S W E E T

The Pillars Of Diabetes Control

 

By Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN NP

How many times have you reached for a cookie or a bag of potato chips after a bad day? We’ve all been there, and I’m the first to admit that these foods feel good in the short-term. But preventing diabetes means focusing on long-term solutions — nutrition, exercise, balance!

In fact, a recent study done on over 3000 people at risk for diabetes showed that lifestyle interventions, such as weight loss and regular exercise, reduced the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 58%, whereas Metformin, a common antidiabetic drug, reduced it by only 31%. Additionally, whole foods rich in phytonutrients — such as those emphasized in the Mediterranean diet — have been shown to be favorable in lowering markers of insulin resistance. What all this research tells us is something that makes complete sense — that preventing diabetes through a holistic lifestyle approach is far easier and more effective in the long-term than any drug solution could ever be. And the first cornerstone of diabetes control is diet.

Nutrition — our food talks to our genes. If I had to pick the gold star in preventing diabetes, it would be food. What you eat can prevent and even control type 2 diabetes. At Women to Women we view food as complex information that our cells have been primed through the ages to receive. In other words, good food talks to your genes to keep things going just the way Mother Nature intended. Rising rates of type 2 diabetes should come as no surprise when you consider that the ways in which we grow and process our food have changed so drastically in just one or two generations, while our human genetic constitution hasn’t changed much in 40,000 years!

This might seem like a novel idea, but there is nothing revolutionary about the concept of balanced meals. This means that each time you sit down to eat, you should include protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and as many non-starchy fruits and vegetables as you can. This will help to keep your insulin levels in balance and make it less likely for you to store too much energy in the form of fat. And with insulin in good control, you will have better balance throughout your endocrine system, including other hormones like cortisol, estrogen and progesterone.

Insulin control is strongly affected by the glycemic index of the foods you eat. The glycemic index of a food is a measure for how quickly insulin rises in response to the amount of glucose entering your blood stream after you eat it. Foods high in protein tend to have a lower glycemic index than carbohydrates. Simple carbs, like white flour and sugar, have a higher glycemic index than complex carbs like whole grains and fresh fruits. Simple carbs can overload your insulin receptors and make insulin resistance more likely to develop. To prevent the quick sugar surge from high glycemic foods, balance each snack and meal with all four basic groups.

But it’s about more than just the ratio of protein to carbohydrate to fat in your diet. The plant kingdom has been quietly evolving alongside us humans for many years, and the micronutrients available in fresh, richly colored, organically grown fruits and vegetables are instrumental in preventing the diseases of modern life — including type 2 diabetes. So choose the best information your food dollar can buy, and remember that all four food groups play key roles in your digestion, metabolism and hormonal balance.

Exercise — move your body. Getting regular exercise is another excellent way to help prevent yourself from developing type 2 diabetes. Not only does it keep your weight down, but it lowers blood sugar, helps you utilize insulin more efficiently, keeps your cholesterol levels balanced, and improves circulation, thereby keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy and strong. Exercise also supports nervous system health and releases positive endorphins to boost your mood! The benefits are endless.

While cardiovascular exercise is specifically beneficial to your heart, toning muscle — through weight training, yoga, Pilates or swimming, for example — is also a great way to increase the activity of your insulin receptors and prevent insulin resistance. This is because of all the tissues in your body, your muscles use the most glucose, so they are most important for keeping your blood glucose levels steady. And once you learn how good it feels to move your body, you’ll be looking forward to fitting exercise into your schedule as much as possible!

Blood glucose — better regulation through diet and lifestyle. Of course blood glucose is important as well — it’s what we’ve been talking about getting into balance. For women who already have diabetes, it’s important to check blood glucose daily. But for those concerned with preventing diabetes, I recommend getting it checked a couple times a year to see if it’s trending upward.

As I mentioned above, a normal fasting blood glucose should be well under 100 mg/dL, but it is much more important to watch the trend. Once you go above 100 mg/dL, you are considered prediabetic, which usually means that your blood glucose levels are somewhere between 100 and 126 mg/dL — higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetic. You are insulin resistant at this point and much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and other factors associated with metabolic syndrome — unless you step in.

Rather than focus on the numbers, know that you have much more control over blood glucose by eating well and getting more exercise. Astoundingly, 65% of diabetes patients die from heart disease or stroke, which tells us that treatment should be about more than just glucose control. Making lifestyle changes allows you to reap huge benefits in blood sugar control right away.

Emotions — feed your soul! You can’t go wrong with good diet and plenty of exercise, but at Women to Women, we understand that there’s more to this equation than just eating right and exercising. And that’s the emotional piece. Reaching for sugar may be a sign that you’re lacking sweetness in your life. I want you to think about all the things that make you happy and consider the possibility that these things nourish you in profound ways that your food — no matter how impeccable — cannot. Whether it’s spending more time with your children, relaxing on your own, painting or digging around in the garden, giving yourself time to do the things you love will have a positive effect upon all your systems — from your heart to nerves to immunity to metabolism.

Just remember that feeling better means looking at the whole picture — your happiness, nutrition, exercise habits, hormonal balance, blood pressure, and cholesterol. But while we always encourage women to start inward on a quest for overall health and diabetes prevention, it also makes sense to look at what’s all around you.

Diabetes and our environment

From the four pillars outlined above, we can begin to see how the rising rates of diabetes may be the result of a complex interplay between our genes and environmental influences. It stands to reason, then, that scientists are starting to look more closely at how our environment affects our risk of diabetes. No one will argue with the fact that as modern technology surges on, we benefit from lots of conveniences. But along with all these conveniences we’re also taking in the heavy metals and man made toxins that come with them. Materials used to create plastics, pesticides, household cleaners, flame retardants, rugs and furniture, computers — even white paper — all contain what are known as endocrine disruptors. And many of these foreign molecules have been shown to mimic the action of hormones in our bodies.

Since hormones turn on and off bodily functions, open cell doors, keep our moods stable, and so much more, it makes sense that endocrine disruptors could contribute to a shift in insulin production or utilization in the body. In fact, a recent study found that exposure to the specific kind of endocrine disruptors known as persistent organochloride pollutants (POP’s) may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Keep in mind, however, that endocrine disruptors are most likely not the primary cause of type 2 diabetes, though they certainly may contribute. And the good news is that there are many things you can do in your life to limit your exposure to these unwanted disrupters. Start by throwing out your plastic food containers and replacing them with glass, avoiding the use of plastic in the microwave, and giving your body a chance to recover by implementing regular detox and drinking more water.

There are lots of ways to help yourself when it comes to the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Just remember to look at the whole picture.

The Women to Women approach to reducing your risk of diabetes

At Women to Women, we believe you are the most important caretaker of your body. This leaves you with choices when it comes to what you eat, whether you exercise, and the spaces with which you surround yourself. This can be a powerful — and, for some women, overwhelming — concept.

But making better choices doesn’t have to be difficult. Start by determining where you are and what your goals are. You may want to put it all down on paper. We find that articulating and defining what we want and don’t want in life can help us more easily achieve our greatest desires.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Move toward healthier meals and snacks. It may be true that fast food is less expensive and more expedient than buying fresh whole foods and cooking yourself, but keep in mind the old adage: Food is the cheapest medicine you can buy. And when you do need to eat in a hurry, even making different fast food choices can make a world of difference. Chose the grilled chicken instead of a cheeseburger next time. Or simply drink water instead of soda with your meals. Be sure to include the four food groups in all your meals, and don’t forget to check the labels for trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup. Remember that you don’t have to do everything all at once. Little by little, making better food choices will help you reverse your insulin resistance within weeks. You may find our articles on nutrition helpful as you prepare to balance your meals.
  • Strive for regular physical activity. We don’t advise jumping right into the recommended 40 minutes a day if you haven’t exercised in a while. Just start by doing something active a few days a week. Getting into the habit of moving your body and increasing your heart rate is what counts. Be sure to talk with your healthcare practitioner about what forms of exercise are safe for you. Proceed from there to find an activity that fits your life. Nearly everyone can benefit from walking more. Before you know it, you’ll work up to a longer period of exercise and start to feel all the positive results!
  • Enhance your nutrition with vitamins and minerals. Our cells are constantly using micronutrients in their everyday functions to produce energy and keep us thriving. Diabetes and prediabetes compromise the nutrients our bodies are able to take up, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Adding a high-grade multivitamin/mineral complex and supplemental omega–3 fatty acids will help fill in any nutritional gaps, regulate hormones such as insulin, and protect your body from the complications associated with diabetes. In fact, certain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients have been shown to be particularly helpful in terms of insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • Detox your personal environment. Avoid unnecessary chemical exposure by using glass instead of plastic to store your food and drink. Never use plastic in the microwave, or avoid the microwave altogether. Make a point to use all-natural cleaning products and cosmetics, and drink plenty of water.

It will also help your health on all levels, including your endocrine system, to limit time you spend in stressful relationships and environments. As scientists are now discovering, stress takes a heavy toll on our bodies. Ironically, the very technology invented to save us time, such as laptops, cell phones and e-mail, may afford us less time to decompress. Make time to relax and get away from the pressures of life. Even if it’s just a one day yoga retreat, a walk on the beach or an hour-long bubble bath, taking a holiday from stress is never a bad thing for your body.

  • Consider other complementary treatments. As you may understand by now, diabetes is a complex disease. It manifests itself differently in each individual and the preventative methods that work for some may not be enough for you. Certain complementary treatments have shown positive effect in managing the risk factors leading to diabetes, and may be worth looking into. Whatever course of treatment you pursue, remember to work closely with an experienced practitioner for the best results.

Find the sweetness in your life!

Learning how to prevent type 2 diabetes changes the way we look at everything — the way we eat, travel, exercise, work, and view the world around us. And, trust me, all of this is for the better! It can certainly feel overwhelming sometimes. It helps to remember that you can’t change everything in one day — nor should you try. Revising our habits takes time and commitment.

At Women to Women we believe in balance, which is achieved through a dynamic equilibrium between forces. There are positives to every negative, and though preventing diabetes may seem daunting, what it requires is for you to pay more attention to your body and do what makes you feel good in the long run. This is never a bad thing. Embrace the chance to take better care of yourself, and before you know it life will be sweeter than you ever imagined possible!

How Thyroid Issues Affect Weight Gain

 

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

When I talk with women suffering with unexpected weight gain, often one of the first questions I am asked is “Is it my thyroid?”

Sometimes, my answer is “yes” — after all, our thyroid hormones play a huge role in regulating our metabolism and how we use nutrients.

And research shows that even small changes to the thyroid function can cause weight gain. In fact, many women who have been told their thyroid test results are “normal” may still have a reduced thyroid function (subclinical hypothyroidism) that’s enough to cause weight gain and other bothersome symptoms.

At the clinic, I work with women suffering from a wide range of thyroid issues — from those just starting to suspect they have a thyroid problem to those already taking medication. And I tell each and every one of them how they can benefit from natural thyroid support and a holistic approach that considers thyroid function as part of overall hormonal balance.

The thyroid and unexpected weight gain: an early signal

Unexpected weight gain and difficulty losing weight may be one of the first noticeable signals that you’re struggling with hypothyroidism (a sluggish thyroid) or subclinical hypothyroidism. Many women tell me about their frustration with gaining five pounds every year and not being able to figure out why!

Reduced thyroid function may be the result of the thyroid’s impaired ability to produce hormones, or the body may have difficulty using the thyroid hormones. Either way, problems with your thyroid hormones may cause the rate at which you use nutrients (your metabolic rate) to slow down.

We are especially prone to thyroid issues and weight gain as women because the thyroid is linked to other systems that affect weight — including the proper functioning of our neurotransmitters, reproductive hormones, and adrenal glands.

Thyroid issues affect women of all ages

While we see women of all ages with thyroid issues, there are times in your life when your hormones fluctuate more and when the development of thyroid issues may be even more likely:

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If you experience PMS

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When you’re pregnant

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During perimenopause and menopause

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What can you do about thyroid issues and weight gain?

Making good nutrition and supplementation a consistent part of your life is the most effective way to support your thyroid. Consistency is so important! As women, many of us spend much of our lives dieting — sometimes in a yo-yo cycle of feasting or fasting. This is one example of how we may decrease our metabolic rate and put stress on other hormone systems — which leads to weight gain.

Here are my top tips for eating to support your thyroid:

  • Choose whole foods for optimal nutrition and a high quality multivitamin-mineral supplement. Iodine and selenium are the most important thyroid supporters, but you also need zinc, iron, and copper.
  • Eat your meals and snacks at regular times, and be sure to eat breakfast within an hour of waking. Missing meals or snacks can stress your thyroid.
  • Include protein at every meal, as well as fiber for breakfast and lunch. Remember that good sources of fiber include fruits and vegetables, not just grains.
  • Completely eliminate gluten, sugar/sweeteners, alcohol, and junk food. These ingredients can interfere with healthy thyroid function.
  • Learn which foods contain thyroid-suppressing compounds known as “goitrogens” — including cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Always steam or cook these vegetables to reduce or eliminate the goitrogens.

Your opportunity to take action

At Women to Women, we know that symptoms are your body’s way of signaling that it needs help. So if you start seeing unexpected weight gain and believe it may be related to your thyroid, this is a good time to listen to your body and take action based on how you feel, rather than a test result.

For many women, a balance of good nutrition, supplemental nutrients, and phytotherapy is the true support their thyroid needs to increase metabolic functioning and lose weight. I’ve also seen that an optimal diet is critical to prevent additional symptoms from progressing, as well as to promote overall thyroid — and body — health.

Thyroid Health

Alternative Hypothyroidism Treatment

 

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Alternative practitioners try to resolve the underlying causes of poor health rather than simply treat the symptoms. In our experience, alternative hypothyroidism treatment can often reverse suboptimal thyroid function well before a woman develops permanent thyroid disease. Success in this approach largely depends on how early we intervene and on the extent to which autoimmune antibodies are present.

Poor nutrition is probably the origin of many thyroid problems (including low thyroid), and rich nutrition is vital to reversing them, or at least to prevent further decline. Healthy thyroid function depends on a range of nutrients, especially selenium, folic acid, and iodine. Since most people cannot optimize levels of these nutrients through diet alone, a medical–grade supplement is vital. Of course, supplements should be used to complement, not substitute, for a balanced diet.

Stress in all it’s forms is another key culprit of thyroid dysfunction. Most of us experience a high degree of the most damaging kind — unremitting stress. It is important for hypothyroid treatment to identify the stressors you face and learn techniques and activities that can help you reduce your stress.

We often see hypothyroid symptoms totally reversed when a woman commits to a plan that supports balance through nutrition and daily self-care, including but not limited to the following guidelines:

  • Consume foods naturally high in B vitamins, such as whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and iodine (fish, seaweed, vegetables and root vegetables).
  • Exercise daily, at least 30–60 minutes per day, 4–5 times a week.
  • Practice deep breathing and other techniques that trigger the “relaxation response” – such as meditation and guided visualization.
  • It is recommended that you get adequate sun exposure if you live in a northern climate (15–20 minutes twice a day of unprotected sun in early morning and evening) to maintain vitamin D levels. This helps support healthy immune function and calcium metabolism. Discuss supplementation during the winter months with your practitioner.
  • Zero in on unresolved emotional issues as a source of stress. In naturopathic medicine, the thyroid reflects a woman’s voice in her life. Many women have experienced a “trapped voice,” and by the time perimenopause arrives, the accumulated effect gives rise to symptoms, including poor thyroid function. Over and over we have seen that when women make progress in using their voices, their thyroid symptoms subside.
  • Consider other alternative techniques that have been useful in correcting an underactive thyroid – acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, homeopathic medicine, biofeedback, and osteopathy.

In our experience, a multi-tiered hypothyroid treatment approach that deals directly with the nutritional, stress-related and emotional factors of hypothyroidism — in combination with alternative therapies — often restores a woman’s thyroid function completely.

Turmeric…The Spice of Life

Spice up Your Life With Turmeric

By now you know how important I believe food is to health and healing. Food is something I discuss with virtually every patient I see at Women to Women. Finding the right balance of high quality proteins, slow-release carbohydrates and healthy fats — and knowing which ones are the best to choose — is something we all need to understand in order to get and stay healthy.

I encourage my patients to experiment and to try new grains, vegetables and other ingredients. We need to eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, selecting options in each color to get the best nutritional support but yet often, we stick to the few things we know and love.

That’s probably because it’s easy, safe and familiar; it may feel too risky to take a chance on something new for dinner.

What if you cook it and no one likes it? Or you order it and pay all that money only to leave the restaurant still hungry (or worse yet, fill up on dessert because dinner wasn’t quite to your taste). But taking risks in life can pay off big time and trying a new food is a small way to change things up, escape your daily routine, and at the same time, improve your health.

You may not be able to travel to India or China tonight, where food has been used medicinally for thousands and thousands of years, but trying food from other parts of the world can be a great first step toward filling in your own nutritional gaps while at the same time opening yourself up to other ways of seeing the world. Who knows: you may find yourself beginning to take more risks in other areas of your life as well!

Whether you go all in or start small with some simple baby steps, to restore hormonal balance and heal your body, broadening your menu and ingredient list will help to ensure you get all the nutrients your changing body needs. Why not take a chance and try some kale, pomegranates, quinoa, sardines, or kefir? Or maybe instead of pizza, you could try some Indian, Asian or Middle Eastern food? Perhaps you could get together with friends (so you feed yourself on other levels at the same time) and try a new ethnic restaurant once a month. Or better yet, create a social cooking club and take turns choosing an intriguing new recipe to cook together. Trying new foods can be fun as well as healthy!

In addition to trying new foods, however, I also tell my patients to consider trying new flavors. If you are reluctant to jump from the chicken you know and love to a meat you have never tried such as bison, for example, there is still an easy way to completely change up the flavor of the same foods you eat regularly and also bring in some seriously powerful health benefits at the same time: add some spices.

It may help to think of spices as just really intensely flavored and concentrated vegetables: they are full of nutritional benefits such as phytonutrients and antioxidants, they are calorie free, but best of all, they take little to no prep work! Spices contain numerous health benefits and offer different flavor profiles to turn your chicken or vegetables from another “same old” meal into an exotic escape.

One particularly powerful spice you can bring into your diet easily that will have a positive impact on your health, wellness and longevity (that I have come to love!) is turmeric. You may have heard that turmeric is so powerful it has provided results comparable to many patented drugs; if you haven’t I’m going to give you a small taste of just some of turmeric’s many amazing health benefits.

So what exactly is turmeric?

Turmeric comes from the root of the curcuma plant. It’s native to Indonesia and southern India and it has been used in Eastern cultures for more than 5000 years. It has a tough brown skin but its flesh is a deep orange: it’s kind of like what you might see if ginger root and an orange merged together. (It’s sometimes called Indian saffron because of its similarity in color.)

While it’s one of the main ingredients in a curry, turmeric is also found in inexpensive store and ballpark mustards (such as French’s) as it gives mustard a bright yellow color. On its own, turmeric has a peppery, warm and slightly bitter taste. It’s high in manganese, iron, vitamin B6 and also contains fiber and potassium.

For thousands of years, turmeric has been used in China and India as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat conditions from toothaches to chest pains, colic, menstrual difficulties, flatulence and even jaundice. The healing power comes from curcumin, which is contained within the yellow or orange pigment. Curcumin has been shown in multiple studies to compare to the drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone and even over the counter anti-inflammatory products such as Motrin!

While these drugs all carry numerous risky side effects, however, curcumin has not demonstrated any toxicity or concerns. Beyond its generalized use as an anti-inflammatory (something very important given todays pro-inflammatory diet), turmeric has been shown in studies to have some very powerful more specific health benefits including aiding in:

  • Cancer prevention;
  • Improved liver function;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis relief;
  • Cystic fibrosis prevention;
  • Cholesterol level reduction;
  • Alzheimer’s prevention; and
  • Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

That is some serious nutritional power in a tasty little powder! So how do you bring this power into your diet? While turmeric is often found in supermarkets these days, spice stores and ethnic markets often have superior quality and freshness. If you are buying a jar of turmeric, try to find an organic brand (so you can be sure it was not irradiated as many spices are because that damages the free radicals) that is packaged and shipped fresh.

Powders should be kept in a cool, dark and dry place in a tightly sealed container. If you purchase turmeric itself, the fresh turmeric rhizome, as it is called, should be kept in your refrigerator. When ready to use, you boil it, dry it and grind it finely. The color of the powder may vary from yellow to orange but that won’t affect its quality: you can expect color variation to vary by variety.

Turmeric can stain easily, so wash any area it comes in contact with using soap and water and consider wearing kitchen gloves to prevent finger stains if handling directly. One last tip: curry powder contains only a small amount of the healing curcumin so opt for turmeric rather than curry powder for best results.

Experts say 2 teaspoons a day can have a powerful health impact so look for ways to add more turmeric into your diet by adding it to salad dressings, egg salads, or sprinkling it on steamed veggies such as cauliflower, onions, green beans and even sautéed apples. It goes great in any recipe using a curry (just add some extra) or anything you cook with lentils.

Taking a risk in life is good…. Food and especially spices are a great and easy way to bring something new and different in your life: Escape your routine and try a new spice such as turmeric today!

This article is in General Women’s Health Articles, Nutrition

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Vitamin D — The New Giant For Bone Health And Overall Disease Prevention

Naturally Beautiful

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Conventional wisdom tells women to brace themselves as they age: get ready for your looks to go downhill and your skin to head south.

Cosmetic companies make billions of dollars off the fear of aging skin, with new anti-aging products and topical “miracle” products launched every year. From my own experience and that of my patients, these products mostly wind up half empty and jammed in the back of the cabinet.

Nevertheless, beneath all that marketing hype there has been an authentic leap forward in our understanding of what causes skin to age, and it centers on inflammation.

This is good news! It means your skin really can look better than ever — no matter how old you are — once you recognize that what happens on the inside, on both a physical and emotional front, truly does show up on the outside. That’s because the aging you see in your skin is biological, not chronological, and can be delayed or even reversed with a holistic, natural approach that includes optimal diet, lifestyle and product choices.

This approach to healthy skin works for other bothersome conditions, too, like acne, rosacea, and dermatitis. Whereas conventional medicine turns first to antibiotics, acids, retinol and steroid creams to treat the symptoms of these conditions, our approach helps women resolve them by addressing the core cause — inflammation.

At Women to Women, we see the results of this inside-out approach every day in the skin of our patients — skin that grows younger and more vibrant each day. And yours can too – but the solution relies more upon what you put in your body than what you put on your skin.

So let’s discuss how to get started.

Skin: what the world sees

One of the first things we notice about babies is how smooth and soft their skin is. From the moment we are born, our skin serves as our most reliable barrier between our inner and outer worlds. It is the layer everyone can see and touch. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then our skin is the causeway to the brain. In fact, our skin has its own kind of independent intelligence: it blushes when we’re embarrassed, “crawls” when we’re afraid, and itches or tingles for no apparent physical reason.

A woman’s complexion is intimately connected with her feelings of self-confidence and power: it’s the “face” she shows to the world. No wonder women spend so much time and money on beauty products and make-up. We’ve been taught to medicate or cover-up our so-called flaws instead of figuring out why they are there in the first place.

No matter what line a beauty company tries to sell you, the basic fact is that a beautiful face is not just skin deep. Think of a plant – the first indication that it needs water is its droopy leaves. It may revive a bit if you spray some water on its surface, but in order to restore the plant to vibrancy you have to water its roots.

Paying loving attention to the health of your skin is one of the best and easiest ways to listen to your body. Whatever is going on inside will eventually show up on the outside. So if you have skin concerns, chances are you need to look beyond the surface to discover what is really going on. Yes, it can be complicated — the anatomy of the skin is linked to all our major functions, including the immune, respiratory, circulatory, lymph and neurotransmitter systems — but caring for yourself on any one or all of these levels will improve the health of your skin.

Inflammation and skin

Skin concerns arise on two fundamental levels: acute and chronic. This article focuses on chronic issues such as premature aging, acne, dermatitis and rosacea — all conditions that have recently been linked to chronic inflammation. Acute skin conditions and allergic responses, such as eczema, hives, rashes and/or unusual thickening, mottling/bruising or mole growth are very individual and may indicate a more serious underlying condition. If you notice any sudden or extreme change in your skin or moles, contact your healthcare professional.

To make significant improvements in the tone and texture of your skin, you need to soothe inflammation on two fronts:

  1. By neutralizing free radicals (both inside and out); and
  2. By boosting immune function through good nutrition, supplements, hormonal balance, detoxification, and topical support.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of The Wrinkle Cure and The Perricone Promise, has pioneered a new way of thinking about skin care that centers on inflammation. While his landmark program is highly effective and one I wholeheartedly recommend to my patients, his theory has been known to other cultures for thousands of years.

In Chinese medicine, too much heat is one of the fundamental imbalances that seriously undermine the body’s ability to repair itself. Very briefly, one principle of Chinese medicine is that when the five elements governing the body are in balance, optimal health is achieved. Two of these elements are water (the yin) and fire (the yang), and when a woman’s internal balance is tipped toward fire, one of the clarion signs is itchy skin, flushing or an outbreak of pimples (internal inflammation literally erupts on the surface). Not surprisingly, one surefire way to support clear skin is to drink plenty of water, which helps maintain internal balance.

By the time a woman sees visible signs of aging (usually in her late 30’s or early 40’s), it’s highly likely she’s been operating with low-grade inflammation for years. Undiagnosed food sensitivities, poor diet, stress, hormonal imbalance, toxic overload and a sedentary lifestyle form a potent challenge to the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight inflammation on the inside. On the outside, sun exposure, weather, bacteria and environmental toxins trigger an immune response that ultimately weakens collagen, dilates surface blood capillaries and clogs pores.

How this manifests in your skin is individual to you, but for most of us it appears as uneven skin tone, sporadic or chronic outbreaks and, of course, premature aging.

The biology of aging skin

Walk over to a mirror and look at your face, neck and hands. For most people, these are the parts of their skin that wrinkle, thin or sag first. Now roll up your sleeve and look at the underside of your elbow or forearm. Any difference you see between the two is the result of aging.

Now you may think that there’s not much you can do about aging skin — you can’t help getting older every year. But there is. The aging I am talking about is not chronological. It’s cellular, or biological, aging. It means that the DNA inside a healthy cell has become fragmented or shortened, which affects the mitochondria inside the cell.

Mitochondria are the fuel factories in our cells that convert the food we eat into energy. When mitochondria malfunction, the cell dies. How well we age, including our vulnerability to disease is due in part to how healthy our mitochondria are. Recent studies have linked oxidative stress — the accumulation of free radicals in the cell — and genetic defects in mitochondria with premature aging.

And what causes mitochondria to self-destruct? One convincing theory is the presence of systemic inflammation.

A common cause of inflammation in our country is our high sugar diet. Too much sugar or high glycemic food ultimately leads to a metabolic process called glycation (or glycosylation) in which sugar molecules in the blood bond to proteins and DNA, which over time become chemically modified. These new bonded proteins are called AGE’s, or advanced glycation end-products. AGE’s create unnatural crosslinks with collagen proteins and change their shape, flexibility, elasticity and function. The result is premature aging. What’s more, the presence of AGE’s generates additional inflammation (see below).

Inflammation and glycation are two related reactions that impact the body’s natural state of balance and manifest themselves as aging throughout the body’s organ systems, but most apparently in the skin. So what prompts the immune system to respond like this in the first place?

The free radical theory of aging

Free radicals are highly unstable oxygen molecules missing a single electron from their outer orbit. Since electrons like to travel in pairs, free radicals steal electrons from healthy cells, wounding those cells and setting off a complicated intracellular inflammatory response.

These highly destructive free radicals surround us, internally and externally. They are formed on the skin within five minutes of unprotected sun exposure and do a lot of damage, quickly, to the collagen layer of the skin. The sun is responsible for the majority of skin damage I see in my patients, but our skin is also barraged by free radicals externally through pollution, x-rays, chemicals and toxins in lotions and cosmetics.

Internally, free radicals fuel inflammation. The greatest offenders are smoking, hormonal imbalance and a poor diet, including an over-reliance on high-glycemic foods, undiagnosed food sensitivities/irritants, additives, artificial sweeteners and trans fats. Smoking a single cigarette creates billions and billions of free radicals. A burdensome toxic build-up, including heavy metal and prescription drug overload, also creates free radicals.

Antioxidants — at the defense of healthy skin

To counteract free radicals, our immune system relies on certain nutrients that defend the cells from free radicals. These cell-scrubbers are called antioxidants, most of which are plant derived. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and quench minor inflammation by sacrificing one of their electrons without adverse effect.

Since free radicals are inescapable, we must have a constant supply of antioxidant nutrients to keep our skin cells healthy. In addition, antioxidants may actually encourage our cells’ “fix-it” enzymes to repair damage. Our cells have a wonderful ability to heal themselves, but this mechanism works less efficiently as we get older — perhaps due to damaged mitochondrial function.

The major antioxidants are:

  • Vitamin C (found in plants and fruits)
  • Vitamin E, specifically high-potency tocotrienols (HPE; good sources are rice bran oil and palm fruit oil)
  • Coenzyme Q-10 (found naturally in our cells but decreasing after age 20)
  • Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA; found in plant and animal sources)
  • Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE; found in fish)
  • Carotenoids (phytonutrients found in the red, yellow and orange flesh of plant leaves, flowers and fruit)
  • Flavanoids (found in green tea, soy isoflavones and red wine, among other food sources)

When we don’t have enough antioxidants on board and free radicals get the upper hand, they damage the deep workings of the skin tissue — the fibroblast cells that generate collagen and elastin, two types of protein that form the connective tissue that keeps skin firm, clear and supple. This destructive process is called oxidization. Think of the way an apple turns brown when it’s exposed to the air and you’ll get the picture.

Unfortunately, we now live in an age where there is a convergence of external forces conducive to internal inflammation and early aging. Levels of free-radical-producing substances have exploded. At least 80,000 industrial chemicals are registered for use in the US and more are approved every day. At the same time the quality of our nutrition has been steadily eroding. Faced with such a huge increase in oxidative load and more limited support, it’s natural that our bodies become inflamed internally and end up showing the wear and tear externally on our skin.

Common skin conditions related to inflammation — acne, rosacea, and dermatitis

Acne and chronic outbreaks of pimples, whiteheads and blackheads are caused when oil (also called sebum) and dead skin cells build up in the skin and clog pores. In the case of chronic acne, the walls of the skin cells become damaged and vulnerable to the infiltration of bacteria. The bacteria colonize within the clogged skin follicle, creating an infection and subsequent inflammation.

Acne can affect people at any time, not just in puberty. In fact, dermatologists categorize several forms of acne by life stages: baby acne, related to lingering levels of estrogen from the mother; teenage acne, caused by hormonal imbalance; and adult-onset female acne, which usually appears on the nose, cheeks, chin and jawline and is triggered by fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause. The good news is that once hormone levels stabilize, adult onset acne does get better.

In cases of acute acne, conventional medicine usually turns to antibiotics and aggressive topical peels as its first line of defense against the bacterial infection. This usually yields short-term improvement, but can actually exacerbate inflammation over the long term if the antibiotics upset the balance of intestinal flora. To truly get to the bottom of acne (and fully support your body while you are on antibiotics, if you really need them) I always recommend a holistic approach first, one that will rebalance the inner workings of the body, cool internal heat and soothe inflamed emotions. And if one needs to be on an antibiotic, just adding a probiotic before each meal can help prevent imbalance of the natural intestinal flora.

Rosacea is another common inflammatory skin condition that affects many women. This occurs when the tendency to flush easily thins and breaks the tiny capillaries at the surface of the skin, resulting in a permanently rosy complexion. Many women see the first signs of rosacea in their late 30’s. It is exacerbated by poor diet, hot temperature, alcohol, caffeine and stress — anything that turns up your internal thermostat!

There is also some indication that people with certain temperaments are more prone to rosacea than others, typically women who have perfectionist tendencies and are more vulnerable to feelings of guilt and shame (the emotions that cause one to blush). For more information on this connection, read my friend Dr. Christiane Northrup’s wisdom on rosacea.

I find that in most of the cases of rosacea that I see there is also a digestive component that creates inflammation. Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities and problems with the gut, and adding probiotics to the diet, will dampen internal heat and help curb future bouts of rosacea. Many new exciting technologies, like pulsed laser, can be very successful at reducing existing damage.

Dermatitis means “inflamed skin,” and this class of skin disorders includes chronic conditions such as seborrhea (dandruff) and eczema. While there are genetic components to these conditions, soothing inflammation from the inside out by eliminating toxins and allergens will certainly improve the body’s natural ability to heal these concerns, and identifying any possible external allergens or irritants (such as synthetic fabrics or plastics woven into clothing) may also help. Some of my patients have had success combining topical use of essential oils with a detoxification plan.

Skin care and your diet

The first place to start improving the health of your skin is your diet. Following a cleansing, anti-inflammatory diet, will help you understand how powerfully your diet relates to the condition of your skin. Once you see the difference, you can continue to make positive food choices a way of life.

And while you are cleaning out your insides, you should also check into your emotions — because your feelings can be as inflammatory as dietary and environmental factors.

Emotions and skin

Skin is a fantastic communicator — often revealing our unspoken emotions to the world. Who hasn’t heard of turning crimson in anger or blanching with fear? Why does stress cause some women to break out in hives and others in pimples? The answer lies in the body’s individual response to inflammatory stressors. If you are a highly emotional person, or conversely, if you bury your emotions, your skin tends to expose your true nature — perhaps more than you realize.

For example, two Japanese researchers, Makoto Hashiro and Mutsuko Okumura, have published studies in the Journal of Dermatalogical Science showing that eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) occurs more frequently in people prone to anxiety and depression than the general population.

But even on an everyday level, your personal tendencies are manifested by the state of your skin. In the Ayurvedic tradition, there are three constitutional principles, or doshas, at work in the body, and generally speaking, one influence predominates for each of us and governs our body type. Each type is defined by a certain metabolic predilection (fast, slow, moderate) that influences health and emotional outlook. Interestingly, each body type, as well as its corresponding emotional tendencies, is characterized by a certain kind of skin (dry, ruddy, oily).

It stands to reason, then, that internalizing anger and stress may have as much to do with chronic breakouts as excessive sebum. Some practitioners look at acne as a buildup of subterranean emotional issues that need to “burst” out. As we learn more about this powerful connection, perhaps stress-relieving alternative techniques such as biofeedback and meditation will be used as often as we use creams and pills to treat chronic skin disorders.

And speaking of creams, it is useful to consider the products you apply to your skin every day when you think about what could be causing skin-damaging inflammation in your body.

The hidden hazards in beauty products

The FDA leaves synthetic additives in cosmetics largely unregulated, yet many of these compounds have been proven to disrupt endocrine function, interfering in the metabolism of sex hormones. This can seriously impair fertility and might contribute to breast cancer, especially in the subset of the population that is more sensitive.

Many of the chemicals in cosmetics and creams may, in and of themselves, breed free radicals (and the resulting inflammation), giving lie to their claims of being youth-enhancing. Even more troubling is the preponderance of petroleum-based chemicals in toiletries and cosmetics. One ubiquitous category, called pthalates, has recently been reviewed by an expert panel that found several potential health risks associated with exposure. Pthalates are everywhere, including cosmetics and lotions, but the best way to reduce your exposure is to eat organic.

Additionally, few studies have looked at the dangerous cumulative and inflammatory effects of combining so many different skin products over a lifetime — or how those chemicals interact with all the other chemicals we’re exposed to. The average woman uses 5–12 different products on her skin — an untested chemical soup — each and every day. If one of my patients has a skin or hair concern, the first thing I tell her is to go home and throw out the products that contain synthetic chemicals (which usually mean all of them).

Luckily, a growing awareness of this problem has led to a number of reasonable natural alternatives. The Body Shop, Burt’s Bees, Kiss My Face, and Avalon Natural Products have all agreed to be free of chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects.

Anti-aging skin care

When you look closely at the various factors that influence your skin, it’s not surprising to find that most over-the-counter skin care products fall short of what they promise. Caring for your skin means caring for yourself, from the inside out.

Our approach to skin care at Women to Women has two primary goals: 1) to soothe inflammation; and 2) to support your body’s natural anti-aging and healing properties. Here’s how to begin at home:

Diet:

Eating whole foods with relatively low glycemic index values. Increase your intake of antioxidant-rich foods, such as colorful vegetables, berries, fruits and green tea.
Drink at least 8–10 eight-ounce glasses of filtered water a day.

Take a medical-grade nutritional supplement rich in calcium, magnesium and essential fatty acids. EFA’s exert an overall anti-inflammatory effect and help keep skin supple and moisturized at its deepest layer.

Talk to your practitioner about DMAE supplements, both ingestible and topical. Some women do find DMAE causes redness and irritation. Other antioxidants may be ingested as supplements, but you need to do so under professional guidance.

Consider taking a probiotic supplement daily to boost beneficial anti-inflammatory flora in the digestive tract.

Avoid or limit sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, food additives, trans fats and simple carbohydrates, especially if you have acne or rosacea. These are highly inflammatory to many people.

Try to cleanse and rest your system a few times a year by practicing regular detox. The Fat Flush Plan by Louise Gittleman and Frank Lipman’s Total Renewal are two good places to start. Otherwise, try eating only organic, washed fruits and vegetables for a few days and drink lots of filtered water (this is easiest in the spring and summer).

Lifestyle:

If you are smoking, try to quit. Smoking can add ten years to your skin’s appearance.

Exercise daily to reduce stress, support your body’s natural detoxification, and reduce inflammation.

Throw out unnecessary products in your medicine cabinet and cupboards and any products that contain toxic additives or the mystery ingredient “fragrance”. If they won’t tell you what’s in it, chances are it’s not good for you.

Examine your hidden emotions or emotional tendencies. If you think you may be harboring some unexpressed emotions, find a safe place to free them. Negativity has a way of manifesting in the skin. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a wonderful method of releasing pent-up feelings of anger, anxiety, and fear. Meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness exercises are also healthy stress-relieving practices. If you need inspiration, look at the skin of most yoga teachers!

Skin care regime:

Cleanse your skin morning and night with a gentle, soap-free cleanser. Do not scrub! Scrubbing actually breaks capillaries and damages cell tissue, which encourages invasive bacteria. Use a wad of cotton or your fingertips. Rinse thoroughly with clean, tepid water and dry gently.

Try to keep your hands off your skin unless they are clean; your fingers can transmit oil and bacteria. Don’t pick blemishes — it damages cell tissue and permanently widens pores.

Use an all-natural exfoliant 2–3 times a week to remove excess dead skin cells (we have one made from date seeds that our patients love).

Moisturize and protect with an all-natural moisturizer/sunscreen. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 when out in the sun for more than 15 minutes. Find a product that contains valuable topical antioxidants like co-Q10, ALA and vitamin C ester. Dr. Hauschka and USANA offer reliable, professional nontoxic skin care lines. Dr. Perricone and Obagi are other proprietary programs with excellent results, though the products are not all-natural.

Discuss the usefulness of a regular facial peel with a responsible aesthetician. Glycolic or hydroxy (alpha or beta) peels can help the texture and appearance of surface skin while stimulating new cell growth underneath.

Use natural cosmetics. Aveda, Burt’s Bees and The Body Shop have branched out into a growing array of cosmetics. You should be able to replace your favorite lipsticks, mascara and foundation with chemical-free alternatives. Your skin will thank you!

Additional measures:

If you have made all the positive diet and lifestyle changes to support your glowing health (and skin) but still feel your outside doesn’t reflect your inside, there are other steps you can take.

Investigate dermabrasion to resolve deep scarring and imperfections. Talk to a professional aesthetician about pulsed laser technology (IPL) or other laser therapies for unwanted hair, sun damage, spider veins, rosacea and other discoloration.

If your acne is not improving, go ahead and use antibiotics. Just be sure to support your body through proper supplements and diet, and discontinue the antibiotics as soon as possible. Talk to your medical professional about what will work best for you.

Look into a “natural facelift” through acupuncture. Acupuncture works by increasing blood flow and muscle tone, as well as by soothing inflammation. This is an amazing technique that works!

And when you look in the mirror, see beyond the minor imperfections and laugh lines to the glowing spirit that lies within. Honor yourself and the skin you were born in by taking the best care of yourself that you can. You and your skin deserve it!