Skin problems are caused by genetics, diet, personal care products, allergens, chemicals, stress and lifestyle. They affect different parts of the body with people responding to various triggers, resulting in dry, itchy and inflamed skin. Genetic factors include: An overactive immune system and a defective skin barrier. Non genetic factors include: Diet, lifestyle, allergens and personal care products.
The immune system
Eczema is associated with an overactive response by the body's immune system to a perceived irritant. The immune system of people with atopic eczema produces large amounts of a protein called IgE. IgE is an antibody that acts as catalysts for the protective cells of the immune system to recognise and lock on to the protein components of foreign allergens. IgE is present in small amounts in everyone. However, in atopic eczema more is produced because of increased sensitivity to substances that are inhaled or eaten, or substances in contact with the skin.
The overactive state of the immune system is heightened by irritants penetrating the damaged skin barrier and undigested food particles entering the bloodstream from a leaky gut. The immune system is not static and can be normalised by healing the skin barrier and repairing the gut lining through diet, lifestyle and probiotics.Allergies involve an immune response to a foreign substance. The mere presence of the allergen, even in small doses causes an allergic reaction with symptoms appearing within minutes. Peanuts for example are common allergens. Every time you come in contact with the allergen, symptoms appear. Intolerances come on gradually and symptoms only appear if a certain limit of the substance is reached.
The gut barrier
People with skin problems show decreased gut barrier functionality. The gut barrier is an important part of our body’s internal protection against bacteria, toxins and allergens. It is affected by a combination of diet, environment and genetic factors. Things like alcohol, grains, antibiotics, chemicals and processed foods can damage the lining of the gut, leading to ‘leaky gut’. When this occurs, undigested food particles, waste and toxins can readily enter the bloodstream where they cause allergic responses. A number of disorders have been associated with breakdowns in the gut barrier, including eczema, food allergies, celiac, asthma, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and various cancers.
The skin barrier
The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin which helps protect your body from water loss and allergens. For most people with skin problems there is a genetic mutation in the filaggrin protein and skin cells which play a key role in the formation of this barrier.This mutation causes increased skin permeability and reduces its antimicrobial function. The skin is thinner, doesn’t hold water as effectively and the structure and quantity of skin lipids is defective.
The cracks in the skin allow allergens, bacteria, viruses and yeasts to enter or grow on the skin more easily which leads to skin reactions and scratching & a more sensitive immune response, perpetuating the cycle. Areas around the face, elbows and knees are prone to problems as they are heat spots and the skin is thinner in these areas.Studies also indicate that atopic dermatitis patients have an impaired immune response that prevents them from producing adequate amounts of antimicrobial peptides in their skin. This makes us more susceptible to bacterial infection. The bacteria, staphylococcus aureus is found on skin of over 90 per cent of people affected by eczema.
Restoring the skin barrier
It is crucial to stop the root cause of itching, discontinue use of products which degrade the skin barrier and avoid food and chemical irritants.
The itching is caused by an allergen or something irritating. Something coming in contact with the skin like harsh chemicals, detergents, chlorine, preservatives, fragrances, dust, hot water or grass. Your body wants to itch as a way to remove the irritation. Internally certain foods like peanuts, grains, shellfish, soy, MSG can cause irritation especially if your gut barrier is weakened. When undigested food particles leak through the defective gut barrier, the skin becomes a means of waste excretion.
We will talk more about how to heal the gut and normalise the immune system. Make sure you are not constantly damaging your skin barrier from constant use of harsh face washes, detergents, chemicals, exfoliants, cleansers and toners. All products should be fragrance free, pH balanced and contain non irritating preservatives. Prolonged use of cortisones will cause skin thinning and adrenal gland suppression so they should rarely be used.
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