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What your skin is trying to tell you.

 Photo by Anna Yarrow

Photo by Anna Yarrow

Diving into an article about skin health is similar to jumping into a rabbit hole. It’s not 100% straight forward and there are many causative factors. That being said, I feel like the information that I do know about skin health is important to share because it’s completely transformed my life and the life of many of my clients.


The above picture was a photo taken of me a few weeks ago. I have no make up on my skin, so what you see is what is real. Now I know that my skin is not completely flawless. I have definitely seen better on social media. BUT, my skin is flawless for me and I am completely content with it.


For years, I battled adult onset cystic acne. And by years, I mean for over a decade! My acne was one of the biggest contributing factors to my commitment and study of health. I was determined to heal the root cause because I knew without a doubt that there was an internal factor that I was missing. I was completely correct. Unfortunately, it just took me a very long time to decipher the messages my body was giving to me. My hope is that if you are struggling with a skin disorder that you are able to take this information and use it to make the shifts you need to create transformation.


Oriental Medicine on Skin Health

Skin in Oriental Medicine is ruled by the Metal Element. The Metal element is one of 5 elements that influence all of life and health. (you can read more about this in my ebook A Quick Guide to Eating with the Elements). The organs associated with the Metal element are the Lung and the Large Intestine. This cues us to look at the health of both of these organ systems. For example, in Asia eczema is called 'skin asthma,' due to the fact that many of the children with eczema will also develop, or already have, asthma. Typically when one organ system is affected, it will show up in other associated organ systems. This is also true when treating. When one organ system is treated, typically the other will clear as well. So if the asthma is treated, the eczema will clear and vice versa.

A good place to start with a skin disorder is to ask yourself how is the health of my lungs? What is my gut health like? In my clinical experience, I have found that most skin disorders will have a gut health component.


Other causative factors in Oriental medicine for skin disorders is dampness or heat. The term 'heat' refers to distress in the body which can be caused by overwork, emotional stress (such as jealousy or anger), and/or over-activated hormones. The insufficient flushing of waste and toxins from the body, as well as water retention, and a humid or moist environment can cause 'dampness' in a person.


Dampness has also many times been translated in the gut microbiome as dysbiosis or overgrowth of bacteria, parasites or fungi. Heat can also be translated as inflammation. So you can easily see how dampness and heat could have an impact on gut health.


The best ways to decrease dampness and heat in the body is to focus the diet on whole unprocessed foods. Limiting processed foods, sugar, dairy, wheat, corn and soy. Also, making sure that 75% of each of your meals are vegetables. Stress reduction is also crucial. This includes emotional and environmental.


Other Internal Factors

Gut health is not the only factor in skin health, though I would say it is a big gun! Hormones play a role as well. This also includes the functioning of the liver.


The liver performs about 200 vital functions, most of which are vital for good health. Detoxification of the blood, protein synthesis, excretion of bilirubin, hormones, cholesterol, drugs, and production of bile (an alkaline compound which helps in digestion through the emulsification of lipids).


The liver plays a role in the digestive process which means that it will contribute to overall gut health. The liver produces bile, which helps in digestion through the process of emulsification of lipids. A sluggish liver produces less bile, causing many digestion problems.


The liver plays an important role in eliminating toxins from the body and maintaining the efficiency of the body’s immune system.

If the process of eliminating toxins is hampered, as is in the case of a sluggish liver, skin irritation or skin allergies occur, which are considered the first sign of liver damage. A person in such a case would develop: rashes, psoriasis, eczema, boils, acne, moles, or itching,


The liver also plays a role in your hormones. The liver is responsible for filtering out mutated hormones. A person with a sluggish liver would be quite affected by the hormonal (and neurotransmitter) imbalance. Signs that you have a hormonal component to your skin issues would be that you also would exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Sleep and mental disturbance

  • Mental confusion

  • Depression

  • Sensitivity to medicines

  • Heavy or clotted menstruation in women

  • Irregular periods

  • Fibroids in breast or uterus

  • Hot flashes

  • Cysts on ovaries

  • Mood swings or any menopausal problems

A few ways to insure that you are keeping your liver health and happy are to follow the gut health dietary suggestions. Exercise regularly. Avoid drugs, alcohol and other toxins.


Face Mapping

The Chinese face map can be very useful when wanting to decipher more information that your body may be giving you about your internal health. In a traditional face map, the parts of the face are broken down into organ systems such as liver, lungs, kidneys etc. But unless you have studied Oriental medicine, that information will not translate easily for you. The image below is a good description of causes.

 Image IMAXTREE

Image IMAXTREE

When looking at your complexion in the mirror, you can look for blemishes, psoriasis, eczema, dry skin, redness etc and then use the map to see if the suggested correlations make sense for you. Remember that with skin disorders (and any health issue), there is no one size fits all approach.

Topical Treatment

The last approach to skin health is typically the first aspect that most people address. Most people attempt to heal skin conditions through topical treatment. In my experience, that is literally and figuratively the most superficial aspect of the problem.

Skin conditions are almost always an INSIDE problem. That being said, topical treatment is a great adjunct therapy.

First, it is good to know that your skin has a microbiome of it’s own. The skin is the human body’s largest organ, colonized by a diverse milieu of microorganisms, most of which are harmless or even beneficial to their host. It is important to have healthy diversity of these microorganisms to have healthy skin. Without diversity, it leaves the skin susceptible to bacterial and fungal overgrowths.

Ways to insure this healthy diversity of the skin microbiome is to treat the skin gently. I personally recommend that soap is not used on any part of the body except for the pits and privates. Oil cleansing the face and body allows for the natural health bacteria to thrive and also utilizes beneficial oils that penetrate deep into pores to dissolve grime and build-up.

For my body, I dry brush in the morning then do a self massage (abhyanga) with a sesame oil with ashwagandha, which is a soothing nervine that can help anxiety, fatigue, and stress. Then I take a warm bath or shower and wipe off any excess oil with a towel. My skin is left clean, hydrated and soft.

For my face, I do something very similar but I use products from a London based company called de Mamiel. I wash my face with their oil cleanser. Wipe extra off with damp wash cloth. Then use toner and face oil. Again, my face is left glowing, hydrated, and supple. Soap never touches my face.

Remember your skin and gut microbiome are also connected (think the Metal element!) No part of the body’s microbiome exists in a vacuum, which is why it is important to continue to understand the different parts of the biome and how they interact. The skin is home to trillions on lymphocytes that interact with the rest of the immune system via lymph nodes. Just like the bacterial organisms in the gut, they comprise a valuable part of the immune system.

I hope that this information was useful for you. Again, remember that there is no one size fits all approach but I definitely feel that this will get you started in the right direction. If you would like to dig deeper into the underlying causes of your skin disorders, I would be happy to help you.

I am currently accepting applications for my next Inside Out Program where we address both gut and hormonal health, getting the root of chronic conditions. Email nancycrowell@flowingelements.com for more details.

Paleo Pumpkin Bread

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The weather is turning and now it’s time to cozy in and start eating the grounding vegetables and gourds. This is the time of year that I hear everyone of Facebook talking about Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes.

But if you are on a health journey or care about your hormones in the least, I highly suggest you avoid such overly sweet products. If you are ready to get into the autumnal spirit, it’s best to make your own treats at home where you can control the ingredients.

This simple pumpkin bread was a big hit in my home. Moist, spicy and just sweet enough. Super yummy with some grassfed butter on top and a hot cup of tea.

I hope you enjoy!

To your health

xo

Dr. Nancy

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups of pureed pumpkin

  • 6 large eggs (at room temp)

  • 6 tbsp maple syrup or raw honey

  • 3 tbsp almond butter

  • 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • 3/4 cup coconut flour

  • 3/4 tsp baking soda

  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

  • 1/8 tsp sea salt

    Cooking: Mix all ingredients. Put in a bread pan and bake for 60 min at 350F.

5 Ways to Avoid Colds

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Summer is wrapping up and we are now moving into the transitional season called late summer ruled by the Earth element. During this time it is not uncommon for individuals to start getting colds. This is largely due to the frequent change happening between yin and yang, cold and hot.

The body is not sure whether to remain expansive and open or to start bringing the energy more inward…preparing for the cold winter months. So it’s important to keep the body in balance to support it in the transition and keep it healthy.

5 Top Ways to Avoid Colds

  • Rest.  Yes, that sounds like common sense but most people are not doing this.  If your body is tired, then rest. That means go to bed early. 10 pm at the latest. Take a nap if you are tired and able.  Simplify your schedule. Literally, listen to your body. Most people are “powering through” and this is highly stressful for your body...and stress affects your gut micro-biome...and guess where most of your immune system is?!  Yes, your gut!

  • Simplify your diet.  Right now we are in the season between seasons...it’s called late summer.  It’s ruled by the Earth element. So your body doesn’t know what’s happening.  Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cool. By simplifying your diet, you nourish the Earth element and make digestion simple.  Examples of this would be light meats and cooked veggies, kitchari, or light soups. Pull out sugar, dairy, wheat, processed foods and heavy foods.  

  • Take Immune Boosters. B-Complex, Vitamin C, Advanced Mineral Complex, Daily Multi and Probiotics can all keep your immune system functioning optimally.

  • Keep your neck covered if the weather is cold or windy. In Chinese medicine, colds are called wind invasions. Wind invades the body through the nape of the neck. So dress appropriately for the weather. If you can avoid going from one extreme temperature to another (example hot outside, frigid air conditioned building inside etc) that will also allow your body to use it’s own defense mechanisms more easily.

  • Make sure your hormones are balanced. Cortisol temporarily suppresses the immune system, reducing the body's natural inflammatory response to viruses and bacteria. Because of the OAT axis, imbalances in the sex hormones or thyroid can also affect the adrenals. So it’s important that the hormones are in balance and that you are managing stress so that you are not living in cortisol disfunction.

Antioxidant Smoothie Recipe

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It's raspberry season here in England!!! Picking raspberries off and eating them fresh off the vine is one of my favorite things to do when I am here.  I literally have been eating at least $5 worth of store bought raspberries a day.  A habit I couldn't afford at home!  

Growing up in suburbia I didn't have any connection with my food as a child. I feel that this has created a huge enjoyment for me to grow, pick and then prepare my own food.  I love the satisfaction of knowing where my food is coming from, acknowledging the vitality in it and then also getting all the rich natural probiotics that come from organic soil.  

Raspberries are one of the top antioxidant fruits and are an essential food for optimum health. Raspberries are rich in vitamins C, A, E, K, and B-complex and minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, and magnesium. They are also high in ellagic acid which is a medicinal compound that helps to prevent cancer as well as benign and malignant growths. 

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They also help remove byproduct and toxic debris created by pathogens that causes thyroid problems and tend to bind onto and remove impurities delivered to the intestinal tract.

Because raspberries are red, it makes them a perfect summer time fruit.  Summer and the fire element are associated with red.  So eat away and hopefully you will be filled with joy.  

If you are able to grow and harvest your own raspberries that is definitely the way to go as buying store bought really adds up and adds to plastic consumption in most cases.  

You could also try looking in your local community to see if there are any raspberry farmers that will allow you to come pick.  It's not only fun but way healthier for you, your wallet, and the planet!

This smoothie recipe I created is very simple because I had limited ingredients here in the English countryside.  If you decide to modify it, make sure you always have healthy fat to stabilize your blood sugar.  

To your health, 

xo 

Dr. Nancy

 

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Antioxidant Smoothie Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 -2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 avocado (pitted)
  • 1 cup fresh almond mylk
  • 1 banana
  • Fresh mint (1 sprig)

Put everything in the blender and then enjoy!  

 

 

Could eating healthy make you vitamin D deficient?

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Three-quarters of U.S. teens and adults are deficient in vitamin D, the so-called "sunshine vitamin" whose deficits are increasingly blamed for everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes, according to research.

What's super interesting about this is that Vitamin D levels are highly influenced by our diet...specifically potassium and sodium!  

Your blood contains 3 percent sodium, a percentage similar to that found in the ocean and in animals. Your kidneys maintain a 50/50 ratio of sodium and potassium at all times. Excess sodium in the diet is eliminated through the kidneys, giving a warming effect to your body and making you more active, while an excess of potassium has a cooling effect, which slows you down.

All plants contain potassium; generally, the more sun they’re exposed to, the more potassium they contain.  Eat a banana, which has lots of potassium, and your kidneys will think that you’re in the tropics, and that your skin must be roasting in the sun – making vitamin D – so they stop activating vitamin D. 

A vegetarian animal on a high-potassium diet needs access to salt, while a carnivorous animal gets its salt from the 3 percent sodium found in the vegetarian animal that it eats. Historically,  in the winter, we would be on a high-sodium animal-protein diet, which would tell the kidneys that the weather is not sunny, so you kidneys would activate the vitamin D much more vigorously.

Most people are no longer eating in accordance with the seasons, which means that their body is not in this natural rhythm.  Combine that with too much time indoors, at a desk, under florescent lighting and your setting yourself up for major deficiency.  

This means that if you are eating a lot of veggies and not spending enough time outdoors, you actually could be doing your body harm!  

I am obviously not advocating that you stop eating your veggies but you do need to be getting healthy amounts of sunlight every day!  Also, eating with the seasons and naturally eating a diet higher in sodium/animal protein in the winter can help support your vitamin D levels.  

To your health,
xo
Dr. Nancy

P.S.  Are you interested in learning more about eating with the seasons?  If so, let's chat!  I am super passionate about this and feel it is the missing piece of the puzzle for many healthy individuals.