August 2018 Edition
It takes 17 muscles in the face for us to smile and 43 muscles to frown.
When the Skin Erupts: Healing Eczema and Psoriasis
When those painful, itchy patches of eczema and psoriasis erupt, doctors of natural medicine ask, ‘what is causing this condition to present at this time?’ The Greek translation of eczema means “to boil out,” so the question makes sense: holistic physicians look for the underlying root causes that bring about these skin eruptions. Although they create similar discomforts for the people afflicted, psoriasis and eczema are different in important ways.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that results in an overproduction of skin cells. As the dead skin cells build-up, they form thick, scaly white patches that are visible on the skin’s surface. The skin itches terribly and is inflamed.
Eczema (aka atopic dermatitis) also can be chronic, but it tends to come and go in response to certain triggers (e.g., weather changes, irritating cosmetics, or an allergic reaction). Eczema is common in infants and children, and may even go dormant for a time. Some people, however, suffer terribly throughout their lifetime. When eczema is active, skin is inflamed, dry, peeling and may blister.
From the natural medicine perspective, root causes of eczema and psoriasis include:
- Food sensitivity/ allergy
- Deficiency in one or more minerals
- Low-quality diet (high in saturated fats, processed foods, sugar, etc.)
- Poor gut health/ Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Emotional/ Mental Stress
- Exposure to toxins and/or inadequate ability to detoxify
Conventional treatment plans typically use steroids to simply manage symptoms (i.e., itching); however, there are harmful side effects, such as suppressing overall immunity, that must be considered. Natural therapies, on the other hand, work to correct the underlying imbalance that caused the body to react in the first place, offering relief without the unwanted side effects of steroid treatments. One or more of the following natural therapies may be part of an individualized holistic treatment plan:
- Dietary changes to include more nutrient dense, clean foods
- Remove foods from the diet that cause inflammation
- Nutritional supplements to restore balance or deficiency (e.g., zinc, vitamin D/ E/ A)
- Balance gut flora using probiotics and other approaches
- Increase intake of Essential Fatty Acids, which are important to skin health
- Provide support for mental/emotional stress
- Identify and minimize toxin exposure
- Support liver function, the body’s detox organ
Additionally, to temporarily soothe symptoms, holistic physicians may recommend nourishing the skin with herbal salves and essential oil baths specific to individual needs. Some common botanical ingredients are calendula, lavender, chamomile, rose, Manuka honey, tea tree, among many others.
Psoriasis and Eczema can quickly become chronic and severe and the wrong treatments can make things far worse. Consult with a holistic health practitioner to identify the appropriate therapies for you or your loved one.
Food for Thought. . .
“A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time – pills or stairs.” – Joan Welsh
Cherries on Top for Fighting Inflammation
Succulent cherries, both sweet and tart, provide wonderful health benefits. They contain the antioxidant vitamin C along with substances called anthocyanins, both of which help scavenge those pesky free radicals that cause damage to cells (known as oxidative stress). Anthocyanins, which give cherries their deep crimson color, also play a role in reducing cancer risk. Another powerful antioxidant in cherries is quercetin, which has a variety of health promoting properties.
Quercetin belongs to a family of plant compounds called flavonoid polyphenols, which help reduce inflammation. Among these compounds, quercetin is the one that demonstrates the strongest impact on immunity and inflammation at the cellular level, helping the immune system more effectively respond to cellular stress. Quercetin also helps the body put up a stronger defense against substances that promote inflammation in the skin, even in people who don’t get much relief from conventional treatments. This makes quercetin containing foods, such as cherries, other dark berries and onions, potent healing foods for skin conditions with a strong inflammatory component, such as eczema and psoriasis.
Enjoy cherries as a healthy snack or take the time to remove the seed and mix cherries into smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal. Whether you are drinking lightly sweetened cherry juice or eating dried cherries, you’ll get a similar amount of nutrients. Frozen cherries have fewer antioxidants and canned cherries have the least.
Using calendula flowers, you can make your own healing salve with this easy recipe. Beeswax acts as a preservative, giving this salve a shelf life of about six months. After that time, it will develop a rancid odor letting you know it’s shelf life has expired. Store the salve in an airtight container, in a cool dry place, away from heat or direct light, especially sunlight.
- 2 oz Calendula Flowers + 1 cup Olive Oil
- 1 oz shaved beeswax (or beeswax pastilles)
- Put the flowers and oil in a small stainless steel, glass, or ceramic pot and place a thermometer into the mixture.
- Heat to 120 degrees F and “cook” at this temp for 1 hour. Stir every 15 minutes.
- Strain the oil.
- Put the fixed oil into a stainless steel, glass, or ceramic pot; add the shaved beeswax. Warm until wax melts.
- Test consistency with a metal spoon: Dip the spoon in mixture and place into freezer for 3-5 minutes. Add either more beeswax or oil if needed to reach desired consistency.
- Put into an airtight container; allow to cool and harden completely before moving into storage.
- Label and date the salve.
Adding a few drops of Vitamin E oil will help preserve the salve, increasing its shelf-life.
If, after being in the freezer, the salve is too hard to spread easily on the skin and be absorbed, add more oil. If the salve comes out softer or too liquidy, add more beeswax. Hardness or softness of the salve is both a personal preference and relevant to the purposes intended for the final product (e.g., on rough elbows you may want a harder salve. For diaper rash, you may want a softer product).
The Power of Vitamin D
Vitamin D: not only is it powerful, it’s vital for good health. Although it’s called a vitamin, D is actually a steroid hormone that acts as a catalyst for processes that protect our cells.
Every tissue in the body needs vitamin D, yet a large percentage of the world’s population is deficient, or borderline deficient, in this critical hormone. Even a mild deficiency can contribute to chronic and autoimmune diseases such diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer (including ovarian, colon, and breast), multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis.
Nature intended for us to get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, but absorption is blocked by sunscreen. We need bare-skin sun exposure for 15-20 minutes a day; most of us don’t get that. Additionally, we don’t eat enough D-rich foods, which include egg yolk, cod liver oil, shiitake mushrooms, and wild salmon. Fortified milk/dairy is not the best source because you need several cups every day. For anyone intolerant of dairy products, this food category is off limits.
The best way to help the body establish optimal levels of vitamin D is to take a supplement.
The recommended blood level of vitamin D (above 25 nmol/L) was established to protect people from bone disease (rickets and osteomalacia). From the natural medicine perspective (and emerging scientific data), that threshold is too low to protect against serious illness or to promote optimal health. Depending on the individual, holistic physicians identify 45-90 nmol/L as the ideal vitamin D blood level for disease prevention.
Age, gender, diet, stress level, and lifestyle factors affect absorption of vitamin D. A holistic physician can order a blood test prior to starting a supplement to help ensure you take the appropriate amount and form of vitamin D. Follow-up testing tracks improvement in your levels and health conditions. Your doctor can then adjust your supplement dose accordingly.
Gentle, Effective Skin Healer: Calendula
Considered a first-aid all-star, Calendula (Calendula officinalis) bears the nickname “mother of the skin.” It’s been used for health remedies and spiritual rituals dating back to ancient Egypt and early Christianity. Boasting antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, calendula is still used to help heal skin inflamed by chafing, blisters, bites, and burns, as well as in treatment for dermatitis, eczema, wounds, and diaper rash. Calendula is found in a variety of cosmetics, as well as medicinal lotions, creams, and ointments applied to the skin to help reduce pain and swelling and encourage new tissue growth.
Medicinal Calendula has fiery red and yellow petals and is from the Marigold Asteraceae family, not to be confused with common garden marigold from the Tagetes group. In addition to topical applications, calendula flowers and leaves are used in capsules, oils, teas, and tinctures. A holistic physician can help you determine which form of calendula is best to treat specific health concerns.
There are a few precautions for using calendula: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may use calendula topically, but should not take it by mouth. Calendula may interact with other medications, resulting in drowsiness. Since it’s part of the ragweed family, people sensitive to or allergic to marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemums should not use calendula products unless under a doctor’s care. Be sure to consult with a doctor of natural medicine if any of the above situations apply to you.
Herbal Skin Salves
Before there was a pharmacy on every corner and a doctor at the other end of your cell phone, traditional healers relied upon the natural world to harvest, combine, and formulate herbal medicines to heal what ailed the people. Whether to dress a wound, heal irritation and inflammation, or soothe a baby’s rash, Mother Nature provides a plethora of flowers, fruit, seeds, leaves, bark and pulp from which to create topical remedies. Even today we see a resurgence, with an estimated 80% of people worldwide using herbal apothecaries and compounding pharmacies to provide natural remedies, among them herbal salves.
What is an Herbal Salve?
Herbal salves (or balms) are a combination of infused herbal oils combined with some type of wax, typically beeswax, which acts as a thickening agent. Salves are generally solid at room temperature. They can contain finely ground or pulverized material from a plant along with an essential oil (e.g., lavender, arnica, chamomile, rose) or Manuka Honey, depending on the reason for use. Salves work best when applied to bring relief to irritated and inflamed skin in a specific area of the body to which they are applied.
A salve is absorbed through the skin in a localized area allowing for concentrated and sometimes immediate relief. They can easily be used for everyday moisturizing of the skin, giving added protection without harmful chemical ingredients often found in cosmetic products. Additionally salves are a gentle, safe and effective first-aid treatment for skin conditions such as:
- minor wounds
- bruises, scrapes
- diaper rash
- insect bites
- poison ivy or oak
- hives, sunburn*
*A rash that cover the body or blistering sunburn should be seen by a medical professional right away.
Spend some time exploring herbal salves and enjoy the relief they can bring to your skin, day after day, season after season. Check in with your holistic doctor to get their recommendations.