Go to most dermatologists for acne problems, and most of the time, your diet will not even be addressed. However, the evidence is growing to suggest that what you ingest does indeed affect acne severity. In clinical practice, I have seen dramatic changes in patients’ skin by eliminating certain foods, improving diet, and correcting nutritional deficiencies.
Particular culprits, other than processed foods, appear to be milk and sugar. Since cow’s milk is designed to stimulate growth in newborn cows, it is high in anabolic steroids and growth factors which increase the production of androgens (like testosterone), which in turn stimulate acne growth. Sugar also has an effect on androgen production, although indirectly. It stimulates the production of insulin and insulin-like growth factor, which in turn also promote the production of acne-stimulating androgens. This applies not only to plain sugar, but to foods that convert easily to sugar when eaten (high glycemic index), such as white breads and rice, as well as sugary fruits such as bananas.
If you find yourself struggling with acne-prone skin, consider having a closer look at your diet to see if the common culprits, milk and sugar, abound.
We will soon be heading back into the cold and flu season in Canada, which usually begins around November and ends in April. While limiting exposure to the viruses associated with these respiratory tract infections is indeed important, making sure that your immune system is in top shape to quickly and effectively clear any infectious microbes it encounters is the best way to prevent a full-blown illness. If you tend to get sick frequently during the winter months, now is a good time to make sure that your immune system is working at its best. Vitamin D3 is one of your key tools for helping you fight off these microbes.
Vitamin D exists in our body in an inactive form, and it only transforms into its active, vitamin D3 form if our skin is exposed to sunlight. Needless to say, this is difficult to do in the winter, and most Canadians are deficient in vitamin D3 unless they supplement with the active form throughout the fall and winter months. Vitamin D3 has been shown to activate the innate immune response and leads to the production of antimicrobial peptides (called cathelicidin and defensins) which help fight off viruses and secondary bacterial infections. Adequate vitamin D3 levels have been associated with a decreased risk of influenza and other respiratory tract infections. One study even showed that this decreased risk is passed on from pregnant mothers to their children for their first year of life.
One way to check if you have enough vitamin D is through a blood test, serum 25(OH)D. While levels above 50nmol/l are generally considered sufficient, many experts in the field believe that levels of 100nmol/l or higher are more optimal. Studies so far have shown that those who were most deficient prior to vitamin D3 supplementation gained the most anti-viral protective effects. Darker skinned individuals, who tend to produce less active vitamin D3 when exposed to the sun, are especially prone to being deficient during the winter months.
Although vitamin D3 status plays a powerful role in immunity, it is far from the only variable affecting our defenses against colds and flus. Naturopathic doctors have many other preventative treatments available, and can individualize your treatment protocol based on your health status, unique susceptibilities, current medications, diet, and lifestyle.
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If you’ve thought you were “addicted” to sugar, you very well might be. In fact, sugar has been shown to have effects on the brain that are very similar to some addictive drugs, triggering the release of the brain’s pain-killing opioids and of the reward neurotransmitter, dopamine! This means that our bodies accommodate to a certain dose and eventually require a higher amount to get the same “high”. Did you know that the average adult consumes 10-14 tsp of sugar a day?
A diet high in sugar leads to diabetes and obesity, depresses the immune system, feeds cancer cells, and can cause neurological damage, cardiovascular disease, and behavioural problems. Sweeteners are masked under many names, most ending in –ose. Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, Splenda, or NutraSweet, can actually cause more weight gain than regular sugar because they alter the hormones in the body that govern hunger and blood sugar control, leading to more cravings. Some have even been shown to cause neurological damage, cancer, and seizures. The solution? Use natural sweeteners in small amounts, such as date paste, raisins, honey, applesauce, or stevia, in combination with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
Many people go for decades without realizing that foods they consume on a daily basis are harming them. I’m not only talking about fast food here. I’m referring to nutritious and healthy foods, such as the boiled egg you had this morning, or the tofu you had in your vegetarian burger.
A food sensitivity is not as severe as a food allergy. Because of this, most people dismiss the idea that their symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, irritability, headaches, recurrent infections, or skin rashes could be related to the food they consume.
In response to a regular food allergy, the body produces an antibody (IgE), which causes extreme and immediate symptoms which are hard to miss. On the other hand, food sensitivities cause the production of a different type of antibody (IgG), which leads to milder symptoms which can take as long as 72 hours from the time of ingestion to be noticed.
The most common food sensitivities are to gluten, dairy, yeast, eggs, corn, and soy. If I suspect a patient has food sensitivities, I give them one of two options. The first is to follow a hypoallergenic diet for 2-3 weeks, and then systematically re-introduce the suspected foods one at a time and watch for a reaction. The other is to do a blood test which will detect the level of IgG antibodies produced in response to different foods. Your naturopathic doctor can help you decide which approach is best for you.
Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.