Vitamin A

Your Skin and it’s Inherent Healing and Renewing Capacity

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

Your Skin and it's Inherent Healing and Renewing Capacity

(PharmacistBen) Everyone wants great skin. We are bombarded daily by advertisements and marketing proclamations that claim to deliver it. The skin care industry is a 10 billion dollar business made up mostly of products containing oils and waxes, solvents, emulsifiers and chemical ingredients that allow for the creation of cosmetic commodities that modify the superficial appearance of the skin, without actually creating real changes.

Yet skin is naturally dynamic and normally regenerates itself on daily, weekly and monthly basis. It is the quintessential renewing organ and this assures a constant supply of youthful, healthy tissue. Within 4-8 weeks old skin cells have been completely replaced. This ultimately means that, with the right products and techniques, the characteristics of less than healthy skin can be transformed and your skin’s naturally beautiful, radiant and healthy appearance can be restored.

To best leverage your skin’s inherent healing and renewing capacity, we need to understand how the skin is constructed. While to the naked eye it appears like a covering that protects the inside of the body, in reality it is a complex organ that is structured in multiple sheets that can be generally classified into two major strata. The upper is referred to as the epidermis, which makes up about 10% or so of the skin, and underneath that, the remaining 90% is called the dermis. The surface of the epidermis is made up of a protective coating called the stratum corneum.

All organs of the body are composed of cells as well as the stuff that cells secrete. The skin is no different. The predominant cell type in the dermis is called the fibr-o-blast, which is responsible for producing tightening and elastic fibers, like collagen and elastin, as well as a water-trapping spongy material that gives the skin its dense and robust appearance. The cellular star of the epidermis is the keratin-o-cyte, which is the source of moisture factors, protective defensive chemicals, and a hard protein called keratin that acts as an impermeable barrier makeing up much of the ultra-thin stratum corneum protective surface. The suffix “-cyte” is derived from the Greek word for container. Scientists use this designation to refer to various types of cells. Thus a “keratin-o-cyte” is quite literally a “keratin making cell”.

Keratin is one of the natural world’s most ubiquitous proteins. In addition to being found in human hair, it comprises a large concentration of the structural components of feathers, hooves, horns and antlers. In humans, it makes up the surface of hair strands as well as finger and toenails. Via its deposition on the skin surface, it’s also responsible for much of the mechanical barrier effects of the body’s largest organ.

Keratin-o-cytes, which are generally referred to as “skin cells”, are born in the bottom layer of the skin and they gradually rise to the top, becoming more and more filled with keratin. By the time a skin cell has made it from the bottom layer to the surface, it is no longer alive but is essentially a cell remnant or a shell almost completely packed with keratin to the point where it is actually a little more than a hardened little speck of protein. At this point, it is no longer called a keratin-o-cyte. It is now known as a corneo-cyte which means “hardened cell”. The coalescence of corne-o-cytes on the cutaneous surface comprises the stratum corneum layer, the technical name for the very tippy top of the skin which is directly exposed to the environment. Stratum corneum is Latin for “hardened layer” and it gets its name from the corne-o-cytes (hard cell) that compose it.

This transformation of keratin-o-cyte into corne-o-cyte is a complicated affair. Defects in this process (known as “differentiation”) are responsible for many skin issues including acne, eczema and psoriasis. These health challenges are generally referred to as differentiation diseases because, while morphing into a corne-o-cyte, the keratin-o-cyte takes on different shapes. The movement of cells from the lower layer of the skin to the upper layer is tightly regulated. If there are any defects in the structure or chemistry of skin cells (i.e. keratin-o-cyte) this process can go awry and disease can result.

For example, if skin chemistry is somehow not proceeding correctly (usually subsequent to inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, and lack of oxygen as well as toxicity) cells may produce way too much keratin, and the end result can be little hard bumps called milea or keratosis. This type of biochemical dysfunction is also associated with acne lesions and pimples. Because all illness is cell illness, all disease is cell disease and all physical dysfunction is cell dysfunction, if you think you are dealing with milea or zits or any other skin issue, in reality you have a skin cell (keratin-o-cyte) issue.

Skin cells, like all cells, make chemicals. The production of these chemicals is dependent on fats and fatty vitamins, none of which are more important than Vitamin A, which I call Vitamin A-nabolic (anabolic = building) because it is so fundamental for the construction of biological structures, i.e. cells. While most vitamins are helpers, supporting the work of other biochemicals, Vitamin A is no mere assistant. It represents nothing less than a molecular “on- switch” for activating chemical synthesis in keratin-o-cytes, and this makes it the quintessential skin health nutrient. When it comes to addressing bumpy skin or milea, or any other skin health issue, making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin A from foods and supplementation is very important

Vitamin A deficiencies can be approached from two angles. The first angle involves the intake side of things, which means supplementing. A daily 10-20,000 i.u. dose is a good place to start. If your keratosis is really bad you may want to take 30,000 i.u. for a couple of days. Because Vitamin A and the sunshine nutrient Vitamin D act as partners, you want to be using both; make sure you’re getting some sun exposure or, if that’s not possible, supplement with Vitamin D3 (maybe 5000 IU). Keep in mind the kind of Vitamin D that our skin cells make in response to the sun is more effective than food or supplemental Vitamin D.

There’s a second approach to take when it comes to milea and the little bumps and that is to use topical Vitamin A. The best form is retinoic acid, which requires a doctor’s prescription. Retinoic acid comes in various strengths of which 0.1% is the strongest, and that’s what I’d be using for treating skin on the body. For little bumps on the more delicate skin, like on the face or underneath the eyes, or if you simply can’t handle a 0.1% strength, try one of the other strengths of retinoic acid, either a 0.05% or 0.025% strength. You can also use a gentler and more accessible Vitamin A substance called retinol which can be just as helpful and doesn’t require a prescription. However, because retinol is not as potent as retinoic acid, you’re going to need a 2.0 to 5.0 % concentration for best skin smoothing effects.

Exfoliation can also help reduce the formation of milea bumps. You can use a loofa pad or even a washcloth to unclog pores and eliminate bumps, or you can use alpha or beta hydroxy acids. Look for cleansers and toners that contain ingredients like lactic acid, glycolic acid or salicylic acid. Don’t overuse, lest the skin becomes irritated. For most folks, applying these types of products 2-4 times a week is enough to change the quality and texture of the skin and permanently eliminate milea. Applying retinol or retinoic acid after exfoliation can create a synergistic effect that can produce more significant results than you’ll get from using the two ingredients separately.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health, Skin Care

About Hormones and Hormone Problems

I had just finished a talk, and as usual, folks were milling around looking to get some questions answered. A woman named Nancy steps out of the crowd. She’s in her early 50’s with a whole slew of symptoms that I’ve heard many times before; Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and anxiety. Her moods are swinging like a cheap screen door in a winter storm and loss of libido may end her marriage. She’s carrying an extra 30 pounds of body weight, and no matter how she changes her diet, she can’t drop them.

Hormones and Hormone ProblemsShe, of course, knows it’s her hormones. At least that’s what she tells me. But when I ask her what exactly she means by hormones she really can’t come up with much of an answer. That’s because she has little understanding of what is meant by this catch-all term “hormones”, and Nancy isn’t alone. Women like Nancy come up to me after every presentation that I do. I receive letters, take phone calls, and answer texts and messages on this subject many times a week.

Modern scientific understanding of hormones is over a hundred years old, but do a random survey amongst your non-medical friends to see how many people could really explain what a hormone is and/or what it does. Probably not many, if any. How can we really understand how to address hormone related health issues without having a basic grasp of what these things are and how they work.

In order to understand hormones, we have to understand cells which are best thought of as little extraordinary animals. Each one of these creepy-crawly blobs of goo, so tiny it takes 1000 to make an inch, is studded with hundreds of thousands of sub-microscopic switches called receptors. When these switches are activated, stuff happens.

A hormone is nothing more than a chemical that activates those switches. It’s a bit more complicated in the sense that there are different hormones for different switches and because combinations of hormonal switches get activated simultaneously, but, in essence, it’s just a question of switches and chemicals, i.e. the hormones that activate them.

Because the body’s functions all result from the activities of cells, if it’s happening in the body, it’s happening because of hormones. Hormones can be thought of as messages; the very word “hormone” is Latin for: “I arouse to activity”. That means that we are healthy (or not) because of hormones. In fact, from a physical perspective, we are everything we are because of hormones. To say you have a hormone problem when you are sick is like saying you have a money problem when you’re broke. Or a mechanical problem if your car breaks down. Of course, it’s true, but it’s tautological (saying the same thing twice in different words) and not helpful for taking care of the problem.

We have two major types of hormones. One type is fast-acting and rapidly broken down. These are substances that activate quick biochemical functions such as nerve firings, muscle contractions, and various secretions in response to food or some kind of irritant. These quick acting hormones have names like “prostaglandins” and “leukotrienes,” and they live fast and die young. They allow cells to respond to their environment in a speedy fashion, and they’re quickly broken down. In the brain, these hormone chemicals are called neurotransmitters, and they’re associated with various moods and brain functions.
When most people talk about hormones and hormone problems, most of the time they are referring to the second type, more long acting hormone substances called steroids, typically the so-called male hormone testosterone and the so-called female hormone estrogen. I say “so-called” because it’s somewhat of a misunderstanding to refer to these hormones in this sex-specific fashion as both genders produce both substances. Nonetheless, despite the fact that there are dozens upon dozens of various hormone substances in the body, when women blame their hormones, they’re usually referring to estrogen; likewise, when males talk about theirs, they typically mean testosterone.

So, if you’re a guy or a gal and you want to work on your hormones (testosterone or estrogen), what can you do? Well, probably the most important step you can take to return these two steroid substances back to their appropriate levels and potency is pay attention to intake of fatty foods and fat absorption. Steroid hormones are all derived from cholesterol which is a major component of fat-dense foods like eggs and dairy and organ meats, so making sure you’re getting enough of these types of foods can be helpful. You, of course, want to make sure that you’re absorbing these substances in the intestine as well. That means after you eat your omelet, cheese, and liver, you use digestive enzymes, lecithin, and apple cider vinegar– all of which can improve the body’s ability to absorb and utilize their cholesterol content.

Nutrients can help too. Below are 13 nutritional supplements that can help improve steroid hormone health:

Probiotics – 10 billion units/multiple strains daily
Magnesium Chelate -1000-2000mg daily
B-100 Complex – 2-3 tablets daily
Vitamin C -1000-3000mg daily
Omega-3’s – 1-2 grams daily
Evening Primrose Oil – 1-2 teaspoonsful daily
Zinc Picolinate – 50mg daily
Selenium Chelate -400mcg daily
Vitamin A -20,000 iu daily
Vitamin E -400 iu daily
Vitamin D – Sunlight 5000 iu daily
Pregnenolone -100mg daily
Choline – 100-200mg daily

 

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Keratin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Keratin, the hard protein that gives hooves and horn and feathers and scales and claws their tough, solid quality is a critical component of human skin as well. In fact, the surface of human is in effect coated with a super-thin layer of the resilient and protective substance.

KeratinThe 22 square foot organ called the skin is composed of layers and skin cells are born in the bottom layer and they gradually rise to the top. Skin cells are technically called keratin-o-cytes which is the Latin term for “cells that make keratin”.
Skin cells or keratinocytes are born in the bottom layer of the skin and they gradually rise to the top becoming more and more filled with keratin. As they’re rising to the top they’re shriveling up too. Interestingly as the keratinocyte journeys upwards it produces a complex mixture of non-keratin amino acids called the Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) that act as a water attractant to help maintain skin moisture. By the time a skin cell has made it from the bottom layer to the top layer it is shrunken and filled with keratin and NMF to the point where it is not much more than a little speck of the hard protein and water trapping amino acids.

Sometimes skin cells will make way too much keratin. They’ll basically overproduce the stuff and you can little hard bumps called milea or keratosis, which is medical talk for excessive production of keratin. Excessive keratin can also clog pores and cause pimples to form.

If you have tiny little bumps on the skin, milea or keratosis, or your dealing with troublesome acne, one of the most functional ways to deal with the problem is to use topical vitamin A, especially retinoic acid (brand name Retin-A) or retinol. Even application of the mildest form of Vitamin A, retinyl palmitate can be helpful. Taking a couple 10,000 iu capsules a day is probably good idea too. You can apply apple cider vinegar or a 10 percent solution of glycolic acid directly on the skin, too. Correcting fat malabsorbtion problems with supplemental digestive enzymes, probiotics, lecithin and bile salts can help clear skin up, too.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Natural Moisture Factor for Skin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Mother Nature is nothing if not abundant. Just think of how many birds and bees and blades of grass exist in the natural world. Yet while Lady Gaia epitomizes generosity at the same time she doesn’t waste her wealth. That’s why plants grown with artificial fertilizers and pesticides produce less anti-oxidant and other medicinal and nutritional compounds than those grown organically, free of artificial growth inducing and protective chemicals. They simply don’t need to. Because they’re being protected artificially, they produce less of their own defensive molecules, which form the bulk of what we call phyto-nutrients.

Natural Moisture Factor for SkinLikewise with the skin. Under ordinary conditions, the skin, when healthy, makes its own moisturizing chemicals. Elements including fats (especially something called squalane, which is has many structural similarities to Vitamin A), fatty acids and vitamins as well as water trapping sugars and proteins form a biochemical complex scientists call the Natural Moisture Factor (NMF) which keeps water trapped in the skin. But if you use a typical standard issue moisturizing cream or lotion, which is composed of wax and oils that function to seal in moisture, the less NMF your skin will need to produce. That means, the more moisturizer you use on your skin, the less natural moisture factors your skin will need to produce and ultimately the drier your skin will be. In other words, the best way to assure yourself of needing a moisturizing product, is to use one!

The best strategy for keeping skin moist and hydrated is to make sure that you’re ingesting nutrients and raw materials that help the skin make the Natural Moisture Factor. Your diet should include plenty of fatty foods including olives, sardines, salmon and coconut oil. One of the quickest ways to create “xerodermia” (dry skin) is to go on a low-fat or fat free diet. Essential fatty acids, so-called Omega-6s and Omega-3s can help too. 10 to 20 grams of Omega-6 and 3 to 6 grams of Omega-3 are probably enough. You can get what you need with a daily dose of 6-12 capsules of a quality EFA product like Youngevity’s Ultimate EFAs or 2-3 tablespoonsful of a nutritional EFA oil such as Udo’s Blend. And don’t forget about Vitamin A. As anyone who has used Accutane (which works by suppressing Vitamin A activity) can tell you, depriving the body of this key vitamin will guarantee skin dryness. Use 20,000 international units a day. Make sure you’re getting quality protein too, especially from whey and egg both of which contain the amino acids that form a critical part of the NMF.

Topically, your best bet is to use substances that are already in the skin. These are more likely to be absorbed and utilized and at the same they are less likely to cause a suppressant effect on the NMF. Topical squalane which is typically derived from shark liver or olives is wonderful, although it may be a bit heavy for some. Vitamin A and a special form of Vitamin C with a fatty consistency can be very effective as well. Hyaluronic acid has potent water-trapping properties and can be an effective hydrating substance, and likewise for long-chain sugar molecules that are found in seaweed, aloe and noni. You can purchase dried seaweed products like Nori or Kelp or Kombu and hydrate them with some aloe or noni juice and make your own moisture restoring mask.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Skin Care and the Cosmaceutical

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The skin care business is, like many other businesses, steeped in and dependent on consumerism and marketing. Rather than having real effects, products have come to rely much more on sizzle. Many purchases are the result of nothing more than hype, and buying decisions are often functions of ignorance and advertising. The world of cosmetic products, as we know it today, was birthed in the late 19th and early 20th century. At the same time business enterprises were beginning to understand Freudian psychological theories of human motivations and buying behaviors, and how to use them to exploit and manipulate consumer minds and emotions. No business has leveraged human desires and vulnerabilities via sales and advertising more than the business of beauty. We are endlessly manipulated and contorted into spending our hard earned cash via celebrity sales pitches and the recommendations of dubious department store “advisors”.

Skin Care and the CosmaceuticalBut that all changed with the active ingredients dubbed “cosma-ceuticals” which worked as powerfully as prescriptions but were only regulated as cosmetics. The father of the cosmaceutical, Dr. Albert Kligman coined the term to distinguish inactive and superficial ingredients from those that went “…beyond mere camouflage…” and could achieve real and often long-term results. While it’s true that everything including water will inevitably alter the skin in some way, only true cosmaceuticals can provide the kind of performance most consumers expect, and are (mis-)led to believe, they’ll get when they purchase and apply their cream, lotion, toner and treatment skin care preparations and products.

The retinoids, Vitamin A molecules, were the first cosmaceutical substances and, to this day, are the most effective. These were followed by alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are low pH extracts from fruit and plant materials that can achieve dramatic anti-aging and skin re-texturing effects. Then, most recently, a class of actives called peptides which affect the structure of the skin like a “-ceutical”, but that were intended to beautify like a “cosma-“, have become all the rage. The most important and the gold standard of peptides is a substance called “Matrixyl”.

The bottom line is, if you’re looking for skin care that works, look for cosmaceuticals. While the vast majority of products that you put on your skin are ineffective and inactive, using real cosmaceutical actives will allow you to bypass the standard, “extract-from-a-melon-that-grows-of-the-coast-of-France” type ingredients that you hear about on infomercials and promoted by movie stars. Retinoids, (retinol and retinoic acid primarily) and alpha hydroxy acids are cosmaceutical elements that really work. And Vitamin C, in its fat-soluble (the proper term is “lipophilic”) format, is one of the most effective topicals you could ever use. In fact, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids, (which include glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and acetic acids), are the most important active ingredients and ones that everyone over the age 40 (or even 30) should be applying on a regular basis. I call them “The Big 3”: lipophilic Vitamin C, Vitamin A and AHAs, and they should be the core ingredients of any anti aging skin care program. And for the consumer who wants everything, consider adding in a peptide containing product, ideally one that contains proven and time-tested ingredient like Matrixyl.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Lupus is a Disease of the Immune System

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Lupus is a non-tissue specific (it can show up in many parts of the body) autoimmune disease with broad based symptoms, the most common of which is a butterfly shaped pattern of redness that appears on the face. At one time physicians used to believe it was caused by a bite from a wolf (lupus is the Latin word for “wolf). Today doctors and other medical geniuses will tell you that there is no known cause, but I’m only a simple little pharmacist so I’m going to tell you that there is. Lupus is a disease of the immune system. It represents a characteristic immune system malfunction called autoimmunity, which simply means the body’s defensive chemistry turns on itself (auto = “self”). According to the Lupus Foundation website the symptoms of lupus “mysteriously” show up. They claim that they are “devoted to solving the mystery of lupus”. Oh really? Well, perhaps they should listen to The Bright Side where we talk about the real causes of lupus and other autoimmune diseases, which is quite obviously a jacked up and malfunctioning immune system. The only mystery is what exactly is it that is causing this hyperactive and misguided immune initiation.

Lupus is a Disease of the Immune System

Drawing of the typical “butterfly rash” found in lupus. By National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Ok, good question. What is it that causes a confused defensive response? That is, a defensive response that instead of focusing its wrath on an enemy instead turns its considerable biochemical firepower on the organism that it’s supposed to be defending. Well, in order to answer that question we have to understand where in the organism the immune system is located.
The vast majority of the immune system, anywhere from 70 to 80 percent, is located in a specialized tissue of the digestive tract. It’s technically called “Gastro Intestinal Lymphoid Tissue”, or GALT, and it’s responsible for initiating all immune responses to troublesome foods that pass through the digestive tube called the intestine. The most significant GALT response involves increasing the permeability of the digestive lining thereby allowing immune cells, which live in the blood, to have access to said troublesome food.

Unfortunately this permeability of the digestive lining is a two way street. In addition to allowing immune system cells to enter into the intestine from the blood, it unfortunately also permits food particles to enter into the blood from the intestine. Big problem!

Once food particles enter into the blood, a second defensive response is then initiated within the blood. And now we really have problems! The immune system is intelligent; it learns and “remembers”. Foods have a chemical constituency and the immune cells learn to respond to and can “remember” the specific chemical constituency of a food particle. Once the offending food structure is “remembered”, the immune system will become activated by ANY similar chemical structure. In other words, it will attack any substances with that same or a similar chemical constituency. Because chemical constituencies are consistent throughout nature and biology, there are many organs and systems in the body that “look” like foods that the immune system has learned to react to. The immune system will then react to those tissues too. If, for example, the immune system learns to react to a chemical structure in hamburger particles that have entered in to the blood AND those hamburger chemical structures are similar to patterns of chemicals in the skin, the immune cells can (cross-) react to the skin, in addition to hamburger. Thus will be born an autoimmune disease of the skin perhaps psoriasis or vitiligo or scleroderma. If you’re eating soy and a defensive response is triggered, the immune system can learn to respond that troublesome legume’s chemical makeup. Soy’s chemical structure may resemble the structure of the thyroid, which can then become a victim of the immune activity that was supposed to be defending the body from soy. That’s called autoimmune disease of the thyroid, or Hashimoto’s Disease, which is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. If you eat bread or pasta and a wheat particle get into the blood, the immune system can learn to react to the chemical makeup of the wheat particle. Wheat particles may resemble the chemical structure of the intestine, and voila, autoimmune disease of the intestinal lining which is known as Celiac Disease. Sometimes learned immune reactions to food can affect connective tissue which provides structural support for everything in the body. If this occurs the disease is given the term “lupus”, which is essentially an autoimmune disease that can affect anything, including the joints, kidneys, lungs, blood and heart. In other words lupus can be a big autoimmunity mess!

If you’ve been diagnosed with lupus (or any other auto immune disease) there are NO curative medications. But that’s not a problem because immune system issues need not be medical issues. By definition, an immune health condition is a defensive (immune) response to an offending agent. An immune (and autoimmune) disease means we’re doing something that is activating the immune system. Best bet is to figure out what the heck we’re doing to activate the immune system and then STOP DOING IT! Clue: it usually involves food. Eliminate foods that cause any digestive distress. Using nutrition to build up the digestive tract is also important. Probiotics are always helpful. Glutamine powder can help rebuild the digestive lining, and polysaccharides from aloe, noni and ocean vegetation can have a wonderful soothing and supporting effect for digestive tissue. And strengthening the immune system with Vitamins E, C, and A; and minerals like selenium and zinc is a good idea for any autoimmune or immune health condition.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Asthma Epidemic

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Get ready for another epidemic! According an article posted on cnn.com the annual “September Asthma Epidemic” (their words, not mine) is coming, although the only evidence they cite are clinical studies that have shown the greatest number of hospitalization due to asthmatic attack are highest 17 days after labor day. Whether an epidemic is on the way or not may be up to conjecture, but what is not debatable is the well-documented fact that asthma is a big and getting bigger problem. From 2001 to 2010, the asthma incidence increased almost 15 percent. By 2009, asthma accounted for nearly 3,400 deaths, nearly 480,000 hospitalizations, 1.9 million emergency department visits, and 8.9 million physician office visits.

Asthma Epidemic

By BruceBlaus (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Asthma, which affects almost 13 percent of adults, and over 29 million Americans at least once in their lives is best thought as an inflammatory condition of the airways. The airways are the passageways where air, or more specifically oxygen, gets transferred into the blood. The net effect is an obstruction or a blockade of oxygen which causes the wheezing and shortness of breath, and a sense of suffocation that occurs with a asthmatic attack. The key word in the above description is inflammatory, which alludes to the microscopic blockages where inhaled oxygen from the air we breathe is transferred to the blood.

And inflammation? Well, that’s always the manifestation of a jacked-up immune system. ALWAYS! I can think of no more fundamental concept in all of physical health. Inflammation is the way a defensive (immune) response shows up; a defensive response to some kind of stressor. And a defensive/stress response means something is getting into the body or something is happening to the body that the body perceives as an attack. In order for a DEFENES-ive response to be initiated there has to be a preceding OFFENSE-ive agent; And the main routes for an offensive agent to get into the body for a defensive response to be triggered, such as those observed with an ordinary asthmatic attack, are typically through the lungs (they are breathed in) or the digestive system (they are eaten). In the case of exercise induced asthma the stress results from the need to heat and humidify large amounts of air that enter into the lungs during exercise.

So what’s an asthmatic to do? Though the medical treatments of choice are inhalers, which are usually some kind of steroid type drug or a nervous system agent that dumbs down respiratory responsiveness or suppresses immunity. Pharmacological intervention is not without toxicity or side effects. The questions for asthmatics are: Do you really want to suppress the immune system that is so essential for protecting the body from the environment assaults, animate and inanimate Or, do you really want to dial down your nervous system that distributes the electrical energy that runs our bodies and brains?

In my opinion the best way to deal with asthma is to take a healthy, natural and multi-pronged approach. In the case of asthmatic attacks that are directly caused by something you’re eating, obviously you want to eliminate those kinds of foods. Dairy and grains are likely suspects. Sometimes legumes, including peanuts and soy, can be problematic. Even vegetables can induce an asthmatic attack in those who are predisposed. Be especially careful of the nightshades which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers.

In addition to avoiding foods that can trigger asthmatic attacks it’s important to reduce the load on the immune system, from non-triggering substances that simply burden the immune system without directly causing respiratory symptoms. If there are predisposing immune loads(mostly problem foods), these can contribute to the signs of inhalation asthma albeit without directly causing asthmatic symptomology. Even if it doesn’t seem like there is a connection between foods and asthmatic symptoms, foods can still PREDISPOSE even if they don’t immediately CAUSE an asthmatic attack. This is kind of tricky, because the connection between predisposing factors that weaken the immune system or burden the immune AND immediate triggers might not be obvious. You might think your asthmatic symptoms are the result of exposure to pollen, not realizing that the pollen is merely the trigger and the cause is really an overburdened immune system that is struggling to keep up with food allergens or toxins that are getting into the body on a regular basis, even if they are not causing immediate symptoms or problems. I call it the “straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back” effect where the inhaled substance is not the actual cause but merely the “straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back”. What’s worse, if you have an immune system that is burning through nutrients or if you are malnourished, either because you’re not absorbing or nor getting nutrients this undernutriation can also be a contributing factor.

Look for other indicators of immune activation. Skin problems, rashes, frequent colds, autoimmune disease are all signs. If you have any of these symptoms associate with them foods and eliminate those foods. And if you don’t have any of those symptoms, then look for digestive difficulties. And really look. Bowel movement issues and gas are especially good clues. So is heart burn. If you have any of these symptoms connect them to food and eliminate those foods. This will decrease the burden on the immune system and reduce the “straw-that-breaks-the camel’s-back-effect”.

And don’t forget to add in the digestive support nutrients including probiotics, digestive enzymes with food, glutamine powder, juices of aloe vera and noni. There are also important nutrients for the lungs and blood and immune system. Magnesium is an asthmatic’s best nutritional friend. It can help relax constricted blood vessels and strengthen the immune system too; use 1000-2000mg of the glycinate form. Vitamin C is especially important for lung health. I’d be using 100-5000 mg a day. Vitamin E is also an important respiratory nutrient. Use the tocotrienol form, 400 IU daily, for best results. Vitamin E’s cousin, CoQ10 can be helpful, use the oil soluble gel-caps and take 100mg a day. And don’t forget about Vitamin D which can provide respiratory health benefits and beef up a burdened immune system. Sun exposure is always the best way to get your Vitamin D, but if you prefer to go the supplement route, take 5,000 to 10,000 IU. And always balance out your Vitamin D supplementation with Vitamin A, which can provide its own respiratory health benefits. I’d be taking 20,000 IU of Vitamin A at least 4 or 5 days a week. It’s stored in liver so missing a day or two isn’t going to hurt. Don’t forget your EFAs especially Omega-3 s from fish oil which can have wonderfully beneficial benefits for addressing the inflammation associated with asthma. Finally, in addition to supporting digestive health, probiotics can strengthen the immune system and keep it from being so sensitive and jumpy. Take 80 billion units a day and look for products that contain multiple strains of good bacteria.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Osteoporosis, Blood Sugar and Insulin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Osteoporosis is a textbook example of degenerative disease and affects nearly one out of 8 people in this country, mostly women. Degenerative disease is the leading cause of illness in this country, and a condition that affects nearly 70 percent of Americans. While awareness of the condition has increased dramatically over the last few years, which has seemed to lower the incidence of this potentially life threatening disease, it continues to escalate steadily in this country, and around the world.

Osteoporosis

By James Heilman, MD, via Wikimedia Commons

These days, even the most nutritionally obtuse person can tell you that taking calcium supplements can help strengthen the bone. More sophisticated aware nutrition minded folks may tell you about Magnesium and Vitamin D, and a so-called expert may even mention the importance of Vitamin K, zinc, and protein.
However, one of most significant keys to dealing with osteoporosis involves blood sugar and insulin, and hardly anyone ever addresses the importance of these two key health markers. Yet, in an article published in Annals of Endocrinology from December 2012, researchers bluntly remarked that “Diabetic osteoporosis (OP) is increasingly recognized as a significant co-morbidity of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2-DM)” , and further stated ”…elderly patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus are prone to develop OP. The insufficiency of insulin, the decreased insulin sensitivity….is important causes for OP in the patients with type 2 diabetes.”

Dysglycemia (a fancy way of saying messed up blood sugar) is tragic, and pervasive biochemical pathology with involvement in almost all degenerative disease. But, because blood sugar and insulin can be manipulated and controlled by our food choices, for better or worse, this is actually good news. In other words, if we change the way we eat we can change our blood sugar too!

And, as far as osteoporosis goes, it means one of the most important things you can do to keep bones from dissolving (which is essentially what osteoporosis is) is to stop eating the pasta! And the grains, and bread, and the cereal, and the fruit juice, and all the other blood sugar busting foods that form such a significant part of the Standard American Diet. And It wouldn’t hurt to throw in sugar metabolizing nutrients either. Alpha lipoic acid 200mg-400mg is a great blood sugar stabilizing supplement. Magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin A can help too. And then there are the B-Vitamins, best added to water and sipped on throughout the day.

Of course there’s more to building bone than just controlling sugar. Even if you just want to prevent osteoporosis, in addition to calcium, there’s lots of great under-appreciated and underutilized nutritional supplements that will help build and strengthen bone. Check out my favorites below. While by no means complete, it represents a great place to start if you’re looking to start an anti-osteoporosis nutritional program.

1. Protein – especially whey and egg. Bone soup is a good way to get bone building protein too.
2. Magnesium – the glycinate form is great. Use 1200mg a day.
3. Vitamin D3 – cod liver oil and adequate sun exposure (maybe 10-15 minutes a day 3 or 4 days a week) are the best ways to get this important nutrient.
4. Vitamin K2 – 5,000mcg daily. It’s a calcium magnet that helps harden bones.
5. Chromium Picolinate – helps stabilize blood sugar – 200mcg after meals.
6. B-Complex – use a powder form (Sanitas B-complex Power Blend or Youngevity’s Beyond Tangy Tangerine are both good sources) and add to water and sip all day.
7. Essential Fatty Acids – Udo’s Blend or Youngevity’s ultimate EFA caps are both good sources.
8. Vitamin C – Bones are 30% collagen, and you can’t make collagen without Vitamin C.-Take 5,000 to 10,000 mg a day.
9. Silica – Abkit Liquid Silica Gel is a good source, take maybe 1-2 tablespoons a day.
10. Hyaluronic acid capsules – 100 to 200mg a day. Your nails and hair will benefit too!
11. MSM (Sulfur) – 1000 mg a day. Extra benefit: it’s great for liver detox.
12. Vitamin A – Take 20,000 i.u daily. I call it Vitamin Anabolic. Important for building bone tissue and protein utilization. Take it with fatty foods or meals.
13. Zinc Picolinate 50mg a day – works synergistically with Vitamin A. It’s the anabolic mineral.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Vitamin A Part 2

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Athletes take note:  Vitamin A can improve performance and provide tremendous benefits because it helps increase protein synthesis from muscle cells.  This means Vitamin A is one of the most important nutritional supplements for weight lifters and body builder and anyone interested in improving athletic performance.  And you don’t have to be pumping iron or running a marathon to benefit; the increased protein synthesis cans also improve vitality and energy and day to day strength for sedentary couch potatoes too.

Vitamin A Part 2

By Martin Doege (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most well-known role for vitamin A involves vision.  Some of the Vitamin A you ingest ends up in your eyes where it acts to turn light into our reality (!).  In other words, if you think see the world through rose colored glasses think again.  You actually observe the world through lenses made up of (partially, at least) of Vitamin A! From a historical perspective, the most significant sign of a lack of Vitamin A was night blindness, which can which can ultimately result in total blindness.  This was noted as early as 3500 years ago by ancient Chinese and Egyptian physicians used Vitamin A-rich fish liver oil as a treatment and cure.  The health of the cornea also depends on Vitamin A and deficiencies can lead to swelling, inflammation and ultimately ulceration and blindness.

It’s also important for the immune system.  While most people think of Vitamin Cwhen it comes to warding off colds and supporting the body’s defenses, as it turns out Vitamin A plays even more significant anti-pathogenic, anti-toxin role.  In addition to having an enhancing effect on specific antibodies, the workhorses of immunity, Vitamin A upregulates the body’s non-specific, general resistance to infection.  Dr. Robert Atkins, of Atkins Diet fame recommended taking extremely high doses (up 100,000 i.u., 50 times RDA) to be taken (along with Vitamin C and Zinc) at the first sign of a cold.

Finally, no discussion on Vitamin A would be complete without mentioning its non-essential cosmetic properties.  Topical Vitamin A is one of the most important and powerful anti-wrinkle ingredients you could every use.  The same connective tissue and protein stimulating properties you can get from eating or supplementing with Vitamin A can be targeted to the skin by directly applying the stuff.  It’s so effective at driving protein and collagen synthesis that it’s regulated by the FDA as a drug.  The brand name for this prescription Vitamin A cream as most people know is Retin-A and it contains just .01 to 1 percent retinoic acid (the most potent form of Vitamin A)  and that’s all you need to use just a few times a week to have noticeably smoother, healthier and younger looking skin.

Worldwide, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is considered a serious problem by the World Health organization.  Because of its growth stimulating properties, children are especially susceptible to the negative health impacts of VAD. According to the World Health Organization, deficiencies in Vitamin A affect nearly 250 million preschoolers; it’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and it increases the risk of disease and death from serious infections. In addition to visual problems some of the indicators of VAD include dry eyes, skin conditions including acne and dermatitis and decreased resistance to infections and chronic colds and respiratory conditions.

Luckily, while Vitamin A deficiency is relatively common in undeveloped countries, in the United States and Europe full blown deficiencies are rare. Yet, it’s safe to say, most people could benefit from extra Vitamin A taken as a nutritional supplement. This critical nutrient is important for bone and eye health, the immune and reproductive systems and it helps keep skin looking soft, supple, and blemish-free. It acts synergistically with thyroid hormone and helps the body use protein and iron more efficiently. If you’re deficient in Zinc or if you have problems absorbing fats, you’re probably not getting the benefits you need from this versatile and very important vitamin.

Vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk for Vitamin A deficiency which is only found in animal products. Eggs, beef organ meats and dairy are nature’s richest sources of Vitamin A and especially high concentrations are found in liver and kidney.  Non-meat eaters (as well as carnivores that want make sure they’re getting enough) may want to consider supplementation with 20,000 international units a day.  The RDA for Vitamin A is a paltry 5000 i.u., but daily doses as high as 50,000 iu have been used for short periods of time for treating acne and heavy menstrual bleeding.  In one study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 1993,la whopping 300,000 iu daily dose was used to suppress the formation of tumors in lung cancer patients.

While Vitamin A is only found in animal products, many fruits and vegetables do produce a “phyto” version of this important nutritional molecule.  It’s called beta carotene and can be obtained via dark green leafy vegetables as well as red and orange fruits veggies like cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkins and squash and sweet potatoes.  Kale and turnip greens are particularly good source of beta carotene which is essentially 2 molecular chunks of Vitamin A stuck together to form what can be considered pre-vitamin A.   Beta carotene conversion to Vitamin A requires enzymes and effective biochemistry and depending on the health of the individual this may or may not occur.

Last, but most certainly not least, Vitamin A absorption requires bile and that means you want your gall bladder, and hundreds of thousands of patients lose theirs every year.  Liver disease, which affects 30 percent of Americans, can mess up the body’s ability to process Vitamin A too.  Pretty much anything that impairs fat absorption, including pancreatic insufficiency, small intestine inflammation and lymphatic congestion, can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to process and utilize vitamin A from foods and even supplements. If you suspect any issues with fat malabsorbtion or you are sans gall bladder, you might want to think about taking a vitamin A supplement and eating vitamin A rich foods with fat absorption aids such as lecithin, digestive enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, bile salts, probiotics and apple cider vinegar.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

Vitamin A

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

While all nutrients play important and unique roles, in the world of nutrition one vitamin stands out like a diamond among ordinary gemstones.  In a nutritional world of betas this stuff is truly vitamin version of an alpha male.  In fact, it’s actually called Vitamin Alpha or more simply, as most people refer to it, as Vitamin A.

Actually there’s really no such thing as Vitamin A.  Instead, the term is an umbrella designation for a family of compounds called retinoids that are found through the plant and animal kingdoms.  These ubiquitous chemical structures exist in a variety of forms and perform multiple functions in a healthy biological system.The three most common forms of retinoids are called retinyl palmitate, retinol and retinoic acid.

Vitamin A Alpha
Perhaps the most important retinoid role involves the division of parent cells and the development of resultant offspring, so-called “daughter cells”. These processes, known as mitosis and differentiation are the most important of cellular events.Mitosis involves a cell splitting in two and forming a parent and an offspring.  Via this process one cell, made up of the combined female egg cell and male sperm cell (it’s called a zygote from the Greek word for combined) turns into the 100 trillion cells or so of the human body.  Obviously, the division is critical to formation of an animal body and this most fundamental of all biological phenomena is initiated and regulated by Vitamin A.

Differentiation is even more critical.  Once a cell it divides it may need to shape up, so to speak.  Daughter cells have to develop to become mature liver, muscle, bone, heart or “whatever”cells.  They have to shape up and take on a certain form.  Offspring lung cells have to mature to do the things that a parent lung cells can do and the same is true for heart cells or muscle or bone cells any other cells that divide. This maturation processes is what is called differentiation and it is a sophisticated affair that requires a tightly choreographed chemistry, and biological precision.And, much like the maturation of human being from baby to teenager to adult, the process is fraught with danger.  Anytime a system is growing and maturing and developing it reaches critical points where its survival is threatened. These tumultuous juncture points can be a matter of life or death for any system including a cell.  Fortunately nature has provided support to sustain the cell in its stressful differentiation periods…it’s called nutrition!  In fact one of the most important roles for nutrients is to assure healthy differentiation and of the entire support nutrient the most important bar none, the most powerful maturation nutrient is none other than the biochemical family known as Vitamin A.

Under conditions of vitamin A deficiency cell division is accelerated and cell differentiation is suppressed.  The net result is the production of lots of un-differentiated.,immature cells.   This can show up as various health issues ranging from to asthma to cancer to birth defects to skin conditions like psoriasis and acne all of which involve the appearance of large numbers of rapidly dividing immature cells that can muck up ordinarily organized chemistry.  In all these conditions relatively high doses of Vitamin A (we’ll get to those in a moment) can provide effective therapeutic treatment.

Vitamin A plays another important role in the biochemical play of life.  It turns on the production of meat.  Not the kind of meat you get at McDonalds, but rather the kind of meat of that makes up the mass of the body.  Technically the meat is called collagen and connective tissue and muscle protein and it gets pumped out cells called fibroblasts when commanded to do so by the alpha vitamin, Vitamin A.  Breakdowns in connective tissue are behind degenerative disease and that means Vitamin A can be used to help prevent diverse and distinct disorders including osteoporosis, heart disease, aneurysms and circulatory issues.  It can accelerate the healing of tissue after surgery or burns or wounds or other physical trauma. It can reduce the development of fine lines and wrinkle saggy skin and plain old regular aging.   And, it’s not just sick or old folks that benefit from the body building benefits Vitamin A.  Kids need it too. The most important sign of Vitamin A deficiency in children which 100 million kids worldwide is suboptimal growth and development.  Without enough Vitamin A children will stop growing and eventually die. [Vitamin A Part 2]

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

Adult Persistent Acne or APA

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

SUMMARY

  • Millions of Americans have Adult Persistent Acne
  • APA? Think adrenal and ovary/testes hormones
  • Causes as always: digestive, insulin, blood sugar, adrenal stress
  • Ovarian involvement sometimes results in cysts in the ovaries.  This condition is called Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Symptoms include obesity, blood pressure issues fertility development of body hair, loss of head hair and oily skin and blemishes
  • For all APA use nutrition, diet and lifestyle strategies, they work!

 

Think zits are for kids?  Think again!  According to The International Dermal Institute between 40 and 55 percent of the adult population age 20-40 have with low grade, persistent acne and oily skin.That means millions of unfortunate Americans and what’s even more disconcerting is the fact that dermatologists who refer to this condition as Adult Persistent Acne (APA) are, for the most part, impotent and clueless when it comes to addressing this difficult and unpleasant skin condition.  The accepted medical protocols for dealing with APA remain mired in the tired antiquated, decades-old saws of steroids and antibiotics or worse barbaric deep chemical peels using toxic substances and potential carcinogens  like croton oil, phenol or aminolevulenic acid.

Adult Persistent Acne APAWhen it comes to the biology of APA, no health condition screams adrenal and reproductive gland dysfunction louder. Both the adrenals as well as the ovaries/testes produce substances that regulate the skin oil production, pigmentation and skin cell growth that are the hallmark features of adult acne.

To put it simply and concisely, the symptoms of adult persistent acne are a classic case of hormone pathology.  And, hormone pathology is itself more often than not a reflection of digestive and blood sugar problems.

Food toxins and allergies can result in malabsorbtion of raw materials for hormone production In fact, one of the more poorly recognized causes of APA is food intolerance and digestive issues.  If you find that in addition to problem skin you have digestive health issues, including loose stools and/ or constipation, chronic heartburn bloating, gas, or simply general gastrointestinal discomfort and unpleasantness AND you’re breaking out, the chances are pretty good that you’re dealing with some kind of digestive related skin condition.  And once the digestive distress becomes long-term and chronic you’re very possible that you’ll end up dealing with adrenal stress which can then function as a secondary cause of problem skin.  This is especially likely if your facial blemishes appear as rashy and diffuse (spread out all over the face) and if they are showing up on the back or chest or other non-facial parts of the body.

Then there’s blood sugar connection to adult acne.  Elevations in insulin, the sugar controlling hormone are often involved in the development APA.   Once the blood sugar system become overwhelmed, the adrenal activity is unregulated. Many of the more common features of adult persistent acne, especially skin oiliness and hyper-pigmentation are a common sign of adrenal hormone activation.

Even more significant, the dermal distress of APA is more than merely an unsavory superficial skin condition.  The hormone pathology behind the appearance of blemishes, dark spots and oily patches can be the harbinger of much more serious health issues to come.  Because the gland chemicals that are involved in causing adult acne are largely cleared by the lymphatic system, it’s like likely the over the long haul APA can result in congestion in this significant circulatory conduit for biochemical waste.  Because the lymphatic system is charged with eliminating the acne-inducing toxic and old hormones over time congestion of lymph fluid is likely to occur.  Clogging of the lymphatic system may then manifest as immune activity and inflammation and causing even more adult acne, hyper-pigmentation and oiliness.  Ultimately lymphatic congestion can wreak even worse biochemical havoc; liver disease, heart disease and cancer are just some of the ways lymphatic congestion can show up.

As mentioned previously, the hormone issues associated APA may be related to blood sugar dysfunction.  And because of the close connection between blood sugar and female reproductive hormones, women are especially prone to blood sugar induced APA.  Over the course of years and decades of sugar abuse (the average American consumes nearly half a pound a day, far more than the human body is supposed to handling) chronic elevations in insulin are likely.  Insulin as growth inducing substance stimulates cell growth and division.  In the ovaries this rapid cell growth and division can cause cysts.  Ovarian cysts produce symptom hormones and this can be especially problematic for some women.   In fact, elevations ovarian hormones the resulting symptoms, collectively known as Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) include weight gain, hair loss and the oily skin and blemishes associated with adult persistent acne.

If you are one of the many unfortunate sufferers of APA don’t despair.  Because ultimately acne like all skin and health conditions is a biochemical/nutrient problem, there are many biochemical/nutrient strategies(as opposed to pharmaceutical) for dealing with APA. Below are my Top 17nutrients and strategies for addressing adult persistent acne:

1)    Zinc Picolinate ( 50mg a day) – best taken with 2mg of Copper chelate, important for blood sugar control as well as hormone production and balance

2)    Vitamin A (20,000 iu a day) – premier skin vitamin stabilized the growth of skin cells and sebum (skin oil) producing cells too

3)    Vitamin B5 (1000-200mg three times a day taking each dose with the entire B-complex) – key vitamin for skin oils and adrenal gland hormones

4)    Vitamin B3 (timed release 100-300 mg daily,taking each dose take with the entire B-complex) – anti-inflammatory, improves blood sugar control

5)    NAC (500-1000mg) a day – important liver support nutrient, improve hormone processing

6)    Selenium Monomethionine (600mcg a day) – detoxification of old hormone

7)    Glutamine (1000 mg a day) – general detoxification and anti-inflammatory properties

8)    MSM (2000mg a day) – detoxification, improve hormone elimination

9)    Vitamin C (5000-10,000 mg a day) – the “primal panacea”, good for everything.  Involved in hormone production as well as blood sugar chemistry

10)   Probiotics (80 billion units of multiple strains) – improves fat metabolism, detoxification and hormone processing

11)    Vitamin E (400 iu a day) – dramatic anti-inflammatory and healing properties

12)   Isolate and eliminate problem foods (dairy, grains eggs and legumes are BIG problem foods; ANY vegetable can be a trigger as well)

13)   Eat lots of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy) – improves hormone processing and detoxification.  Steam lightly if you have any thyroid issues

14)   Reduce intake of insulin spiking foods

15)   Reduce intake of ALL foods caloric intake, fasting can have a dramatic impact

16)   Slow down and deepen breathing, deep diaphragmatic breathing techniques daily to improve adrenal function

17)   Exfoliate and cleanse daily 2% salicylic acid toners and cleanser.  Keeping excess skin oils off of the face is important.  These secretions from oil glands, technically called sebum undergo chemical when they’re exposed to air that can cause inflammation and increase zittiness.  Proper and regular exfoliation will assure that potential poor clogging dead skin cells are removed off of the skin surface.

18)   Use Retinoic Acid cream or gel!!  It is by far and away the most important topical skin product you can use.   It improves all markers of skin health including hyper-pigmentation, oily skin and blemish formation.  It’ll even prevent the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

 

 

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

For Your Skin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The gold standard topical skin lightening ingredient is called Hydroquinone (HQ). It’ rally toxic stuff, but in small concentrations it can be an effective skin bleaching agent. If you really want to get some good effects you’re probably going to have to use 6 or 8 or even 10 percent strengths. If you want to know how effective this stuff is, just look at a picture of Michael Jackson after 2001 or so. From what I heard along the medical/dermatological grapevine, was that he was a using a super strong version of hydroquinone that was not available in the United States, and that’s where he got that white pasty look that was so striking. If you really want to lighten your skin you can probably get some good results with 4 or maybe 5 percent strength which a compounding pharmacist can prepare for you as long as you have you have a prescription Caution however, hydroquinone is toxic to the cells that make pigment, so-called melanocytes and you can actually permanently disable these very important skin components (the pigment that they make has anti aging and sun protection properties) in your attempt to lighten dark spots.

SkinAnother less toxic skin lightening choice is retinoic acid (RA) which is a form of Vitamin A. I like using retinoic acid because not only will it lighten dark spots in a more benign fashion than HQ, but you can also use it to improve the appearance and formation of wrinkles and sun damage. It does, however, like the higher strengths of hydroquinone, require a prescription. In my pharmacy we actually make several compounded products that feature RA that are available by prescription. One particularly effective product is a combination of hydroquinone at 8 per cent with retinoic acid at 0.05 per cent. We also add hydrocortisone to reduce some of the irritation that the hydroquinone can cause.

Then there’s a third topical skin lightener that is pretty effective and I have to say that it’s one of my favorite skin lightener. It’s effective for lightening the skin and it helps protect the skin from environmental assaults from the sun and it’s important for helping stimulate the production of anti-aging fibers like collagen. I’m talking about topical Vitamin C. And, if you use the fat soluble form of Vitamin C which is called ascorbyl palmitate you can also get some nice skin moisturizing properties as well. There’s another form of fat soluble Vitamin C that is super effective for skin lightening and it’s a great moisturizer too. It’s called ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate and it’s really nice. The only problem with this form of Vitamin C is that it’s really expensive and you do need pretty high concentrations for it to work as a skin lightener, at least 10 percent and there are not a lot of companies that can afford to put that much in their product. Then there’s a new form of Vitamin C called ethyl ascorbate. This stuff is expensive too, but you only need around 1 percent or so to get some good skin lightening.

So the best topical skin lightening ingredients are basically going to be Vitamins A and C but you have to make sure they are in the correct forms if you want effective skin lightening. Retinoic acid or retinol for Vitamin A and ethyl ascorbate or ascorbyl palmitate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate for Vitamin C. If course, hydroquinone is effective too, but its toxicity really makes it a less viable alternative than Vitamins A and C.

Then there are the other skin lightening ingredients that only have moderate effects. I’m only mentioning these because you will see them in many over-the counter products. Probably the best of these is niacin, Vitamin B3 which is a nice skin care ingredient for a lot of things, especially acne. One of the signs of niacin deficiency is skin rashes so clearly the skin is using niacin to maintain it’s health. And recently it was discovered that you can get some of these benefits by applying niacin topically. As mentioned, topical niacin has been shown to be effective for treating acne , and you may want to dissolve a niacin tablet in water and use it as an acne mist. There are several skin care lines that are featuring niacin, and if you have blotchy skin or dark spots associated with acne this is something you might want to try.

One of the best ways to lighten the skin is to use plain old alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Now most people have heard of the most famous AHA glycolic acid by now, it’s been around in the over-the-counter skin care world for over 20 years and a lot longer in the medical realm. glycolic acid is the prototype example of the AHA family of chemicals (others include citric acid, malic acid, acetic acid and lactic acid) and all of these substances have some really important, interesting and helpful roles to play in skin health. In fact I would go as far as to say that alpha hydroxy acids are among the three most important ingredients you can ever use on your skin, along with Vitamin A and Vitamin C. The literature and research that is out on these substances is absolutely overwhelming. And these are research articles that have out for decades. Medical professionals have been using glycolic Acid for 50 years. I remember when I first started out in the skin care business, I had a doctor I was working with, who loved this stuff. He had me making all kinds of glycolic acid products on a prescription basis and he swore by the stuff. Then AHA products came out as over the counter in the early 90’s and the cat was out of the bag; they basically revolutionized the skin care business. AHAs are to this day, the gold standard of active anti aging ingredients, the skin care substances that all ingredients are compared to. They basically up-regulate every single marker of skin health that you could name including improving collagen synthesis, hyaluronic acid synthesis, they improve moisture factor production helping skin stay soft and hydrated . They improve fine lines and wrinkles and they are excellent for helping remove pigmented skin.

There’s a couple of different ways you can use alpha hydroxy acids to lighten the skin. The best way is to go to an esthetician and have a skin peel done. In fact if you’re really interested in anti-aging for the skin you should find yourself a good esthetician and have regular skin peel treatments done say every 2 to 4 weeks. You can also go the slower route and get yourself a good alpha hydroxy acid product a cleanser or toner are the best and use them at home. The trick to using good alpha hydroxy acid products is you want to look for a low pH. There are a lot of these things out there, but in my experience, the acidity of most is not very satisfactory. The pH is a measurement of how acid something is and the pH scale runs from 0 to 14 where the lower numbers are acid and the higher numbers are not acid. 7 is considered neutral and skin’s normal pH is slightly acidic around 5 or 6. For an alpha hydroxy acid product to be useful for anti aging or removing pigment, it has to be lower that the skin’s normal pH. Maybe around 3 or 4. Most alpha hydroxy acid products that you buy in the department store are not going to be that low, so you probably want to go to an esthetician that you can trust to but alpha hydroxy acid products that are going to work. In any case, I like using AHA products to lighten the skin topically, because of all the extra benefits that you get. In addition to improving the tone and color of the skin alpha hydroxy acid products can soften and smooth and generally make the skin look a lot better. I personally use an AHA cleanser every day and then I do an AHA peel on my skin once every 7 to 10 days. Another benefit to using alpha hydroxy acid cleansers and toners is that they help improve the penetration of topical vitamins. The two most important topical vitamins for the skin are vitamin C and vitamin A and as we’ve said both of these are also good skin lighteners. They’re also the most effective skin vitamins for general skin health and anti-aging, and between these three ingredients, alpha hydroxy acids, vitamin A and vitamin c you have the three most important skin care ingredients you can ever use. I always tell my patients that if you are stranded on a desert island and you can only bring three ingredients with you, if you bring AHAs Vitamin A and Vitamin C, you’ll be all set!

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Treating Dry Skin From the Inside Out

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Human skin is not supposed to be dry. Yet despite this biochemical fact, billions of consumer dollars are spent every year on product that are supposed to moisturize the skin.

Treating Dry SkinAs someone who has been formulating skin care products a skin products for over 25 years, I can tell you there is no possible way a topically applied product, which is typically composed of water, oil, wax and some miscellaneous chemicals, can cause any changes in skin moisture content. Miniaturization is strictly the job of nutrients that are found in foods and supplements.

If you have dry skin, you’re better off spending your hard-earned dollars on Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin A and Vitamin C instead of topical skin care products. You’ll be helping improve your skin’s condition the way nature nature intended you to and you’ll get the additional benefits that come along with strategic nutritional supplementation.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Some Thoughts on Vitamins

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

When the subject of nutrition comes up, oftentimes the conversational spotlight gets focused on the term vitamins, which gets tossed around as an all-inclusive, catch-all term for all nutritional supplements. In the interests of accuracy, it’s important to keep in mind that the term vitamins refers only a single component of the nutritional supplement world, which includes protein, essential fats, minerals, water, fiber, and carbohydrates, and accessory nutrients like NAC and alpha lipoic acid and probiotics.

Vitamins
The word vitamin is actually a slang term for nutritional substances that are more technically called “co-enzymes”. These being biomolecules that assist enzymes in their work of making biological chemistry happen.

The body is a seething, bubbling factory of chemical reactions. Every cell in the body, of which there are many trillions is capable of producing somewhere on the order of 10 thousand to 100 thousand chemical reactions per second!! To put it in even more dramatic, (if incomprehensible) terms there are quadrillions (!) of individual chemical reactions occurring in our bodies every minute we are alive. And each one of these chemical reactions depends on the action of enzymes and, in-turn, each one of these enzymes requires the assistance of coenzymes some of which are the vitamins. Considering most of our vitamin needs are met by foods or supplementation, in other words, they are not made by the body, the stupendous importance of making sure we are giving our body generous quantities of these critical molecules through the diet and through nutritional supplements become obvious.

There are two classes of vitamins, those that dissolve in water and those that dissolve in oil, the so-called water soluble vitamins, which are the B-complex and Vitamin C and the fat soluble vitamins, D, E, A and K. The water soluble vitamins critical as they may be are easier to work with than the fat soluble vitamins. You can and should take a lot of B-complex and vitamin C, they are multi-functional and used and excreted rapidly. The best way to make sure your getting enough of the water soluble vitamins is to take generous amounts, in water all day long, i.e. by drinking them. The fat soluble vitamins, D, E, A and K are much trickier to work with. Optimal assimilation of the substances requires a healthy and well-functioning digestive system including especially the liver and gall bladder. And, because they are transported around the body in the lymphatic system if things aren’t moving well in the lymph, fatty vitamin activity may be impaired. The same is true if you have liver problems or gall bladder problems, especially if you’ve had your gall bladder removed or if you have pancreatic health issues. If this is the case, you’re going to want to take the fatty vitamins with meals that include fatty foods. Digestive enzymes can help so can apple cider vinegar and perhaps pancreatin which contains digestive enzymes. You can also use se bile salts, maybe lecithin and you might want to consider including some choline which the body can use to make lecithin.

Take home message:

Use generous amounts of the B-complex and Vitamin C throughout the day. Put them in water or some other liquid medium and drink them down slowly for best results

Take fatty vitamin D, E, A and K supplements with meals that contain some kind of fatty foods. If you are dealing with digestive health issues i.e. those that involve the stomach, small intestine, liver, gall bladder or pancreas, you can improve the absorption of these fatty vitamins by taking them with digestive enzymes, pancreatin, bile salts, apple cider vinegar, lecithin and choline.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

The Thrill of Krill Oil

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The more I learn about Krill Oil the more excited I get.  After being in the health care business for thirty much of it working directly with ingredients, I must admit to being somewhat jaded when it comes to new ingredients.

The first I heard of a new type of Omega-3 type ingredient on the market my finely honed baloney detector signaled a red alert.  Not another EFA!   How could a new EFA even work, what could really be different?  Well as it turns out it is different, very different.  And in a very good way.  First of all a quick and concise digression on the basic nature of EFAs is in order.  To be technically proper there are two EFAs and only two.  One is called linoleic acid (LA) and is known as Omega-6 and the other is called alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is usually referred to as Omega-3.  One of the really neat things about LA and ALA is that they get turned into things, lots of things, including important substances for the brain and for the heart and ultimately they serve as raw materials for mega-powerful chemicals (called “eicosanoids”) that have a role to play in almost every single physical and biochemical reaction in the body.  Two of these derivative substances which are produced via alpha linolenic acid (Omega-3) are called DHA and EPA.  Thrill of Krill OilAnd they’re very, very important, although they are not essential.  Taking a nice daily dose of DHA and EPA is probably a good idea but certainly not in lieu of ALA, which is only found in a relatively few places, seeds like flax chia and hemp being the most well known sources. Now DHA and EPA, those are typically found in sea creatures.  Until Krill, the only place to get DHA and EPA in a concentrated form was through fish oil or cod liver oil.  (Interesting fact: snake oil contains high amounts of EPA and the old exaggerated claims that have it given it it’s pejorative idiomatic meaning probably derive from hyperbolic claims made for what is in actuality nothing more than a good nutritional supplement).  And, because of the inherent instability of these molecules, fish oil wasn’t stable of nutritional supplements.  There are lots of horror stories of fish oil and cod liver oil samples with elevated levels of free radicals  an indication of rancidity, an oil gone bad.

Enter Krill OI.   As it turns out, these tiny crustaceans have figured out a way to maximize the biochemical properties of DHA and EPA.  It seems like they attach a little molecule called a phospholipid to the DHA/EPA complex and thereby render it somewhat water soluble.  And that makes the DHA and EPA from Krill Oil super effective.  It allows it to partition into both the fatty tissue of the body as well as the watery fluids.  This basically turns the EPA into a biochemical switch hitter.  Just like a baseball player that can hit both right handed and left handed, this DHA/EPA-phospholipid complex that nature has given the lowly Krill makes these important nutritional fats super-versatile.  It means that when you’re taking Krill Oil not only are you getting highly significant fatty acids with their own nutritional benefits; you’re also getting phospholipids which are important for the health and longevity of every single one of the 100 trillion cells in the body and are especially health of the nerve and brain cells and the digestive system.

And there’s more too.  Krill oil contains high amounts of molecules called carotenoids (one called astaxanthin has been recently touted by the Mike Adams the Health Ranger for its skin protecting and anti-sunburn properties) derived from the copious amounts of algae that the tiny crustaceans devour.  These carotenoids not only add to the nutritional benefits of the Krill Oil by supporting skin health, the eyes and cardiac health are beneficiaries too.  And, the astaxanthin provides the Krill Oil with it’s most important property.  It acts to protect the inherently unstable fatty acids helping keep the EPA and DHA more stable for a longer period of time than fish-based oils.  Add to all these features the fact that Krill contains Vitamins E, A and D and you have yourself one amazing nutritional supplement.

The most striking health benefits of Krill Oil involve anti-inflammation.  Omega 3s in general have anti inflammatory properties, but it seems that all of the unusual biochemical compounds found in Krill give this stuff some extra powerful anti inflammatory effects.  A recent study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that just a 300mg daily dose of Krill Oil  “significantly inhibits inflammation and reduces arthritic symptoms within a short treatment period of 7 and 14 days”.  It’s seems to be especially effective on arthritis pain  And, Krill Oil also has powerful affects on blood fats and sugar.  A number of studies have demonstrated effectiveness on raising HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and on reducing blood sugar levels.  And, most notably, it’s was shown in a study published in the August 2003 edition of Alternative Medicine review to be effective in reducing physical and emotional symptoms associated with PMS.

So, if you’re using fish oil capsule now, you might want to consider adding in or even replacing your dose entirely with Krill Oil.  The biochemistry is certainly compelling and the literature is there to support it.   The only company making Krill Oil is Neptune Technologies out of Canada, so any brand you get is going to be pretty much the same stuff.  Look for the cheapest but never at the expense of freshness. 

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health