The Naturopathic Approach to Skin Disorders

Treating the cause vs. managing the symptoms

Skin problems can cause significant distress in that they can cause itching, pain and disfigurement. Of all the types of health challenges I work with, I find it particularly rewarding to be able to help patients with skin problems. This is certainly one area of medicine in which the naturopathic approach can be much more effective at producing a lasting cure than the conventional approach.

As a naturopathic physician I see skin problems as an external manifestation of an internal problem. With that perspective, I am able to address the underlying causes of skin problems and in most cases, teach people how they can lessen or even eliminate their problem on a long term basis, without the use of drugs.
Conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, chronic fungal or bacterial infections, seborrheic dermatitis, chronic hives, diaper rash, and dermatitis herpetiformis all typically respond very well to the inside-out approach.

Conventional medicine, for the most part, treats skin problems topically. The most common drugs prescribed for skin conditions are steroids. They often provide immediate relief from symptoms, but will rarely cure the problem. Steroids suppress the body’s inflammatory signals so rashes often appear to “get better” after a short period of use. However, since the cause of the problem is still there, when the steroids are stopped, the symptoms often come back worse than ever. So why not just stay on topical steroids forever? The side effects of long term treatment are significant and include:

  • Skin atrophy: thinning of the skin and underlying connective tissue causing skin to become lax, wrinkled and shiny.
  • Increased risk of permanent, often itchy stretch marks
  • Decreased immune function in the skin makes the skin more susceptible to bacterial or fungal rashes. People using topical steroids to “treat” eczema may be more likely to develop impetigo which is a bacterial (staph or strep) infection in the eczema affected areas.

Another common approach to skin problems is the use of oral antibiotics, particularly for acne. While the skin may improve, the side effects of long term antibiotic use can be profound. The eradication of good bacteria in the intestinal lining can harm the digestive system, immune system, liver, hormone balancing mechanisms and more. Meanwhile, the underlying cause of the acne has never been addressed and the patient has not been able to respond to this important signal from the body that something is out of balance. Symptoms are an intelligent alarm bell from the body and when symptoms are simply suppressed, health will inevitably decline.

The naturopathic approach to skin conditions is to support the key systems of the body that promote detoxification and to restore balance. When the body is overloaded with toxins, they come out the skin and provoke inflammation which results in a myriad of skin conditions from acne to hives.

The liver is the key organ for detoxifying chemicals, eliminating hormones, promoting digestive juices and much more. In all ancient systems of medicine, promoting optimal liver function is a fundamental part of resolving skin conditions. For example, the influx of hormones at puberty will be more likely to cause acne if the liver is not able to regulate the elimination of hormones. Liver support and hormone balancing are key aspects of the naturopathic treatment of acne.

The colon is another organ of elimination that must be looked at in order to truly cure a skin condition. Constipation, candida yeast overgrowth from antibiotic use, and food allergies are potential causes of skin conditions. I have helped hundreds of people resolve skin problems by testing them for food allergies with a very sensitive and non-invasive allergy testing method and then coaching them on an allergy free diet. It is so rewarding to see a child’s eczema clear up in a couple of weeks or an adult’s life long psoriasis diminish in a couple of months after a simple shift in diet.

My naturopathic approach to skin health also includes coaching patients to eat a whole food diet, ensure optimal hydration, and reduce stress. Stress management is important due to the connection between the stress hormone cortisol and inflammation in the skin. It is no coincidence that people often bemoan the arrival of a big zit on their wedding day!

Don’t put up with simply managing your symptoms with side-effect laden drugs. Learn what your body is trying to tell you about your skin symptoms. The naturopathic approach takes time and patience, but the benefits go far beyond skin deep. Because we are cleansing and balancing the whole body, people report increased energy, mental clarity and the resolution of many other health issues as a “side-benefit” of this approach. Your long term health will be the greatest reward for your investment.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a licensed naturopathic physician with a family practice in downtown Courtenay. For more information please call her office at (250) 897-0235 or contact her via this website.

Candida and Intestinal “Good Bacteria” (candida)

Intestinal Flora Imbalances

Candida albicans, a yeast that normally lives within your body can make many people feel sick if it is in excess. Yeast can cause many health disorders such as fatigue, headache, depression, premenstrual tension, hyperactivity, skin disorders, digestive problems and more.

Everyone has candida, a form of yeast (Candida albicans) normally confined to the lower bowels, the vagina, and the skin. In healthy individuals with strong, functioning immune systems, it is harmless and kept in check by “good” bacteria, called probiotics like acidophilus and bifidobacteria. But if the balance of the intestinal environment is altered by a compromised immune system or other factors, then opportunistic candida grows in the intestine or can infect other body tissues. The candida becomes pathogenic, transforming from a simple yeast into an aggressive (mycelial) fungus that can compromise one’s health. This condition is known as candidiasis.

Candidiasis can affect areas of the body far removed from candida colonizations in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina. Its symptoms cover a broad spectrum and the condition can cause a number of diseases ranging from allergies, vaginitis and thrush (a whitish fungus in the mouth or vagina), to an invasion of the genital-urinary tract, eyes, liver, heart, or central nervous system. Common symptoms of candidiasis include digestive problems such as bloating, cramping; wheezing, earaches, generalized fatigue, poor concentration and loss of libido.

The likely candidate for candida overgrowth is someone whose medical history includes: prolonged or repeated use of antibiotics which are frequently given for urinary and ear infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, and other infections; steroid hormone medication such as cortisone or corticosteroids, often prescribed for skin conditions such as rashes, eczema, or psoriasis; acid blocking medication (such as Nexium and Cimitidine); stress, high sugar intake and oral contraceptives. Certain illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and AIDS can also increase susceptibility to candida overgrowth. High carbohydrate diets can also upset the intestinal flora balance.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics, life-saving cures for many diseases, may be the single greatest cause of candidiasis, because antibiotic treatment for infections is nondiscriminatory, killing the “good” intestinal chemistry-balancing bacteria, as well as the “bad” infection-causing bacteria.

The good bacteria strains are called acidophilous and bifidobacteria. They produce natural antifungal substances (as well as antibacterial materials) as part of their control mechanism over yeast. One of the activities of “good” bacteria is the manufacture of a B vitamin, biotin, which exerts control over yeast. When biotin is lacking, as a result of damage by antibiotics to the good bacteria, yeast has a chance to change from its simple yeast form into a different organism, and encroaching mycelial (vegetative) fungus.

LEAKY GUT / INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY

Antibiotics can cause the altered imbalanced intestinal environment that candida requires to change into its fungal form. Candida then puts down tiny rootlets which penetrate the tissues on which the yeast is growing. When this happens to be the inner wall of the intestine, it breaks down the barrier which exists between the closed world of the bowel and the body. Toxic debris, yeast waste products, and partially digested proteins are allowed into the bloodstream, resulting in allergic and toxic reactions. Healthy bifidobacteria and acidophilus intestinal colonies can usually withstand one or two short episodes of antibiotics without serious harm. If, however, use of antibiotics is frequent or prolonged (as with a course for acne treatment or/and infections), then the spread of candida becomes inevitable.

DIET AND CHRONIC CANDIDIASIS

A number of dietary factors appear to promote the overgrowth of candida. The most important factor is a high intake of sugar and carbohydrates, foods containing a high content of yeast or mold.

DIAGNOSIS OF THE YEAST SYNDROME

The best method for diagnosing chronic candidiasis is clinical evaluation by a physician knowledgeable about yeast-related illness. More than likely, the manner in which the doctor will diagnose the yeast syndrome will be based on clinical judgement from a detailed medical history. Vega testing is an additional tool that has proven to be an effective method of assessing candida overgrowth and monitoring the program of a candida elimination program.

TREATING CANDIDIASIS

Successful treatment of candidiasis first requires the reduction of factors which predispose a patient to candida overgrowth. Secondly, the patient’s immune function must be strengthened. Diet, nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, and yeast killers are some of the choices physicians use to accomplish these ends. A program will be tailored to your individual health needs.

SYMPTOMS OF CANDIDIASIS

There is a wide array of candidiasis symptoms depending on an individual’s age, sex, environmental exposure, and immune systems. These include (but are not limited to):

Mental/Emotional:

  • fatigue, especially after eating
  • depression &/or mood swings
  • memory loss, poor concentration
  • “brain fog”

Gastrointestinal problems:

  • bloating
  • gas
  • intestinal cramps
  • chronic diarrhea
  • constipation
  • heartburn
  • rectal itching

Immune System:

  • food allergies
  • inhalant allergies
  • hayfever
  • eczema
  • recurrent fungal infections such as “jock itch,” athlete’s foot, or ringworm
  • recurrent infections: vaginal, urinary, ear, etc.

Hormonal:

  • premenstrual syndrome and hormonal problems
  • prostatitis

Liver:

  • sensitivity to chemicals, perfumes, smoke, or other odors
  • a feeling of being lightheaded or drunk after minimal wine, beer, or certain foods

Sinus:

  • Sinus congestion and infections

50% of people with chronic sinus problems have fungal overgrowth harbouring in the sinuses.

These symptoms may worsen in moldy places (such as basements) or in damp climates, and after eating or drinking foods containing sugar.

Possible Symptoms of Food Allergies /Intolerances

Adverse reactions to foods or beverages can be as subtle as a runny nose or as dramatic as severe depression. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may have a food allergy/intolerance.

  • rapid pulse after eating
  • gas and bloating
  • abdominal discomfort
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • heartburn
  • weight gain
  • skin rashes, eczema, hives
  • tired after eating
  • swelling of body features
  • headache
  • insomnia
  • poor memory
  • irritability, nervousness, depression
  • hyperactivity
  • sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion
  • upper respiratory congestion
  • frequent clearing of throat
  • canker sores
  • ringing in ears
  • ear infections
  • hay fever
  • excessive mucous
  • recurrent ‘colds’
  • hot flashes
  • chronic infections
  • aches and pains for no reason
  • binge eating
  • if you have severe cravings for any type of food, you may be addicted to the food contributing to your condition

Children’s Health – Naturally

Parents all want the best for their children. At no time is this more true than when kids are suffering with health problems. There are many options for parents to help their kids be as healthy as possible.

Ear Infections are a common but distressing illness in children. Once the standard of care, doctors now discourage the use of antibiotics. The Cochrane Review of medical research states that only about 6% of children benefit from taking antibiotics (over just waiting it out) while about 6% of children have serious side effects from them. So what is a parent to do? It is important to address the underlying cause of recurrent ear infections. Often, there is excess mucous and congestion which creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. We can “drain the swamp” by eliminating food allergies and promoting good lymphatic drainage during colds. Natural medicines to boost the immune system are also helpful during ear infections.

Bladder infections can be a problem while children are in the process of learning good hygiene. These painful infections can often be be treated with safe natural medicines like d-mannose and cranberry. If antibiotics have to be used, it is essential to repair the intestinal bacterial lining by taking a high quality probiotic formula for a few weeks after treatment.

Allergies to dust, pollen, moulds and pets can be a source of allergic symptoms like sneezing, runny nose and eyes and itchy eyes or throat. There are painless testing techniques, as well as scratch testing, to determine the source of problems. Herbal anti-histamines like nettles and quercitin not only help diminish symptoms, they are also nutritious. Allergy desensitization techniques have evolved from the days of weekly shots and now include oral techniques like Sublingual Immunotherapy.

Eczema can often be very successfully treated when we address the underlying cause and then correct it. Research and experience has shown a strong link between eczema and digestive concerns. By identifying and eliminating food allergies, restoring optimal intestinal flora and providing medical oils most children’s eczema will resolve nicely, without the endless cycle of topical steroids.

Digestive concerns – Nothing is worse than a 2 year old with constipation! Their willfulness is legendary. Taking laxatives long term is not advised, so what else can a parent do to prevent constipation and subsequent painful stools? Again, we have to search for the underlying cause of the problem. The first place to begin is to determine when the problem started, rule out anatomical abnormalities, then identify and eliminate food allergies. We often incorporate safer, natural stool softeners in the early phase of treatment as well as probiotics.

ADHD – Parents want so much to help their children be successful in school but are often wary of the side effects of the Ritalin class of medications for ADHD. What else can be done to improve concentration and learning? The brain is an organ that is affected by nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, and toxic exposure just like any other organ. Behavioural strategies work better when the brain is properly fueled with excellent nutrition and key nutritional and herbal supplements. Every child is treated according to their unique situation, but Bacopa, zinc and iron are promising aids to children’s brain and nervous system function. Specific customized homeopathic prescriptions are also a wonderful tool for unlocking a child’s full potential.

While most naturopathic physicians can prescribe prescription medications for each of these health issues, we prefer to educate parents about their full range of treatment options and endeavor to treat the underlying cause of problems rather than just mask symptoms with medications.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a licensed naturopathic physician who has been treating families with naturopathic medicine in downtown Courtenay for 15 years. Contact her office at (250) 897-0235 or via this website.