About ten years ago, before my days as a chiropractor in West Hollywood, I suffered horribly from a traumatic case of dry, itchy skin. Not only did I have a desire to scratch at all moments of the day, but I also found myself in constant pain, as the dry patches started to burn after only a few minutes of scratching. It was especially bothersome around my arms, shoulders, and elbows, but I even had dry spots on my thighs and buttocks too. I am sure that many of you know exactly what I'm talking about, as you've probably experienced it yourself at some time or another, possibly around the cold winter months. Yet, it became an embarrassing situation for me because, in my mind, whenever I see somebody scratching themselves as much as I was at that time I tend to think of one of three things:
- serious meth habit or
- cooties, if you know what I mean (wink, wink).
As it turns out, I soon learned that what I was suffering from was eczema. Eczema is the one of the most common skin disorders afflicting people on a daily basis. The National Institute of Health reports that it affects nearly 15 million Americans at any given time and accounts for nearly 20% of all visits to dermatologists. Its symptoms include extremely itchy skin, redness, swelling, cracking, "weeping" clear fluid, crusting, and scaling. Basically, it sucks.
It is estimated that medical costs associated with eczema come to approximate $600-$1,200 per patient. At this time, it is unknown what actually causes the disorder, yet many theories abound. One is that it is due to environmental factors (the clothes you wear, the air you're exposed to, or the soap/makeup/hair products you use), and another that it is an autoimmune disorder. Of course, there's always the favorite genetic predisposition theory, which basically means, "Uh...we have no clue".
What we do know about eczema though, is that it responds favorably to a diet rich in essential fatty acids (EFA's). EFA's are polyunsaturated fats (the good kind) that cannot be produced by the body. A deficiency in these vital nutrients can lead to numerous disorders, one of which is eczema.
EFA's can be found abundantly in fish oils and seeds like flax seed, borage seed, and the evening primrose plant. There are two families of EFA's - the omega 3's and the omega 6's. The omega 3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are mostly found in the oils of cold water fish. These fatty acids significantly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels - even in the presence of high saturated fats (animal meats, dairy products and other tasty stuff - yum!). They also act as a natural blood thinner, which is critical for those at high risk for heart disease or those with blood clotting disorders. One could extrapolate then, that omega 3 fatty acids are a great preventative measure against the country's number one killer - heart disease.
Omega 6 fatty acids tend to be more prevalent in the typical American diet, as they are a constituent of vegetable oils, breads, grains, eggs, and poultry; stuff that we tend to eat a lot of. For the most part then, we get enough of this fatty acid in our regular diets. In fact, most people tend to get much more of these than the omega 3's, typically at a 20:1 ratio (omega 6: omega 3). Unfortunately, this is not very healthy. An unbalanced fatty acid intake of this magnitude is a very strong precursor to heart disease.
It is therefore important to balance the types of fatty acids one gets in their usual diet. Studies show that to gain the greatest benefit from EFA's, one must ingest them at a ratio of 2:1 (omega 3: omega 6). This can be done by increasing the intake of fish while lowering the intake of omega 6 containing foods. This practice is pretty difficult to do, especially if you're like me and don't really care that much for fish. A much better way to increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids is to supplement them daily with fish oils. These can be taken in liquid form or in capsules. Since I can barely stomach the taste of fish, I tend to prefer the capsules over the liquid, but the liquid form is definitely more potent since it is better absorbed by the body. Another way to receive a proper amount of omega 3 fatty acids is with flax oil. Although this seed has a lower concentration of EFA's than fish oil, it is still a decent source and is a great alternative for anyone who can't take the taste of fish. Whole flax seeds are also wonderful when ground up and added to delicious fruit smoothies. You see, even good nutrition can be fun.
As I said earlier, most people receive enough omega 6 fatty acids in their diet and therefore they usually don't need to be supplemented. There is one type of omega 6 that should be taken as a supplement though, and that's GLA. This omega 6 fatty acid is found in borage or evening primrose oil. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can therefore help prevent heart disease and other degenerative disorders. It can also help ward off the burning and inflammation of eczema.
The benefits of proper EFA intake are many and they include:
- Lowered cholesterol
- Lowered blood pressure
- Decreased risk of heart attacks and stroke
- Prevention of blood clots*
- Lowered risk associated with diabetes (not always true with the type of EFA's found in flax oil)
- Controlled blood sugar levels
- Decreased symptoms associated with arthritis
- Decreased bone loss associated with osteoporosis
- Decreased risk of depression and it helps to regulates mood swings
- Decreased risk of macular degeneration (a serious age-related eye disease that can lead to blindness)
- Decreased menstrual pain
- Decreased risk of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men
- Decreased symptoms associated with skin disorders like psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and acne
* Anyone currently on blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin) should consult first with their doctor so that they can discuss lowering the medication dosage.
As you can see, getting the right amount of EFA's is an enormous benefit to human health. People who are deficient in the omega 3's may experience depression, weight gain, allergies, violence, memory problems, inflammatory diseases, and dry skin. When I made omega 3 fatty acids a regular part of my supplementation program, my eczema miraculously disappeared.
Along with water, EFA's are nature's secret to soft, supple and pliable skin. Skin creams and facials are important too (I do both regularly), but the reality is that to have the healthiest and most radiant skin possible, you'll need to supplement with this absolutely essential nutrient every day. Along with all the other benefits it provides, you'd be crazy to not incorporate EFA's (fish oil, flax oil, and evening primrose) into your daily regimen*.
*You can purchase the highest quality EFA supplements, as well as any other vitamin you need by visiting my office or by calling West Hollywood Chiropractor, Dr. Nicolas Campos @ 323-651-2464.
-October 16, 2005