As a practicing dermatologist of over thirty years, I recently experienced a shift that forever changed my life and the way I treat my patients. You see, I’ve battled psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis for about thirty-five years. Several years ago, I was faced with a simple question: What can I do to make my arthritis better?
There wasn’t a succinct answer to this question, but what I found profoundly enhanced my respect for the interconnectedness of the human body, mind, and skin. I dedicated myself to understanding and nourishing my gut, my gut’s microbiome, and my ability to adapt to stress. Through these practices, I not only experienced dramatic improvements in my psoriatic arthritis but noticed a glow in my skin I had never been able to achieve with traditional treatment of the skin.
It was in this moment that the importance of the skin-gut-brain connection reaffirmed itself for me. Nurturing the skin, gut, and mind as one is now integral to how I practice dermatology and live my life.
Health Starts In The Gut
Prior to the drastic measures that changed my life, I had begun taking baby steps. I was already a firm believer in organic foods, and I took probiotics and vitamins, including extra vitamin D.
While a step in the right direction, this simply wasn’t enough to stem my arthritis. So I started to read about and eliminate inflammatory foods. Controversy still exists, but I believed these to be the culprits:
- A2 casein
- Refined sugar
The most important being sugar, the king of offenders. There are a myriad of discussions, explanations, and yes, hopefully good-natured arguments regarding the status of these foods. While controversy remains, I did see marked improvement in my symptoms once I eliminated these foods from my diet.
Cultivating A Biodiverse Microbiome
I also learned about the importance of the gut microbiome and the role it plays in whole-body health. Our gut microbiome is comprised of trillions of microorganisms that have evolved to live in us and one us, helping us to digest and absorb nutrients and help our body adapt to stress. The cultivation of a healthy microbiome is critical to helping the gut and the rest of the body’s systems flourish.
To cultivate a healthy microbiome, I was drawn to prebiotics and postbiotics. Or what I like to call, “food for your gut buddies.” These nutrients act like a fertilizer for your microbiome, helping support biodiversity and richness. Here are some examples of pre- and postbiotics I included in my diet:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Green plantains
- Butyric acid
Learning How To Adapt To Stress
Parallel to the foods that I eliminated and others that I sought out, I began learning meditation, yoga, and massage. Our ability to manage our stress and possibly find some upside to it is an equally important part of the journey and helps support the resilience of our body, skin, and microbiome.
After over thirty-five years on systemic medications including almost fifteen on Enbrel, every NSAID ever produced, and 1000 mg of IV corticosteroids a day, I am off all medications. I have been for over one and a half years. There have been a few bumps in the road but minor. A concept I read some years ago is that some of us have genetic light switches, once turned on are difficult to turn off. Fortunately, there is a dimmer. We can dim the intensity of the disease by following this path.
The Missing Piece: The Skin’s Microbiome
The piece that was missing, however exquisitely ironic, was the skin’s microbiome. For years I have recommended that my patients use clothing, physical blockers, and avoid chemical sunscreens (a hot topic these days). I was always searching for products with few to no toxins but found it rather difficult. A recent editorial in The Archives of Dermatology brilliantly showcases the controversy between natural and manmade, synthesized chemicals. Many have never been proven scientifically to be harmful. I choose to reframe the question: Do they benefit or upset the microbiome? Do they have a potential to hurt our environment?
Recently on my quest for skincare that helps cultivate a healthy microbiome, I came across For The Biome. As a researcher and healing practitioner, I understand why the products feel almost magical. The components that comprise the blends are formulated from the best international sources. From algae, botanicals and mushrooms to honey and friendly probiotics and their ferments. A few of the ingredients like astaxanthin, oats and chamomile, particularly impressed me. Astaxanthin, an algae antioxidant produced in Israel in response to UV stress is vastly superior to vitamins C and E for free-radical protection. Oats in the product are not ordinary oats but sprouted and then fermented to increase bioactivity and increase microbial biodiversity. Chamomile, which is proven under magnification to improve the appearance of the skin, is certified organic and delivered in two different forms, volcanic CO2 extracted as well as fermented. These and many other ingredients, which I believe are beneficial to our skin, not only do no harm to the environment but give back to it. It is my great hope that others come to value these products as I have. I’ve never seen anything like them, and in my long career I have probably seen them all.
Written by Jorge L Crespo M.D. F.A.A.D.