding natural solutions to health problems—and his first step is to use his expert diagnostic skills to get to the root of the problem. Dr. Kalitenko’s philosophy is that of wellness, not illness. For more information go to www.kalitenko.com.