A Naturopathic Approach to Healthy SkinSep 30, 2021 ● By Marisa Marciano
Photo credit Ponomarenko Anastasia for Shutterstock
Multiple studies have linked gastrointestinal health to skin health, particularly for inflammatory skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis, according to Frontiers in Microbiology. Both organs share functional similarities, serving as primary interfaces with the external environment and being essential to the maintenance of physiologic homeostasis. The gut and the skin are also both densely vascularized and richly innervated, having important immune and neuroendocrine roles. Additionally, the intestinal microbiota facilitates both local and cutaneous inflammatory responses. Evidence appears to demonstrate a bidirectional relationship between the skin and the gut, whereby in cases of intestinal dysbiosis and disrupted gut barrier integrity, this connection can result in a positive feedback cycle of metabolic inflammation.
Addressing inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract includes healing disturbed intestinal barriers; promoting beneficial gut microbiota and their metabolites; and identifying and avoiding food allergies and sensitivities to help reduce inflammatory immune responses, thus allowing the skin and the mucosal linings of the gastrointestinal tract to heal.
Modulation of the microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics (synbiotics) can be incredibly beneficial in the prevention and/or treatment of many inflammatory skin diseases, along with demulcent and anti-inflammatory herbs and foods which have the potential to influence both gastrointestinal and cutaneous immune defense mechanisms.
Herbs can play a vital role in supporting skin health, and multiple studies have shown positive results with either equal or superior benefits compared to conventional therapies for a variety of skin disorders when used topically or internally. Tissue healing involves the development of new circulation, followed by the laying down of new connective tissue, and medicinal herbs are notably rich in various phytochemicals with key therapeutic actions related to these processes, including controlling inflammation and oxidative stress; slowing down collagen degradation; improving microcirculation; improving tissue detoxification; and decreasing edema and improving lymphatic drainage.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine to support moisture balance and provide overall nourishment to the skin. Its leaves are rich in triterpenes (mainly asiaticoside, asiatic acid and madecassic acid) which have been shown to act upon fibroblasts to improves the synthesis and maturation of collagen and stimulate collagen remodeling, while improving microcirculation and decreasing endothelial cell damage. Both oral and topical administration of gotu kola extract have been shown to produce more rapid skin growth and a higher rate of wound healing when compared to controls in animal models.
Grapeseed (Vitis vinifera) is rich with oligomeric procyanidins which also have several key actions related to improved stabilization of connective tissues. In vitro and in vivo studies demonstrate its ability to support connective tissue by protecting collagen and elastin within the walls of the microvasculature and facilitating the formation of collagen microfibrils and collagen crosslinking.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is another herb with therapeutic properties associated with tissue healing. Known for centuries as a powerful plant antioxidant, recent research suggests it to be a Nrf2-activator, in addition to supporting microvascular development and improving circulation in the arteries, veins and capillaries.
In addition to promoting tissue healing,
supporting detoxification (liver, lymphatics and digestion) with
Nrf2-activators via herbs, collectively (referred to as alteratives or
depuratives) can also help reduce toxic burden and subsequent inflammation upon
the skin and body as a whole. There are multiple pathways by which the body
eliminates waste, and many herbs that can be of help include hepatics and
gentle laxatives which support bile flow and bowel elimination such as Oregon
grape (Berberis aquifolium) and yellow dock (Rumex crispus);
lymphatics such as cleavers (Galium aparine), echinacea and
calendula (Calendula officinalis); and nutritive and mineral-rich herbs
like stinging nettle (Urtica diocia).