What Does My Skin Have to Do with My Liver?

No other generation before ours has been exposed to as many man-made chemicals and toxic substances as we are. From the air we breathe to what we put on our skin, our organs of elimination are being overburdened with waste products and toxic metabolites, which render us vulnerable to all sorts of illnesses and symptoms of toxic overload. We see it on our skin in the form of acne and other skin conditions, in swollen lymph nodes or edema, in autoimmune diseases, where “leaky gut” leads to inflammation in the body, and even cancer. In order to treat things like acne or other skin conditions, we must take a holistic view of the body and support our organs of elimination in multiple ways, from prevention (eating organic and using only natural products) to support (with herbs and supplements) and treatment (with herbs and supplements, as well as practices like dry brushing).

The bad news is that the air we breathe is polluted and unhealthy, the water we drink is full of contaminants, the food we eat is processed and laced with glyphosate, our soils have been depleted of necessary minerals, we consume fear through media and experience spikes in cortisol levels, our lifestyle is sedentary, our cells lack oxygen and clean air.

The good news is the human body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms that are self-healing. A healthy body is capable of eliminating the toxic substances generated by its normal functioning and imposed on it by a modern lifestyle. However, when the production of toxic metabolites and the ingestion of toxic substances overwhelms the organs of detoxification and excretion, the body stores these substances in the connective tissues which become impeded in their important tasks of regulation and defense. The body signals that it is trying to get rid of toxins through the undesirable symptoms that we experience. The first way to aid the body is to relieve it from the burden of waste and toxic substances so that its regulatory self-healing mechanisms can function again.

Normal cells are programmed to die when they have fulfilled their task. This programmed cell death is called apoptosis and the body eliminates waste products as well as dead cells through the liver, kidney, and lymphatic system. However, when the body is overloaded, these mechanisms do not work as they should. Detoxification is a decisive step towards the restoration of the body’s regulatory mechanisms. 

The Liver

The liver fulfills many vital tasks – digestive, hormonal, etc. – and it is responsible for the proper functioning of the organism in general. It represents the body’s major detoxification system.

inactivates and removes toxic substances that have been ingested, such as food additives, harmful minerals, toxic medications, excess hormones, etc.;

extracts from the blood the residues and waste material resulting from the cellular break down, and transforms them so that they can be excreted by the intestines or kidneys;

eliminates waste products and toxic metabolites resulting from intestinal fermentation and putrefaction;

is a source of Kupffer’s cells which filter and destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and cancerous cells.

It is crucial to reduce the load of toxic metabolites and toxins accumulated in the liver tissues, and thus enhance its power of detoxification. Herbs like dandelion, yellow dock, and burdock root are supportive of this process of elimination.

The Kidneys

The kidneys have to fulfill the important task of purifying the blood from harmful substances, such as toxic medications and other chemical substances, by filtering them out of the blood and excreting them in the form of urine. In order to optimally perform this purification of the blood, the membranes of the renal filter should not be:

damaged by irritating substances;

clogged by too high a concentration of waste products in the blood, especially those chemical and synthetic substances that are not part of the biological cycle and cannot be properly filtered.

For a sufficient filtration of the blood through the kidneys, the blood pressure should not be too low nor too high, nor should the volume of the blood which passes through the kidneys in a given time, be too low. Therefore, proper hydration is important to thin the blood and lymph.

The Intestines

The intestinal tract, from the mouth to the colon, does not only have the task of digestion but also of the elimination of toxins. When we are ill, our tongue becomes coated showing that we eliminate toxins also through our mucous membranes. The digestion of our food begins in the mouth and continues in the stomach, and in the intestines. The complex molecules of our food are transformed into simple molecules that our cells can absorb.

As soon as the different phases of digestion are completed, the nutrients, such as the amino acids, sugars, fats, minerals, vitamins, etc., penetrate through the intestinal mucous membranes into the venous capillaries that transport them to the liver. After detoxification, the liver redistributes the nutrients into the bloodstream. The various chemicals, toxins, drugs, heavy metals, and excess sex hormones that were extracted, are dumped by the liver into the bile.

With the bile, these substances are transported into the small intestine and continue through the intestinal tract to exit the body in the stool. The bile, which is produced in the liver, plays an important role in the evacuation of toxins from the liver, in the digestion of fat, and in our overall health. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to proper bile production, secretion, and supplementation.

The final phase of the transformation of the alimentation and elimination of toxins through the intestinal tract takes place in the colon. Whatever can still be utilized from the alimentation, such as fiber, is broken down with the help of the intestinal microflora, and is transported to the liver for detoxification. The mucous membranes of the intestines are able to absorb nutrients and also toxins. As long as they are healthy, they act as “intelligent” filters, which means that they absorb from the bloodstream toxins to be excreted, such as heavy metals, and they let only well digested, well-prepared nutrients penetrate into the bloodstream. The insufficiently digested, large alimentary molecules and toxic residues remain in the intestines to be excreted with the fecal matter.

If the intestinal passage becomes delayed, the food that cannot be eliminated ferments and putrefies. The healthy beneficial microorganisms of the intestinal microflora may mutate into aggressive microbes that excrete toxins on their own. The constant irritation of the mucous membranes by toxic metabolites, additives, pesticides, antibiotics, medications, etc., can damage the intestinal mucosa and render it porous, which is sometimes referred to as “leaky gut”. The door becomes wide open for toxins to enter the internal humoral environment. Humoral immunity becomes impaired, which is one deeper cause for many diseases, especially chronic degenerative diseases and cancer. Proper diet, eating organically grown food, proper oral care, reducing carbohydrates and sugar, eating fermented foods full of probiotics as well as lots of fiber for prebiotics, and sufficient exercise are all important ways to support healthy digestion.

The Respiratory Tract

The respiratory tract, the lungs, and bronchi, mainly evacuate toxins in the form of carbonic gas. It may also excrete phlegm. Healthy membranes of the alveoli do not let solid waste penetrate. However, due to constant irritation by infectious microbes and other irritants, the alveoli may become porous and act as an emergency exit for toxins that the liver, kidneys, and the intestinal tract did not succeed in eliminating. These substances are transported by the bloodstream towards the lungs and bronchi, they squeeze through the alveoli and we cough them up as phlegm. This phlegm not only consists of microbes and the products of their activity but also of waste resulting from insufficient digestion and excretion. Supporting your lungs includes deep belly breathing, exercise, lessening the inhalation of toxins, installing air purifiers and humidifiers when the air gets very dry.

The Skin

If the liver, kidneys, and lungs do not fulfill their tasks of elimination successfully, the body needs help from the skin. The skin is the largest organ of protection and defense. It is also a sensory organ. It serves for thermo-regulation, secretion, and excretion. The skin plays an important role in the elimination of toxins and can assist the kidneys in their work.

It evacuates the waste products that are classified as crystals. They are soluble in liquids and are evacuated in the form of sweat through the sweat glands. Crystals are the residues of the metabolism of food rich in protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and cereals. Uric acid and urea are part of the group of crystals.

These may also result from an excess of refined sugar or very acidic food. Other types of waste products and toxins are excreted in the form of acne, eczema, psoriasis, hives, and other skin afflictions.  

It is easy to forget that what we put on our skin or what comes into contact with our skin is literally being absorbed into our bodies. And our body has to process all of those toxins. Many chemicals from perfumes, lotions, soaps, detergents, deodorants and other personal care products can wreak havoc on the skin as well as the endocrine system by mimicking certain hormones. So take a look at what you are using in your environment and try to stop or reduce what you are using, or switch to a natural less toxic version.

Keep the skin healthy by drinking lots of water,  use a humidifier for dryer/colder temperatures, switch to natural lotions with less chemical ingredients, dry brush the skin to help get rid of excess skin, provide the skin with antioxidants to support and protect healthy skin such as vitamins  E, selenium and zinc. In order to balance hormonal changes which may also affect the skin, try herbs like Nettle, Red Clover, Vitex and Oatstraw.

The Lymphatic System

Last, but not least, the lymph system plays a crucial part in detoxification and defense. About two liters of lymph fluid circulates in our lymphatic vessels that cover the body from the tips of the toes to the top of the head. These two liters are formed continually from the interstitial fluid that is the extracellular fluid surrounding each one of our body cells.

This extracellular fluid penetrates the membrane of the capillaries (the thinnest vessels), to keep the volume of lymph fluid constant and to allow the waste products to leave the cells and be carried away to the venous bloodstream and evacuated. The capillaries of the lymph and the capillaries of the venous blood work together, and one compensates for the deficiencies of the other.

The network of lymphatic capillaries leads to bigger lymphatic vessels and finally to the lymphatic glands. They are placed in groups all along the lymphatic ways. Their tasks are manifold, but always aiming at the defense of the body and purification of the body fluids to maintain its proper functioning. These lymphatic glands are stations where infectious agents are filtered and lymphocytes are produced.

Other sites of lymphocyte production are the spleen, the thymus, etc. If infectious agents intrude into the body, the production of white blood cells increases rapidly and proportionally to the intensity of the aggression. The lymph nodes that are closest to the site react first: they swell, get warm, and hurt. If the production of lymphocytes is insufficient, the body’s defense against invaders and against cancer and other immune disorders will be impaired.

If the work of the lymph nodes is insufficient, the filtering, the degradation, and the transport of the waste products will be impeded and the bodily environment will be more and more overwhelmed with toxic metabolites and toxins. For all of these reasons, every effort has to be made to support the lymph system. 

Dry brushing, exercise, massage, proper nutrition, and good sleep are all important for the lymphatic system. However, as you have seen, no one system works in isolation. By burdening one, you also burden the other systems and by helping one, you also help the others. So, if you are struggling with acne, for example, try a holistic approach to clearing your skin. From exercise, to food, to water, to stress-reduction, to proper sleep, to herbs, it all matters.

Herbs for the Skin

Even though skin problems may reflect a variety of internal conditions, some groups of herbs are especially indicated for skin conditions. Particularly the vulneraries, the alteratives, the diaphoretics, the anti-microbials and the nervines. Vulneraries promote the healing of fresh cuts and wounds and they are found in all natural habitats, due to their important uses. The most common and useful vulneraries are Aloe, Chickweed, Comfrey, Elderflower, Golden Seal, Irish Moss, Marigold Flowers, Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm, Witch Hazel and  Woundwort.

Alteratives gradually alter and correct the overtaxed bloodstream to restore healthier functioning. Alteratives include Burdock, Cleavers, Figwort, Golden Seal, Nettles, Red Clover, and Yellow Dock. Antimicrobials are used to rid the body of micro-organisms that have invaded or act on the skin. These herbs include Chickweed, Echinacea, Garlic, Eucalyptus, Myrrh, Thyme, and Wild Indigo.

A holistic approach to treating skin conditions would focus on supporting all organs of elimination and taking a proactive approach to eliminating toxins, processed foods, and foods high in sugar, minimizing stress, getting good sleep, using natural products, and eliminating antiperspirant deodorant and soaps that contain triclosan or other anti-microbial properties, having  good oral care, taking probiotics and supplements like zinc, staying sufficiently hydrated, including practices such as dry brushing, massage, or gua sha, and including herbs like dandelion, chickweed, aloe, red clover and yellow dock.

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For a list of herbs, check out our collection here.