Our skin is a reflection of what is going on inside our bodies. Breakouts, acne, eczema, redness, dryness and irritation all point towards a level of inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is a driving force behind just about every chronic disease, from acne and eczema to diabetes, depression and even cancer. The body actually triggers inflammation to protect us, and our bodies should naturally ‘switch off’ this inflammation. However, if we are continually exposed to triggers of inflammation, such as foods that don’t agree with us, high levels of stress, or a less than optimal diet, then inflammation can become chronic and result in break-outs, or eventually manifest in more serious and complex health issues.
Can we reduce our levels of inflammation? Absolutely. This is where Functional Medicine is a brilliant tool. It allows us to evaluate all possible factors that may be at the root of your symptoms, including what you’re eating, drinking, your sleep patterns, stress management skills, and even your screen and exercise habits.
Numerous factors can contribute to the inflammation that drives acne break-outs. Acne itself can also lead to a heavy burden of stress, and has been linked to depression. It can dent our confidence and leave us feeling embarrassed, ashamed and anxious, leading to a vicious circle of stress, inflammation and break-outs. Conventional medicine often treats the symptoms – and in the case of acne, this can mean expensive creams and lotions, or taking strong medications or antibiotics with nasty side-effects. These interventions often fail to get to the root of the problem.
Let me share with you something of my story. 5 years ago, I got very sick. I was exhausted, sleeping 9 hours and waking up with constant headaches. One day I caught a cold which would take me 10 months to start recovering from. This cold developed into chronic bronchitis and walking pneumonia. I would wheeze walking up the stairs to my apartment. I was anxious and depressed, my joints ached, I was gaining weight, sleeping badly – but perhaps the most upsetting symptom was actually my skin. I suffered with painful break-outs and cystic acne, and the dark circles under my eyes became ‘normal’.
In my case, my acne was triggered by a food allergy that was wreaking havoc on my gut, leading to a high level of systemic (whole body) inflammation and also setting my hormones out of whack.
How did I fix this? I didn’t take any medication, I didn’t use Roaccutane, I didn’t take antibiotics. Instead I healed my gut, removed the trigger foods from my diet, rebalanced my hormones, and addressed my personal tendencies towards perfectionism and over-exercising which were making me very stressed. Step by step, I reduced inflammation, healed my gut and balanced my hormones.
As I committed to these changes, my skin cleared up, my dark circles reduced dramatically, and there were no more break-outs! I also lost a little bit of weight, my joints stopped hurting, my energy levels increased a lot, my sleep quality improved, my headaches disappeared, and my depression and anxiety went away.
Amazing, right?! Not really. I see this happening with my clients all the time.
In clinic I often see two of the biggest triggers for acne being dairy consumption, due to the hormones, and blood sugar imbalances, caused by eating too many ‘refined’ carbs – things made from white flour, or foods high in sugar. Often times, it is a combination of interlinked triggers that create a vicious circle involving raised stress hormones, imbalanced sex hormones, dietary triggers, and gut inflammation. These triggers vary between individuals – interestingly, neither dairy nor blood sugar imbalances were relevant to my case – which is why Functional Medicine is a great tool for discovering what will work for your unique case.
If you’re here, you already know that there is a better way to address acne than superficial creams and lotions, or damaging medications. Have you struggled with any of the issues I talked about in this article? I’d love to hear your story and what you’ve tried in the comments.