What your skin is saying about your health

Many college students struggle with acne and skin problems, especially during times of stress and lack of proper nutrition. Josh Aguirre | Multimedia Journalist

By Emma Whitaker | Reporter

Experience with the freshman 15? Well, it is found that college students struggle with eating well in college. Away from home and high school track coaches, many students treat their body unhealthily those first months, and even years, of college.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your skin is your body’s largest organ. What goes on within your body is often paralleled in the appearance of your skin.

Dr. Elena Villanueva, a holistic doctor whose practice is in Austin, explains that your skin is one of the first platforms toxins are revealed. Villanueva has a passion for holistic healing that stemmed from her personal medical history.

“When I was in my 30’s I became very ill and normal approaches to healing were not working. The medications would help for a little while, but after a while they stopped working. So I started looking for the cause of my illness, instead of covering up symptoms with medication,” Villanueva said, “That’s actually how I ended up doing naturopathic work.”

What Villanueva and many others within this generation are voicing is the concept that food is medicine. Villanueva explains that while putting the wrong foods in your body can cause disease, putting in the right foods can heal.

Park Ridge, Ill. sophomore Lexi Lee spent six years struggling with acne that felt all-consuming. She went to her last resort: changing her diet.

“I tried so many different medications, whether topical or oral, and they would work for a little bit but my skin would flare up eventually. Acne had such a bondage of shame and insecurity over my life for such a long time and I was over it. After my freshman year I went on a two-week fast, only eating fruits and vegetables. After only like four days I saw a huge difference. Not only did I feel better, after the two weeks my skin was glowing.” Lee said.

According to Villanueva, skin health is directly related to gut health. Students do not realize that what happens in their bathroom might be a key factor in understanding their skin and gut health.

“It is important to notice if you have a lot of acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, or if you are alternating between the two, like in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, these are key signs your gut microbiome is off,” said Villanueva, “acne, eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis are other external signs that the gut is hurting.”

According to Villanueva, when one’s gut health is not proper, foods that normally would not cause reactions, start to cause reactions.

“Eating healthy is so important. But eating healthy can be different for everybody,” Villanueva said, “Diet is very bio-individual.”

Villanueva said that not everyone will do well eating the ketogenic diet, and not everyone will do well eating vegan. This is why it is important to understand your food sensitivities. By weaning yourself off certain food groups, Villanueva said you can reintroduce them into your system to test side effects.

“Because of a compromised gut, you body may start reacting to everything you eat,” Villanueva said. “The first thing a college student can do to improve gut health is buy whole foods. Decrease processed foods, and buy foods in their natural form.”

For Lee, when her gut was healed, her skin began to heal as well. “Now whenever I break out it’s usually because I eat too much grease, dairy or processed sugars,” Lee said.

People with skin conditions go and get topical medicine without thinking about the cause for the inflammation. Villanueva goes on to say that even depression and anxiety can be linked to gut health.