Unhappy skin isn’t ever welcome. I’ll be first to say, it’s not at all nice when skin imperfections come knocking. Whether it’s acne, cystic pimples, lumps, bumps rashes or even eczema, they’re always uninvited. I remember being told when I was young that food had no direct correlation to skin.
We treated the skin with topical scrubs, lotions and potions and whilst it made me feel better that I was taking matters into my own hands, it did very little for my acne. Thankfully we now know it’s not so much what we do on the outside (although it certainly can’t be discounted) but a whole lot more of what we do on the inside that counts. Food will absolutely affect our skin there’s no question about it.
This all has become apparent to us because of the close relationship we’ve discovered the skin and the gut have. Chinese Medicine has long taken the stance that the gut is the pivot of health. If the gut is working well, health is a given. If gut health is compromised there will be illness and signs of imbalance. But as we learn more about the gut, we discover that whilst our skin is our outer shield, our gut is almost like our inner shield, protecting the body’s precious skeleton, muscles, organs, nerves and vessels from the outside. Our gut is like a tube that connects the internal and the external. Often when disharmony within the digestive system arises it will show up via the skin – be it because the body is trying to push out something it sees as toxic or because it can’t break down or assimilate certain foods that cause strain. This helps us understand that to treat the skin, we must look at the gut.
There are a few main offenders that really cause major issues, those being gluten, sugar and diary. These foods can often have their way with the digestive system, leading to deeper issues as they upset the healthy flora of the gut, all the while compromising the gut integrity and it’s permeability (remember it’s supposed to be like a sealed tube, not a leaky garden hose). Why then, is this so you might ask? When the gut isn’t functioning optimally, these foods simply become too difficult to digest and may then lead to pain, inflammation, and skin issues to name a few of many symptoms.
When it comes to sugar and the skin, it’s super important to remember that too much of any one thing is never a good idea. Sugar is on this list of foods because (just like dairy or gluten) it is inflammatory; the body’s way of protecting itself is to remove harmful stimuli. But with that comes symptoms. If there is a bacteria overgrowth (which often happens with acne), sugar feeds the unkind bacteria also.
What’s more, sugar is super addictive and often, in cases of hormone imbalance, we can crave it to no end. In instances of PCOS, acne can be a common issue because there may be high levels of male hormones in the body which also may be a cause of acne. But wait, there’s more. For those who have PCOS, this is often an issue of insulin resistance – where the cells of the body become desensitized to glucose. Insulin is responsible for assisting glucose to move through the cells, especially when we’ve had a good feed on sweet foods that trigger this response. However, for those with insulin resistance, this fails to happen and so the excess is sent to the liver which converts it to fat instead of it being used as energy. This can cause skin issues but the issue is further amplified as the pancreas continues to secrete more and more insulin in a bid to address the excess glucose roaming around in the body. This stimulates the ovaries to produce too much oestrogen, which is also another cause of acne! Basically it’s a chain reaction all a result of the body’s inability to utilize blood sugar.
So you see, sugar can be a huge issue when it comes to your skin. If you have hormone imbalance such as PCOS or excess oestrogen or you just have unhappy skin, it is super important to keep sugar consumption to a minimum to really make inroads towards happier hormones and glowing skin. It’s not always easy to step away from the sweet foods – not only are they delicious, the body can keep asking for more.
When suggesting my patients lessen sugar consumption, I’ve a few handy pointers to assist. Remember – the more we tell ourselves we can’t have something, it’s human nature to become fixated on it and we can end up eating our body weight of chocolate in one evening. The trick is being prepared and understanding why sugar is having a negative impact on your body. This helps to keep the focus on health and pretty skin too!
Here are my favourite tips;
- Be prepared. Often, our sugar cravings hit high on the ‘sugar-odometer’ as we approach that time of the month. Be sure to have healthy options on offer that you can have as a quick go to – we often end up grabbing a chocolate bar because there’s nothing else around.
- Increase healthy fats. By eating more of the good fats (you know, avocado, eggs, nuts, seeds, oily fish etc) we are less likely to crave sugar because our nutritional needs are being met. Keeping your breakfast substantial and full of goodness will see you less likely to crave of an evening as your body has everything it needs.
- Understand your cravings. Often we think we are craving sugar but in actual fact, we want quality carbohydrate. Try this on. Next time you crave sugar, try eating a delicious bowl of broccoli drizzled with olive oil, salt and lemon juice first. It can be that we are actually not meeting our macronutrient requirements and needing carbohydrates.
- Love your liver. It can be an amazing place to start when we are tackling our skin and other hormone issues. Because the liver is responsible for detoxification, showing it some TLC will certainly show through your skin. This of course is important to do alongside supporting your digestive system.
Image – @dolciwithlove