Dermatology & Dietetics
Toxicity in the skin leads to conditions such as eczema, hives, rashes and acne. A few changes in the diet help to clear the skin. According to Chinese Medicine principles, skin swellings are often due to damp-heat toxins, Stomach heat, heat in the Blood, Liver heat, Qi stagnation, wind-heat, Blood deficiency and Yin deficiency. Although this is not a complete list of differential diagnostics associated with skin conditions, it represents a vast majority of cases in a typical clinical presentation at an acupuncture office. Today, I’d like to review simple recipes that benefit the skin.
For most acupuncturists, the usual do’s and don’ts apply to patient recommendations. The don’ts are the usual culprits: deep fried foods, dairy products, refined sugar, barbecue dishes, excessively hot and spicy dishes and foods that have a Fa nature. Prof. Jeffrey Pang, L.Ac. and I often review the basics of Fa foods in our online Chinese Medicine dietetics webinars for acupuncture CEU credit. Foods with a Fa nature are those that stimulate pathogenic factors and create disharmonies such as toxicity, phlegm and damp-heat. Fa foods exacerbate inflammatory conditions and have a deleterious effect on skin disorders, wound healing, allergies, tumors and cancer. Regarding wound healing, a diet filled with Fa foods may lead to scar formation.
Fa foods are relative to the patient’s differential diagnosis. Patients with heat conditions react to foods such as chives, ginger, peppers, goat meat, dog meat, rooster and barbecue items. Patients with wind conditions react to shellfish such as shrimp and crabs and also fish that do not have scales. Patients with damp conditions react to Yi Tang, Nuo Mi, Ji Niang, Mi Jiu and tropical fruits such as Mango, Lychee and Liu Lian. Patients with cold conditions should avoid cooling foods such as pear, persimmon and raw foods. Patients with Qi and Blood deficiency do well to avoid blood invigorating herbs such as chili peppers and white pepper. Patients with Qi stagnation or Stomach food stagnation issues do well to avoid potatoes and beans. Although many of the aforementioned foods can be a healthy addition to one’s diet, they take on a Fa nature if they are not properly match to the patient’s underlying constitution.
Let’s take a look at some simple food items and recipes that benefit the skin. One Chinese herbal medicine that is available in Asian supermarkets as an instant breakfast cereal is Yi Yi Ren. Simply add hot water to powdered Yi Yi Ren, stir and consume as a porridge. Yi Yi Ren is often labeled as pearl barley, coix seeds or Job’s tears in supermarkets. Yi Yi Ren drains the dampness, promotes urination, clears wind-dampness, clears heat and eliminates pus. Yi Yi Ren is slightly cold, sweet and bland. Yi Yi Ren is often added to herbal formulas for the treatment of edema, dysuria, difficult urination, urinary tract stones, diarrhea, arthritis, joint pain, muscle spasms, lung abscesses, intestinal abscesses, carbuncles, acne, vaginal yeast infections and appendicitis. Yi Yi Ren is very mild and therefore is rarely the chief herb of an herbal formula. However, as a consistent supplement to one’s diet, Yi Yi Ren exerts powerful effects on the skin. It helps to clear swellings, general inflammation and smoothes the skin. Yi Yi Ren adds a clarity and healthy luminance to the skin.
A simple snack to clear heat and toxins from the skin is made with mung beans and seaweed: Hai Zao (hijiki, sargassum), Kun Bu (kelp, Ecklonia kurome Okam.) and/or Hai Dai (kelp, konbu, kombu, Laminaria japonica Aresch.). For frequent use, Hai Zao is not recommended but rather Kun Bu and Hai Dai are better choices. Hai Zao, although more potent medicinally for thyroid disorders and swellings, may contain trace amounts of inorganic arsenic and may not be appropriate as an everyday snack. The source of the seaweed often determines if contaminants have been absorbed. Notably, all three seaweeds are also helpful in the treatment of obesity, hyperlipidemia and arteriosclerosis.
No conversation about benefitting the skin with dietetics is complete without mentioning jellyfish. Jellyfish dissolves nodules and clears heat and toxins. It can be served as a noodle and lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds for finish. Never sauté jellyfish. This will ruin its consistency and medicinal function. After purchasing jellyfish at your local Asian supermarket, simply boil it for a few minutes to cleanse and prepare it for consumption. Next, add seasonings such as soy sauce or Chinese vinegar. Jellyfish powerfully clears the skin and is an excellent choice for someone wanting to shed a few pounds of fat. Jellyfish also helps to dissolve tumors and phlegm nodules.
That brings me to a simple external application for the treatment of acne. Take powdered Qing Dai (indigo) and add either a little cucumber or bitter melon juice to form a paste. Apply externally to acne and other skin swellings and retain for no less than 20 minutes. Powdered Qing Dai tends to repel water and therefore the vegetable juices are easier to mix. Cucumber and bitter melon juices tend to help Qing Dai form a more usable paste that is easy to manage. If cucumber and bitter melon are unavailable, use Qing Dai with water. Be prepared to work the water into the Qing Dai with a whisk or brush. Warn anyone using Qing Dai that it stains clothing. I recommend wearing an old T-shirt when preparing and applying the paste. This paste is very effective and has the ability to clear deep cystic acne.
Qing Dai enters the Liver, Lung and Stomach channels and is cold and salty. Qing Dai clears heat and toxins and also cools the blood and stops bleeding. Qing Dai is commonly used in the treatment of mouth & tongue ulcers, eczema, boils, skin eruptions, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, epistaxis, coughing with blood and blood in the sputum.
Bitter melon juice is the preferred binding agent for the Qing Dai external application paste due to its powerful function but cucumber is also an excellent choice. Cucumber is naturally beneficial to the skin and clears lung & stomach heat. Bitter melon has a more potent, herbal level, medicinal effect but availability becomes an issue if one does not have access to an Asian market. Bitter melon (Ku Gua) originated in India and it powerfully clears heat and toxins. Research demonstrates that bitter melon has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory medicinal effects. Bitter melon is an excellent choice for diabetics because of its ability to lower blood sugar levels. Bitter melon is especially potent in treating acne and gum inflammation.
Learn more about dietary healing cuisine in our HealthCMi Chinese Medicine dietetics webinars for acupuncture CEU credit. Prof. Jeffrey Pang, L.Ac. and I have also published on the topic and you may want to purchase Chinese Medicine Dietetics, Volume 1 from Amazon. Volume 2 should be out within about a year. We also feature an anytime course called Chinese Medicine Dietetics #1. This course provides reading materials and can be taken at any time on any day. After reviewing the reading material, simply take the quiz and receive a certificate of completion for acupuncture continuing education credit.
The following is a sample of the course material video. On the day of the event, the course will be in high quality, full screen video for use on your computer or smart device. This clip is from a prior live Chinese Medicine dietetics webinar.
Excerpts of Course Video Content