alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, food and nutrition, my journey, sugar, women's health

the magic of medicinal ideologies

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Something that has always fascinated me has been the underlying ideologies behind medicine of different regions/cultures, be it modern western science, naturopathic medicine (which can blend a lot of the holistic and western medicine practices), traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, or yoga.

As western medicine is the most familiar, I will talk about that briefly at the end.

The other day I went to a Qi Gong and Tai Chi school where I talked with one of the instructors about the concepts behind medical Qi Gong. We talked a little bit about my skin and the instructor mentioned how the skin and the liver are connected in the Chinese ideology and so if the skin is showing lots of signs of disease, there may be an issue with the liver’s digestion. She also mentioned that I would be a person expected to have an imbalance of yang over yin. Yin and yang are seen as complimentary energies that keep the body in balance, with yin being the cooler, more feminine energy, and yang being a hotter, more masculine one.

In regards to nutrition, when I was seeing an acupuncturist a few years ago, she also talked about the dietary components that might be causing my skin issues. She also believed that I had an imbalance of yin and yang, (in that again I had more yang), hence the inflammation. Her advice to me was to eat less spicy food, avoid sugars, and have more bitter herbs in my diet, as well as continuing the treatments I was getting from her in acupuncture, cupping, and massage.

The National Eczema Associate interviewed Dr. Xiu-Min Li (a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) who studies asthma and allergies (including AD) and went on to explain about traditional Chinese medicine and how it fits into the treatment of eczema. The article provides more insight into how TCM is starting to be incorporating into mainstream western medicine, with the goal of having an alternative to use before topical steroids. It would seem that many people currently turn to try traditional Chinese medicine when standard western medicine practices of topical/oral steroids and other topical medications don’t do the trick.

When I was doing my yoga teacher training a while back they talked about chakras. Chakras are energetic points of the subtle body and there are 7 of them that line the spinal column, and they each are meant to represent a basic level of human consciousness. According to what I learned during the training, when the third chakra (Manipura) is unbalanced, one can expect to see eczema and other stress-related skin conditions. This may be because the third chakra is connected to the detox related organs (like the liver) as well as the abdominals, obliques, etc.

Nutrition based in the Ayurvedic ideology talks about balancing the Pitta dosa (doshas are energies that control how we act, think, move, etc), and to do that they advise avoiding eggs, wheat, milk, nightshades, spicy foods, corn, shellfish, and overly sugary foods. Eczema is seen to be more of an excess of Pitta dosha, or more fire, hence trying to eliminate inflammatory foods.

Here’s an anecdotal story published by the National Eczema Association a while back about a family that turned to Ayurveda when the western medicine wasn’t helping their daughter’s eczema.

In regards to modern western medicine practices, a few comparison points are developing that reflect the more holistic ideals in the ideologies mentioned above. For example, added sugar is more or less nationally seen as being inflammatory, and many doctors will caution against having a diet that includes too much of it. There are also more practices such as taking bleach baths to help reduce infection risk and other treatments that can be done at home without a prescription that a western doctor will recommend now. And the recommendations around lotions and moisturizers (over the counter) are more prevalent, though the brands which are suggested still vary. Light therapy/phototherapy is also recommended to help increase vitamin D exposure, and more and more doctors are also advising getting moving more to help with healing, as well as different solutions to try at night to help with sleep- from stress relieving techniques like meditation or taking a bath at night, to antihistamines.

I personally however, have not yet had a doctor who engaged me in a conversation that got more specifically into nutrition (minus not eating a lot of sugar or junk food). I am not sure if it is out of their scope of practice, but it has not come up in 26 years of seeing doctors, which surprises me. Many doctors, as far as I can tell, still think eczema is not really related to food, but as I do have food allergies I was born with, I would probably be a prime candidate to test for new allergies. The rub there is that generally doctors will prescribe getting a patch test done- but you have to have cleared up skin for the test results to be more or less accurate, and you can’t be on steroids at the time (and I haven’t had clear enough skin in about 3 years).

There is also the holistic medicine movement we see that is not specifically tied to any of the above ideologies. It includes more of western herbalism, often crossed with different nutrition changes and protocols, like the autoimmune protocol, or the elimination diet, or other variations to help with what is called the “leaky gut” syndrome. There are tons of resources from bloggers, nutritionists, doctors, etc about how to go about a nutritional change to heal whatever ailments you are undergoing with food, and I’ve also noticed a lot of sufferers of eczema have gone into nutrition after having success controlling their conditions with their dietary changes (one example being Prime Physique Nutrition). There are also movements to changing the whole lifestyle to be more holistic (like making your own cleaning products as well as skin creams, moisturizers, body wash products. A lot of this new movement is grounded in taking control of your health, often after having tried working with doctors in modern western practices for long periods of time unsuccessfully.

A health resurgence in America has been in herbalism. Some famous members of the community include Rosemary Gladstar (author of Herbal Healing for Women), Susan Weed (author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year), Aviva Romm, Mark Blumenthal (founder of the American Botanical Council), Christopher Hobbs, and many, many others. [Of note, I am usually deep into researching about women’s health, hence the references above. Gladstar does have a book on men’s health called Herbal Healing for Men].

From Gladstar’s book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health (which I own) she briefly talks about her general advice as an herbalist for how women can keep balance in the bodies by doing “good living practices”, which she notes as having proper nutrition, ample enough rest, joyful exercise, self connection, and tonic herbs. Delving deeper into nutrition she says to eat foods close to their natural states (which also means eat what grows seasonally), pay attention to how you feel while eating and afterwards, eat organic when you can, and eat  alkalizing foods. She notes about the latter that a lot of the disorders women have thrive in acidic conditions (aka when we eat too many sweets and carbs).

Personally, I have found relief from the most extreme symptoms by modifying my diet (I usually avoid eating wheat products and sugar because I tend to over consume foods containing them), and by using products approved by the NEA that avoid parabens, alcohol, and other chemicals that can be irritants for people with eczema. Acupuncture did seem to help- though I can’t say it was in isolation, since I did get massaged each time (which is also known for helping eczema). I tend to only bathe in a diluted bleach bath when I feel like my skin is getting close to infection (not sure how to explain how I know when that point is), otherwise this winter I did take a lot of baths with either apple cider vinegar (works similarly to bleach) or epsom salt (tends to calm me down and works well for helping me get through the dry out phase of TSW faster). I generally avoid using topical steroids when I can because I have gone through withdrawals before, and because I don’t like the reliance on something that doesn’t fix my issue (usually starting on steroids means I have to stay on them because I flare back up as soon as I start a taper).

All in all it does feel like there are more overlaps occurring over time in these differing ideologies, and we are seeing them sort of blend together in effort to figure out how to deal with chronic non-fatal diseases such as eczema. Whether or not they work still mostly seems to comes down to a person-by-person basis.

 

REFERENCES

“Ayurvedic Medicine and Eczema.” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/ayurvedic-medicine-eczema/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Berzin, Robin. “The Simple Elimination Diet that Could Change Your Life Forever.” Mind Body Green, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12540/the-simple-elimination-diet-that-could-change-your-life-forever.html. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“The Effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine on Eczema.” Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2016/08/19/effects-traditional-chinese-medicine-eczema. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Ehrlich, Henry. “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Eczema: An Interview with Xiu-Min Li, M.D.” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/traditional-chinese-medicine-and-eczema/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Gottfried, Sara “Is the Autoimmune Protocol Necessary?” Sara Gottfried MD, https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/is-the-autoimmune-protocol-necessary/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“The Three Doshas: The Keys to Your Individual Nature.” Eat Taste Heal, http://www.eattasteheal.com/ayurveda101/eth_bodytypes.htm. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“Yoga for Skin Diseases”, Yoga India, http://yoga-india.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Yoga-for-Skin-Diseases-Anna-Mayer.pdf. Accessed 14 May 2018.

 

Note: Some of the above links are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one and purchase an item, I will receive a small affiliate commission (at no cost to you).

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eczema, food and nutrition, sugar

skin deep it’s not so sweet: all about sugar

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[For background context: I am currently still interning with EChO-Eradicate Childhood Obesity Foundation, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching sugars].

Ask anyone- I love sweets. I’m pretty indiscriminate about what types (though I tend to prefer baked goods to pure candy). At either rate, one thing I have worried about over the years (and not necessarily due to any scientific reasoning) was that my previously very high sugar consumption as a child/teen had somehow contributed to my global body eczema flares now (despite not eating as much sugar these days). This has led me to be particularly interested in researching more about sugar, and it’s potential links with eczema.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty about sugar. The term sugar, much like the term bacteria, often gets a bad rep. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate (the others being polysaccharides and oligosaccharides), that is best defined as either monosaccharides or disaccharides (‘saccharide’ means ‘sugar’). Monosaccharides include simple sugars like glucose (dextrose), fructose (levulose), and galactose. Disaccharides includes sucrose (or what we know as table sugar) which is made of glucose and fructose, maltose (a sugar from grains made of 2 glucose molecules), and lactose (a sugar from milk and made of glucose and galactose). You may have heard fructose (the sugar that makes fruit sweet) getting a bad rap, and that’s because the way the brain processes fructose versus glucose differs. Studies done on rats show that when glucose was consumed, a “satiety” response eventually kicks in because glucose triggers the hormone insulin to be released, but when fructose was consumed, there wasn’t enough of an insulin response to cause the same feeling of satiation. What does this mean globally? Well, consuming fructose sugars may take longer for you to feel full or done eating, and so as a result you are more likely to eat/consume more of whatever food/drink it’s in before you feel done. But why are fruits okay to consume (in moderation)? Because they are packaged naturally with fiber and other nutrients and are not just added fructose (think like how many products, like sodas, often have/had high fructose corn syrup, or extra fructose in them but no fiber or other healthier aspects to balance them out).

It is also worth noting about polyols. Some sources consider this to be a type of sugar (such as the World Sugar Research Organization), while others say it is not a sugar, but it is a carbohydrate (Polyols Organization). Polyols can sometimes be called ‘sugar alcohols’ because their structure looks somewhat like a sugar molecule and somewhat like an alcohol molecule. Polyols include: erythritol, hydrogenated starch, hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. They are seen as a new alternative to sugar because they don’t spike blood glucose levels, and they generally have fewer calories per gram. Currently the warning with them is that they may make still be addictive and cause people to consume larger quantities of foods that contain them and/or start to dislike products that don’t have them. The adverse side effect listed by the FDA of excess consumption of polyols is usually related to digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc). Anyway…

The function of sugar in our bodies is to produce energy. When we eat carbohydrates our body breaks it down into glucose and uses those molecules to do important functions like activating our muscles. However, the rates at which sugar affects our blood sugar levels varies. Simple carbohydrates (like sucrose, or table sugar) increases our blood glucose levels quickly, while complex carbs (whole grains, beans, etc) affect blood glucose levels more slowly. In this case we have another example of how slow and steady wins the health race- fast blood glucose level spikes means insulin is released quickly (insulin is used to help cells take in glucose), as a result, you’ll want more sugar again more quickly after eating a blood glucose spiking diet and also, diseases like diabetes and heart disease are related to blood glucose level spikes.

So why are some sugars considered worse than others? The term “added sugars” is a more recent addition to our nutrition world vocabulary and is used to talk about when products include sugars that are not naturally in food (such as when we add a table sugar to the cake batter we are making for a birthday). For example as mentioned before, fruits contain the sugar fructose, but it is considered a natural sugar because one, it is naturally created by the fruit, and two, because it is packaged in the fruit with a balance of fiber and other micronutrients. The problem is that a lot of our processed foods have more added sugar than we think, and dietary guidelines about how much sugar we should maximally eat in a day are being exceeded (according to the American Heart Association, women should eat no more than a total of 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and men no more than 9 teaspoons). So if you had a seasonal tall (aka a small) Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte this fall with 2% milk and no whipped cream, you consumed about 37 grams of added sugar, or 7.4 teaspoons, exceeding the max a women should have in a day and getting close to the men’s max as well, with one beverage.

But how does sugar impact skin? It affects it in a few ways: by causing inflammation, by aiding candida infections (people with eczema often have a higher risk of candida infections), via glycation, and by messing up our sleep.

When it comes to inflammation, the issue tends to be that sugar (fructose in particular) as its metabolized by the liver can cause free radicals to be made, which are known to cause inflammation. Inflammation results in cell damage, and with a condition such as eczema where your body is already in hyperdrive of attacking its own cells, increasing cell damage is the last thing you want. Interestingly enough, studies on rats have shown that strength training helps to control inflammation even with a high-fructose diet, but I’ll talk about exercise and activity in another post.

Candida albicans is a type of yeast (or fungus) that many healthy people carry orally, and can be non-pathogenic if there is not an overgrowth of it. When there is too much (or any other type of Candida yeast), the condition is called candidiasis. Though there are many reasons for why we’ve seen an increase in candida infections, some of the major culprits are increases in antibiotic use, use of topical or oral corticosteroids (or other local immune suppressors), as well as refined sugars changing our pH, and allowing for easier growth of this yeast. The problem with candidiasis is it can lead to bloodstream infections, and it can cause increased production of acetaldehyde, a chemical that breaks down DNA and impairs cellular repairs. Now it stands to say again that sugar isn’t the only cause for increased risk of candidiasis, but in tandem with taking corticosteroids and antibiotics, it doesn’t help.

Glycation (or more technically described as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs), are products created by a reaction called the Maillard/browning reaction- a reaction that occurs in normal metabolism, but if too many AGEs are made that’s when it becomes a problem because they can increase inflammation and oxidation stress in the body. Usually, AGEs are released by cooking animal-based foods at high heats, more so than by cooking fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc (unless the fruits/veggies/whole grains are made with added fats, in which case the dietary AGEs are also drastically increased). Increased AGEs can also impact collagen and elastin production (due to the oxidation effects), which would impair wound healing. So how does this relate to sugar? Well sugars such as fructose, in combination with some animal protein components heated together increases the dietary AGE production. A low dietary AGE intake, much like a low sugar diet, can help fix insulin sensitivity and improve wound healing (especially with the subsequent decrease of inflammation that occurs). But if your snack/sweet of choice are baked goods made with animal/protein-rich products and includes fructose, chances are you are upping your AGEs, therefore decreasing wound healing, increasing inflammation, and impairing insulin sensitivity.

And lastly, sleep. Simply put, if you eat a lot of sugar, your body has to spend more time trying to convert it into energy and/or store it as fat, and so if you are eating enough to have the ‘food coma’ effect at night, chances are you are slowing your body’s recuperating abilities as it spends the time trying to handle sugar, instead of focusing on general repairs (such as healing eczema rashes and cuts). When we ultimately hit the sugar crash point, our bodies produce cortisol, which results in a higher heart rate, and subsequently less good sleep. Ironically it’s a cyclical pattern. The more you lose good sleep, the more likely you may be to crave sweets!

So the takeaway? Sugar (and specifically added sugars) definitely don’t help eczema, especially when eaten in excess.

 

REFERENCES

Aubrey, Allison. “Sugar and Sleep: More Rest May Dull Your Sweet Tooth.” National Public Radio: The Salt, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/01/18/578604700/sugar-and-sleep-more-rest-may-dull-your-sweet-tooth. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.

Botezelli JD, Coope A, Ghezzi AC, Cambri LT, Moura LP, Scariot PPM, Gaspar RS, Mekary RA, Ropelle ER, Pauli JR. Strength Training Prevents Hyperinsulinemia, Insulin Resistance, and Inflammation Independent of Weight Loss in Fructose-Fed Animals. Scientific Reports. 2016 Aug 4;6(33106).

Gainze-Cirauqui ML, Nieminen MT, Novak Frazer L, Aguirre-Urizar JM, Moragues MD, Rautemaa R. Production of carcinogenic acetaldehyde by Candida albicans from patients with potentially malignant oral mucosal disorders. J Oral Pathol Med. 2013 Mar;42(3):243-249.

“Healthy Eating Tip of the Month: Does Sugar Feed Cancer?” University of Michigan, https://www.med.umich.edu/pfans/_pdf/hetm-2016/0416-sugarcancer.pdfAccessed 12 Apr 2018.

Lawson M, Jomova K, Poprac P, Kuča K, Musílek K, Valko M. Free Radical and Antioxidants in Human Disease. Nutritional Antioxidant Therapies: Treatments and Perspectives. 2018 Mar 11;283-305.

Ott C, Jacobs K, Haucke E, Santos AN, Grune T, Simm A. Role of advanced glycation end products in cellular signaling. Redox Biology. 2013 Dec 19;2():411-429.

Page KA, Chan OC, Arora J, Belfort-DeAguiar R, Dzuira J, Roehmholdt B, Cline GW, Naik S, Sinha R, Constable T, Sherwin RS. Effects of Fructose vs Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved with Appettite and Reward Pathways. JAMA. 2013 Jan 2;309(1):63-70.

Patil S, Rao, RS, Majumdar B, Anil S. Clinical Appearance of Oral Candida Infection and Therapeutic Strategies. Front. Microbiol. 2015 Dec 15.

“Sugar 101.” American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugar-101#.Ws9onWbMzowAccessed 12 Apr 2018.

“Sugar Alcohols.” FDA, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/sugar-alcohol.html. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.

Uribarri K, Woodruff S, Goodman S, Cia W, Chen X, Pyzik R, Yong A, Striker GE, Vlassara H. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practiacl Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):911-916.e12.

“Your Questions Answered.” Polyols, https://polyols.org/frequently-asked-questions/. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.