I first began working with Mrs. Gray (her name has been changed for privacy) just over a year ago. She was in her early 40s, and had been experiencing extremely troublesome skin problems for about 12 years. She had seen general practitioners, dermatologists, allergists, acupuncturists and neurologists. No one had been able to help her with her health problems.
From what we could tell, there were 3 different skin problems occurring at the same time. One was diagnosed by a physician as granuloma annulare, another was rash-like, and the third was classified as localized pruritus (super itchy and uncomfortable).
As a clinical nutritionist, I begin my scavenger hunt in the gut. Health begins in the gut. Seventy percent of our immune systems are located there. No joke. So it would only make sense that if your gut isn’t healthy, neither are you.
I should probably explain how this works. As a clinical nutritionist I practice functional nutrition. Functional nutrition is the core of functional medicine and uses natural means to help people reach an improved state of wellness, and even find relief from chronic and complex conditions. Functional medicine looks for underlying imbalances in the body’s biochemistry that may be contributing to illness. By addressing underlying imbalances with natural means (diet and lifestyle changes, and by using nutrient supplements) we can positively affect the course of chronic and complex conditions. Because 70% of our immune systems are in our guts, you have to admit, it’s a pretty good place to start our scavenger hunt.
Back to Mrs. Gray and her primary concerns regarding her skin. After our in depth intake session, I put together a letter for her to take to her physician requesting a variety of lab tests that would help guide me to develop an action plan for her to reach her goals. Long story short, we identified a variety of elevated metabolic markers (high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high levels of inflammation, and high homocysteine), a wide range of environmental and food allergies, MTHFR genetic polymorphism, and digestive dysfunction.
We used her lab results to guide us in developing a customized diet, lifestyle and supplement plan based on her biochemistry. Fast-forward a year. Mrs. Gray has experienced significant improvements in her skin symptoms. We lowered her cholesterol levels by 30 points, she is no longer pre-diabetic, her homocysteine levels are now in range, and so is a marker of inflammation that had been elevated.
A year may seem like a long time. We have to keep in mind how long the issues had been occurring. They didn’t show up overnight, they aren’t going away overnight. Also, it takes about a month for skin cells to turnover. And that’s the innermost layer. Then that layer has to make it all the way up to the top to replace the old/damaged skin layers. It does take patience and persistence, commitment to the process, and the dedication to follow through with the recommendations. Mrs. Gray stayed the course, and now is enjoying the benefits of her efforts, which include symptom improvement and improved overall health and wellness.
We all know that changes in diet and lifestyle benefit blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and inflammation (an underlying cause for chronic and complex diseases). How the heck is food connected to skin? Without getting too biochemical, problems with digestion and the gut can lead to leaky gut. Leaky gut allows food particles and toxins to escape the digestive tract and make their way into the blood stream, where they trigger an immune response. This immune response can manifest in a wide variety of ways, including as skin conditions. Digestive imbalances and impaired gut health also can cause a deficiency in nutrients needed for skin health, as well as overall health. Poor gut health and dysfunction, leaky gut, and nutrient deficiency can adversely affect detoxification processes in the liver. When we have a build of up toxins that cannot be excreted through normal routes (the liver is our major detox organ), those toxins will make their way out somehow, often that somehow is through the skin, and this can cause all sorts of skin conditions.
If you too have skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis (among others), you likely have digestive and gut imbalances and dysfunction, leaky gut, and impaired detoxification capacity.
Just as we have our gut microbiome and can have leaky gut, our skin also has a microbiome, and disruption of our skin microbiome can lead to leaky skin, and to skin conditions as well. And yes, there are interventions for improving skin health too that work from the outside in. Think probiotics for your skin. A favorite product of mine for addressing the skin microbiome is Mother Dirt.
And what’s the deal with MTHFR and homocysteine? MTHFR is an enzyme that makes folic acid usable by the body. It participates in what’s called methylation, a biochemical process that acts like a switch, turning things on and off, including DNA and RNA production, histamine metabolism, and some detoxification pathways (and a lot more). Problems with histamine metabolism, and detoxification as noted above, can contribute to skin issues. Methylation also is needed to convert homocysteine into another amino acid called methionine. Methionine is important for making proteins and other important compounds in the body. Elevated homocysteine is often a sign that methylation pathways aren’t functioning properly, and it is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, leading to heart disease and stroke. People that have a MTHFR mutation are not able to properly metabolize folic acid, and also can have abnormalities in the metabolism of vitamins B12 and B6. To help keep methylation pathways functioning, taking the active form (methylated or activated form) of B vitamins is important. One of my favorite B complex products is by Thorne Research (use my referral code HCP1170732). If you have MTHFR, there are also diet and lifestyle recommendations that can help.
Here is Mrs. Gray’s first testimonial about working with me:
“Jennifer is extremely passionate and truly cares about your health. She is a thoughtful, compassionate nutritionist who digs and digs to connect the dots into whatever your health issue may be. I’ve been working with Jennifer for almost a year now and she is by far the most thoughtful nutritionist who asks questions no other doctor I’ve been to for my concerns has ever bothered to ask, and my skin issues that have plagued me for years have now cleared up!”
And a year later, here’s what Mrs. Gray had to say:
"I’ve been working with Jennifer for over a year now and my initial concerns were chronic skin issues that doctors couldn’t figure out, including general practitioners, dermatologists, allergists, acupuncturists or neurologists. Through various tests, we’ve uncovered several food allergies, including gluten sensitivity, which I would’ve never suspected could be the underlying cause. From removing those foods from my diet combined with supplements, I have seen improvement in my skin and more importantly, my levels are all now within a healthy range. My cholesterol dropped by 30 points, my blood sugars are within a normal range (instead of a high range, borderline pre-diabetic) and my general inflammation is under control. Jennifer is well informed, well researched and totally committed to my health and will stop at nothing to find a solution to what ails me."
Interested in becoming your own success story? Contact me today to get started on your journey to better health and wellness.
"Your nutritional needs are as unique as your fingerprint, and they are dictated by your individual biochemistry. As a functional and clinical nutritionist, I can help you interpret your body's nutrient needs and customize a plan to reach your health and wellness goals. This is personalized nutrition."
-Jennifer Caryn Brand, MPH, MS, CNS, Clinical Nutritionist