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5 Ways Grains Destroy Your Skin

How eliminating grains might solve all of your skin issues.

By William Davis, MD


5 Ways Grains Destroy Your SkinPhotograph By Thinkstock

Adapted from Wheat Belly Total Health 

Grains are perfect disrupters of skin health. Their prolamins trigger autoimmune skin reactions and turn antibodies against skin enzymes; their lectins fan the fires of inflammation; their proteins provoke allergies; and their amylopectins send blood sugar and insulin sky-high and provoke the skin-disrupting hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF). The whole grain package adds up to an impressive collection of skin conditions that can take a variety of forms, from simple red, itchy rashes to scaly, oily raised patches to large vesicles and even gangrene. 

More From Rodale News: 7 Surprising Reasons to Give Up Wheat

The number of skin conditions caused by grain consumption are simply too numerous to list and detail here, literally numbering in the hundreds and taking on such myriad shapes and forms. This is not to say that all skin conditions are caused by grains, but an astounding proportion of them are. 

Among the most common skin conditions attributable to grains are:

Acne
Acne is a nearly universal problem in modern teenagers—and adults. By contrast, it is virtually unknown in primitive societies. Kitavan Islanders from Papua New Guinea and Aché; hunter-gatherers from Paraguay experienced no acne when observed over a period of three years. It's believed that acne is provoked by foods that trigger insulin and the hormone IGF. All grains raise blood sugar, and thereby insulin and IGF, to high levels, so they all share the capacity to create facial havoc. Repetitive high blood sugar levels lead to repetitive high insulin and IGF, which causes progressive resistance to insulin, leading to higher levels of insulin and IGF. Round and round, it's the perfect setup for acne.

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Seborrhea
This common red rash typically occurs along the sides of the nose and on the eyebrows, chest, back, and scalp (where it is called dandruff), and it's caused by the malassezia fungus. Interestingly, the same fungus populates the skin of most humans, even if they don't have seborrhea. The relationship between grains and seborrhea is exceptionally consistent and predictable. Seborrhea is common in those who consume grain. In fact, I will go so far as to say that seborrhea, especially along both sides of the nose, is the signature skin rash of grain consumption—wheat, rye, and barley especially. 

Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an annoying and sometimes disfiguring rash that most commonly occurs on the elbows, knees, scalp, and back. Psoriasis typically takes the form of raised red plaques with a white sheen and covers a large area, though a number of other forms can occur. 

Conventional treatment usually involves steroid creams; the use of drugs typically reserved for cancer, such as methotrexate; immunosuppressive agents, such as cyclosporine; and nasty (and costly) intravenous agents like etanercept and infliximab. Treatment can go on for years, even decades, and is plagued by incomplete responses. 

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Psoriasis can be yet another form of immune reaction to fragments of gliadin and other grain prolamin proteins, with lesser responses provoked by the amylase inhibitor proteins. While psoriasis has also been associated with celiac disease, it can occur without celiac disease and can be associated with an increased likelihood of a positive (IgA) antibody to gliadin. Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) blocks vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), permitting the skin inflammation of psoriasis to emerge. 

Eczema
The term eczema is applied to a wide range of rashes that are typically red, itchy, and raised and can occur anywhere on the body. Eczematous rashes are common; one third of the world's population has experienced or will experience an episode at some time in their lives. It is an especially common problem in children, with 30 percent of preschool children and 15 to 20 percent of school kids having eczematous rashes. Eczematous rashes doubled or tripled between 1995 and 2008. Because eczematous rashes are, to some degree, driven by allergic processes, other allergic phenomena typically accompany eczema, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and sinus congestion, acid reflux, eosinophilic esophagitis (esophageal inflammation), infantile colic, and allergic enterocolitis (small intestinal and colon inflammation).

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People with celiac disease are three times more prone to eczema than people without it, while relatives of people with celiac disease (who don't have celiac disease themselves) are twice as prone. Because eczema is common outside of celiac disease, there is no shortage of wild theories that blame this chronic, annoying, and sometimes disfiguring condition on everything from dust mites to neurosis to excessive cleanliness. 

As with any condition that is common and "unexplained," we should always ask whether consumption of the seeds of grasses might be at fault. Eczema has indeed been associated with various foods, including peanuts, dairy, soy, fish, and eggs, as well as grains. Wheat, rye, and barley contain a smorgasbord of proteins that have been associated with eczema, asthma, and other forms of allergies. It remains unclear just what proportion of people with eczema can blame grains. Judging by the number of people who report relief from eczematous rashes within five to seven days of giving up wheat and/or all grains, evidence of the effect wheat has upon this condition is substantial.

Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis
This mouthful of a disease, known more commonly as mouth ulcers or canker sores, can range from a minor annoyance to a debilitating condition that's sometimes so painful that it interferes with eating and speaking. This condition is really a mixture of responses triggered by different causes, and there is an increased incidence in people with celiac disease. However, the gliadin and related proteins of grains are among the causes, and a surprising proportion of non-celiac sufferers experience relief from adopting a wheat-, rye-, and barley-free diet.

The Solution: Eliminate Grain
Most commonly, people experience relief from facial seborrhea and dandruff within the first week and from eczema and acne within the first few weeks of going grain-free. These skin developments are typically accompanied, as would be expected, by relief from acid reflux and bowel urgency, as well as enhanced absorption of nutrients and improved digestive function.

More immunologically complex skin conditions such as psoriasis or the rash of lupus can require many weeks, or even months, to respond. And again, as expected, many of the people who experience such changes notice relief from gastrointestinal complaints at the same time.

It is very common for women, in particular, to report improvements in appearance. They report that years of facial puffiness (edema) and redness (usually seborrhea) disappear, skin color improves, and they look more vital and vibrant. Such skin changes are, I believe, a big part of the reason many people look younger after grain elimination. 

Filed Under: GLUTEN FREE FOOD, GLUTEN-FREE FOOD, NUTRITION, SKIN CARE, WHEAT

Published on: August 22, 2014



More from our Authors

In the revolutionary follow up to his New York Times best-seller, Dr. William Davis is turning the health world on its ear -- again! Reclaim your health -- all of your health -- by declaring your independence from grains.
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