Many people have skin conditions that can be traced back to inflammation and immunodeficiency that may have originated in the gut. Food allergies and sensitivities can express themselves as dermatological conditions, and because food sensitivities may go untraced for years without testing, damage to the lining of the intestinal wall can occur which not only creates inflammation in the gut, but inflammation in other organs of the body- including the skin.
People think of the skin as merely the outer covering of their body, but the skin is an organ in its own right. In fact, the skin is the largest organ of the human body. It is not only a shield between you and the world, but it also:
Is part of our immune system. Langerhans cells in the skin are part of the body’s immune system to help fight infections.
The skin also constantly renews itself, making new skin cells, and replacing the old ones. If the skin is healthy, not only do you look better, but you function better as well.
Let’s look a little deeper at the gut-skin connection. When you eat foods that you are allergic or sensitive to, one of the early reactions you can see is the effect on the skin. Food allergies, which are IgE immune reactions, mean that the body sees the food (or other allergen) as an invader and attacks it. This attack is immediate and can be intense, and the results of the attack are typically seen within 15 minutes. For intense reactions, your throat may swell, making it difficult to breathe. You could lose consciousness and even die. Reactions of this intensity are somewhat rare, and you likely already know to avoid the foods or other allergens that trigger them. Less intense allergic reactions may affect the skin by causing hives, or a rash, or even just mottled red patchiness. These reactions are also quite noticeable and the immediate symptoms fade relatively quickly. Again, you are likely to quickly link the food to this reaction and avoid it in the future. Other allergic reactions may be more subtle, and harder to trace- you may flush, or feel slightly upset in the stomach, but perhaps not enough to think of a food reaction. Or perhaps you do consider a food allergy, but you can’t figure out which food caused the problem.
Another immune response is an IgG response. This sort of reaction to a food is not an allergy but is described as a food sensitivity. Your immune system is still reacting to the food but with different immune players. These sorts of reactions take much longer to manifest- typically up to 72 hours after you’ve eaten the food. This makes it even harder to trace which food is causing the reaction. What’s more, food sensitivities may have entirely different symptoms than food allergies do. Aside from the reaction not being immediate, they are unlikely to cause problems with breathing, or immediate skin conditions like hives, and they don’t release the same rush of histamines that can make you feel warm all over. That doesn’t mean they aren’t causing a reaction, but you’re more likely to have symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, memory recall issues, intestinal cramping or diarrhea, or skin conditions like rashes, longer-lasting redness, skin sloughing or scabbing. Because food sensitivities and less noticeable food allergies may not be linked to food at all, or at least not a particular food, without testing they may persist for years.
That’s a problem for your gut and for your skin. The longer that food allergies and sensitivities persist, the more potential they have for damaging the gut through inflammation. That inflammation can not only damage the gut, sometimes permanently, but inflammation is at the root of many skin conditions. Unless you have contact dermatitis, where a substance that comes in direct contact with the skin is causing a skin condition, then the root of your skin condition is almost certainly an inflammatory response that arises from somewhere else in the body- and the gut is the usual culprit. Even before your gut gets damaged, the inflammatory response that exists there from food allergies and sensitivities can cause skin rashes, redness, swelling, and hot feeling skin.
More chronic inflammation in the gut can cause eczema. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is indeed a disease of inflammation. When you have eczema, your skin becomes inflamed, red, and itchy. With eczema, your immune system overreacts resulting in a state of constant, or chronic inflammation. Over time, the inflammation damages your skin, leaving it red and itchy. Since eczema is an atopic disease, that means the inflammation is coming from elsewhere in your body- usually, the gut, although activities like cigarette smoking can also cause a reaction by inflaming other organs, as can environmental allergens. Aside from diet, the other common triggers for eczema are chemicals and fragrances in detergents, cosmetics, and household cleaners, dust mites, pollen, pet dander, nickel or other metals, and certain foods. In the gut, food allergens and sensitivities are often the triggers for developing eczema, and they continue to drive the disease as the inflammation in the gut gets worse. That gut inflammation now becomes more easily driven by eating foods that are highly processed or high in histamines, or both. Certain foods increase inflammation in the body, including fried foods, sodas and other sugary drinks, red and processed meat, refined carbs like cookies, white bread, and cake, margarine, shortening, and lard.
People who have eczema not only have these initial skin problems, but they also risk damaging their skin further. Constant scratching at itchy skin not only risks lichenification (thickening of the skin), which not only is cosmetically challenging but damages the integrity of the skin. That same scratching risks breaking the skin and causing infection, including staph infections (which can be deadly), and herpes of the skin. Changes in skin color, trouble sleeping because of the itching, and permanent scarring can all be the results of long-term eczema. Understandably, these impacts on a person’s skin can also impact them psychologically. The National Eczema Association lists the following impacts on psychological health for those who have eczema:
Eczema can take a toll, and patients can be baffled as to why it’s happening to them. Testing for food allergies and sensitivities, and for environmental allergies is a good place to start.
Aside from general skin conditions and eczema, there is another skin condition that can develop because of gut disturbance and dysbiosis in the microbiome- Psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. This means that like eczema, the root of the inflammation is systemic, and it is an immunological disorder. Systemic inflammation can progress to autoimmune disorders if that inflammation becomes pervasive and chronic. The difference between other immune reactions and autoimmune conditions is that rather than the immune system misidentifying a food, for instance, as an immunological threat and attacking it, this has happened so many times that the immune system has become confused, and now attacks the cells of the body itself. We are discovering that many, and perhaps most or even all autoimmune conditions arise in the gut. When the tight junctions between the cells in the intestinal wall are weakened from inflammation in the gut, often resulting from food sensitivities, it allows inflammation in the gut to spread to other areas of the body. The effect on the skin can be Psoriasis.
Inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis develop when the immune system triggers inflammation that attacks skin cells. Redness, blisters, skin dryness, and itchy bumps can all be markers of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can manifest as fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, weight gain, headaches, and skin rashes. Chronic inflammation can persist for months or years and is a contributing factor to more than half of deaths worldwide. Aside from the impact on the skin itself (and nails), and the accompanying psychological effects, one of the risks of psoriasis is that it may progress to psoriatic arthritis, where the immune system attacks the joints. This condition is not only painful and potentially debilitating, it can express itself in other ways as well, including:
So what is to be done to avoid going down the path toward these skin diseases and a possible autoimmune condition? The very first thing should be a gut workup combined with a physical examination to assess for skin conditions and to identify what type may be affecting you. The experts at Progressive Medical Center are trained in integrative and functional medicine and have been finding the root cause of problems for decades. If you already have eczema or psoriasis, we can help you manage that, including by identifying how to restore your gut so that the problem doesn’t keep worsening because of a process that is actively driving inflammation. If you have been having skin flare-ups that have been more minor, now is also the time for a gut work-up to help make sure that systemic inflammation is prevented or reduced. There is hope! Take the first step and contact Progressive Medical Center today!