Eat for Skin Health
How to get a healthy glow from the inside out
Ellie Shortt is a passionate nutritionist and chef in Victoria BC. You can find out more about Ellie through her website - wholehappy.com. We are excited to have Ellie join us for the Reboot! Ellie does an incredible job of curating delicious recipes with whole foods. This is a guest blog post written by Ellie for the Miiko Skin Co community! Enjoy!
10 Second Summary…
- The symptoms we see on our skin are really just pieces of information showcasing our internal environment
- Learn to read those signs instead of hating them and simply masking them
- The main culprits behind skin issues are digestive distress, food sensitives, liver congestion, blood sugar issues, hormonal imbalances, chronic or systemic inflammation, and inadequate hydration
- There are many nutrient dense whole foods that can help us achieve that healthy glow from the inside out
The skin you’re in – it’s marvelous, amazing, truly an astounding organ that protects you from harm, perspires out pathogens, and helps regulate your temperature. It’s elastic, regenerative, and highly adaptable. It’s also a window into what’s going on inside your body. Sometimes our skin can be the most honest look at things that we don’t even know are happening inside of us like chronic and systemic inflammation, an overload of toxicity, digestive dysfunction, and an overactive or imbalanced immune or histamine response. Because of this, so many of us have created rather unhealthy relationships with our skin. We hate our acne, our rashes, our dry patches, and bumps. We loath our wrinkles, and lines, discoloration, and dullness. But what if I told you all those pesky symptoms were really just your body sending you information, telling you, “hey, I don’t like that food” or “I need a little liver love these days please”? Imagine if we could read the signs our skin was giving us, and then help our body out based on that information! What if you could finally love the skin you’re in, and have it love you back?
1. Digestive Distress
It all starts in the gut. Truly, our digestive tract is the essence of our health, both mental and physical. The gut-brain-connection and exploration of our microbiome are making waves across the medical community and changing how we approach healthcare. But it’s really no surprise to hear this. All nutrients we ingest must be absorbed through our intestines. We need these nutrients to function, so if there is a digestion and absorption issue, well you guessed it, our bodies won’t be very happy, vital, or resilient! In addition to that, 80% of our immune system in based in the gut, so if there’s a digestive compromise, you better believe there will be an immune and subsequent histamine impairment well. Taking some probiotics and eating fermented and prebiotic-rich foods will definitely help, but simply eating in a calm and relaxed way and allowing our digestive system to do its thing, is really the best way to start. Sipping some lemon or apple cider vinegar water before meals, or even taking HCL supplements can also do wonders for digestive ease, as does therapeutic grade quality bitters, digestive enzymes, and purposeful essential oils like calming lavender or soothing peppermint. Sipping on digestively mindful teas like chamomile, licorice root, and ginger, can also be beneficial for some gentle digestion love.
2. Food Sensitivities
With all that said, it is imperative that you are working diligently to discover potential food sensitivities and eliminate the culprits for a solid period…sometimes indefinitely. While there are blood allergy tests and whatnot, they’re not always completely accurate. Truly the only way to tell is to remove a food completely for a 4 week period, and then mindfully reintroduce that food taking note of reactivity, if any. Of course, if there is a reaction, you should remove that food from your diet again immediately, only to test your tolerance down the road when you feel your digestive system is in better shape. I highly recommend this exercise to anyone wanting better skin, better digestive function, and more vitality in general. Finding your bad-news-foods and effetely avoiding them can be life changing! If you’re not sure where to start, the most common aggravators are dairy, soy, eggs, and gluten. In fact ALL grains are worth avoiding for a period of time and then playing around with them individually, as they each can have completely different relationships with your bio-individual body. Some people are fine with rice, but can’t tolerate quinoa. Some people are fine with faro, but have a hard time with corn. It’s all about finding what works for YOU and honouring that.
3. Liver Congestion
Just as our digestive system is a powerhouse of wellness activity, as is our liver. We often think of the liver simply as a detoxification organ, which it certainly is, but many people don’t know that the liver also plays an integral role in blood sugar control and metabolic management. All glucose (ie. the stuff we mainly run on), is processed in the liver at some point, whether it’s being stored “for later,” or being released so-to-speak, for present use. Now, if we are constantly bombarding our bodies with high carbohydrate foods, and those foods are being broken down very quickly into a flash-flow of glucose, it’s going to make our liver one very busy little organ. So busy in fact, that it might not have a lot of steam left to do it’s other main job…you know it…detoxification! So first and foremost, give the sugary foods and constant snacking a serious break, and let your body’s glucose management chill a bit. Then you can try some things to help facilitate that daily detox that our body is designed to do so well. Herbal teas or tinctures like dandelion root, nettle leaf, and Oregon grape root all really help with that, as does sipping lemon water, and eating lots of nutrient-dense, enzyme rich vegetables, particularly greens and sprouts. Sweating is also fantastic for clearing up toxic congestion in your body, so hop in an infrared sauna, or find a form of exercise that gets you dripping! Just make sure you wash your face immediately after your sweat-sesh of course.
4. Blood Sugar Issues
We just talked about how too much sugar or carb-rich foods in the diet can mess with liver function, and therefore the body’s ability to properly detoxify. Well, it also causes a lot of other issues including (but not limited to), immune suppression, hormone imbalances, and inflammation – all three being major causes of things like acne, eczema, and rashes. It’s important that your diet isn’t reliant on those blood-glucose-spiking quick-burning carbs, and has plenty of healthy fats and quality proteins mixed in there as well. Not only are these other two macronutrients integral for tissue formation and soft supple skin, but they curb carb cravings like crazy! Fats and proteins help tell our brain when we’re full and satiated, which diminishes the likelihood of binge eating. Fats are also a beautifully slow burning fuel that help keep us energized and satisfied for much longer, which lessons the need for constant snacking. While you may have heard once upon a time that people with problematic blood sugar handling should be eating constantly, this is a Band-Aid-like approach, only masking the problem and not getting to the root of the issue. You’re really just enabling this highly damaging carb dependency, never letting the body learn how to run on its fuel stores and finally put an end to the blood sugar rollercoaster that, like I said, is so related to all those terrible things that often result in unhappy-looking skin. So get some healthy fats and quality proteins in your diet, quit junky sugar and refined carbohydrates, and try to go a little longer between meals to give your body a break from the constant influx of insulin that’s impairing your wellness potential!
5. Hormonal Imbalances
Speaking of wellness potential, it was once said that we see the world through a hormone lens. The colorful cornucopia of emotions we experience are really just interactions of various types of hormones and subsequent chemical reactions dancing with each other on a day-to-day basis. But our hormones don’t just motivate our moods. They also effect body composition, energy levels, and you guessed it…skin health! This is especially true of the main reproductive hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Depending on the balance of those guys, you might see breakouts on your forehead, chin, chest, or back. Now of course, fluctuations in our hormonal balance, especially for women throughout the month, are completely normal, and as you get to know the nuances of that cycle, and the nuances of your unique and brilliant body, you may notice that your skin is a tad oilier or shiny one week, and more dry and dull looking the next. Knowing this and finding the right products and skincare routine to complement these changes is key, but also finding foods that don’t aggravate the situation will be enormously helpful. The main thing is to re-read the previous topic, as blood sugar imbalance is one of the number of causes of hormonal issues due, in part, to the effect is has on the hormone insulin. Reducing stress is also important as the hormone cortisol is inextricably tied to insulin, as well as the reproductive gang, so make sure you’re doing all those awesome distressing activities like walks in nature, deep breathing exercises, meditation, etc.
6. Chronic or Systemic Inflammation
But all of this really comes down to one big thing. INFLAMMATION! Inflammation is a natural healing mechanism of our body and totally necessary in certain situations. However, the issue we’re talking about here is with chronic and systemic inflammation, meaning a runaway inflammatory response that doesn’t quiet down. This breaks down tissue, including your intestinal lining, which subsequently destroys digestive function, diminishes our immune functioning and histamine response, messes with blood sugar, and totally tampers with hormone function. Remember that hormone called “cortisol” mentioned above? Well, cortisol is an inflammatory regulator so if we’re eating inflammatory foods, or exposing our bodies to chronic inflammation, our cortisol levels will be elevated, and elevated cortisol levels have been shown to lead to cystic acne and signs of premature aging. Following all the advice above will help reduce inflammation in your body, as well as avoiding or reducing the primary inflammatory foods of grains, dairy, soy, and in some cases all legumes. Some people even have a hard time with certain nuts and seeds, so you might want to watch out for that. Caffeine can even be the missing link, as for many bodies it elevates cortisol to an unhealthy level. Once again, finding the foods you’re specifically reactive to will be even more helpful, and you might also want to look into a tricky group of foods called “nightshades.” Not everyone is nightshade-reactive, but if you are it can be a game-changer once you remove them. For more information on nightshades I would suggest reading this article by Dr. Sara Ballyntine. She also has resources for a number of seriously kick-ass anti-inflammatory diets (specially something called AIP), on her website, so check that out if you’re interested.
7. Inadequate Hydration
Last but certainly not least, you can’t talk about a healthy glow from the inside out without talking about adequate hydration. As much as it now seems like a cliché, there’s a reason there’s so much chatter about H20 - it’s SUPER important for our skin health and overall vitality, and sadly so many of us operate day-to-day with seriously poor hydration due to chronic stress, an over burden of toxins in our environment, foods, homes, and beauty products, and an over consumption of diuretics like coffee and high carb foods that put a massive strain on our body. All of these issues cause systemic dehydration, which leads to a long list of ailments. Why? Because H20 effects all cell, tissue, muscular, and mental activates. Now the question is, how much water? Some people say 8 glasses, some say 3 litres. When you consider the fact that we’re all different sizes, and have different daily consumptions of diuretics and physical output, it doesn't make send that there's one magic number for all of us. A good starting place is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. So if you weigh 150Ibs you should be drinking 75oz of good quality, filtered water per day. However, if you’re consuming diuretics – so coffee, black tea, fruit juice, even some herbal teas like peppermint or dandelion root – you’ll need to add 1.5 times the amount of diuretic in water on top of that baseline amount. But once again, we are all bio-individuals and some people need more, some people need less. Begin with that equation. Maybe add a bit more if you’re sweating a lot in a day. But play around with it. See how you feel after a week or so and adjust accordingly.
OK, so I know that list was a bit misleading. It maybe was 7 overarching themes that spawn about 100 more concepts to consider when it comes to boosting your skin health. But that’s the thing! Your skin is wonderfully complex, and healing it is rather nuanced as well. All you have to do is start somewhere. Pick one of the above topics and try to play around with a couple of my suggestions to start. Slowly add in a few more, and sooner or later you’ll begin to get some solid feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Most importantly, just listen to your body and don’t ignore the information your skin is sending you. Meanwhile, you can give it some added love with the following skin health super foods that will help give you that healthy glow from the inside out in no time…