What is your skin telling you?!
By: Christine Forsythe RD, LD, BS Nutrition Sciences
Our skin is the largest organ in the body (yep, your skin is an organ!) Our skin can provide us with clues on what is happening on the inside of our bodies. How can that be?! Well, let me explain!
To start, we need to talk about the immune system. The immune system is made up of two parts: innate and adaptive.
Let’s start with the innate (or non – specific) immune system. You are born with this system! This is our immediate immune system and it fights any pathogens that are foreign to the body. If the body has no memory of specific harmful microbes it will mount an immune response in the body to attack that invader. If the body isn’t successful at getting rid of that invader, this is when we can get sick, or see an inflammatory response showing through the skin.
I like to think of this like the police (our immune system) that arrive at a crime scene (the pathogen in our body). They show up to protect us, but don’t have special training for certain crime scenes.
Our second line of defense is called the adaptive (or specific) immune system. At this point, if our immune system has encountered a specific pathogen before it creates a “memory” for that pathogen. The body now has a memory of how to deal with this type of pathogen when it is present inside the body. I like to think of this like special forces showing up to the crime scene and are specifically trained for that crime. However, there can sometimes be mistakes made by this system in which the body could attack itself. This is what we see occurring in autoimmune disease.
People with autoimmune disease flare ups could have noticeable side effects that show up on the skin. For example, someone with the autoimmune disease, lupus, could have a flare up that will show up on the face as a butterfly-shaped rash around the cheeks and nose.
Just like our gut, our skin contains good and bad bacteria called the skin microbiome. In order to improve skin health, it is often beneficial to focus on our immune health first because health often works from the inside out!!
Below is a picture to show you what a healthy skin – immune connection looks like:
Our skin is the first line of defense for our immune system, as our skin protects our bodies from harmful microbes and it is the physical barrier for our external environment.
It is important to be aware of potential factors that could mount an immune response and be shown through our skin:
- Environmental toxins (irritants)
- Things like cigarette smoke, alcohol and even cleaning products can suppress the immune system and alter normal activity of immune cells
- A poor diet
- UV radiation
- Inadequate consumption of proper nutrients, and also exposure to things like pesticides in food, can impair production and use of immune cells and antibodies
For people with autoimmune or chronic disease:
- Malnutrition and stress can flare up certain conditions, like autoimmune disorders, which can present in the skin —> lupus, psoriasis and rosacea to name a few
- Low sleep quality: When we sleep, our bodies recover. Without proper sleep, our immune system gets suppressed which can lower cytokine production on the skin, making it a weaker barrier and allowing pathogens to easily get in/out
The picture below shows you what happens when a harmful microbe gets through our skin and how it impacts the immune system.
All in all, our skin tells a story of our inner health. What is your skin saying?
Rachel Scheer is a Certified Nutritionist who received her degree from Baylor University in Nutrition Science and Dietetics. Rachel has her own private nutrition and counseling practice located in McKinney, Texas. Rachel has helped clients with a wide range of nutritional needs enhance their athletic performance, improve their physical and mental health, and make positive lifelong eating and exercise behavior changes.