A Little Chat with Naturopath Freya Lawler
Freya is a Bachelor qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist and Natural Fertility Educator with a great passion and expertise in working with patients through their gut, skin and hormonal concerns. She is particularly passionate about the fine details of patients' health concerns, combining pathology interpretation, functional medicine testing and presenting symptoms together, to create a simplified, holistic and results-driven treatment plan, uniquely for her clients. Freya has had great success in treating a wide range of symptoms, but especially when working with acne and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Freya has also been facilitating an education and training series with the Little Company team on skin + gut health, hormones, and stress responses.
How does the health of your gut reflect in your skin?
It’s all about maintaining the right balance of good bacteria vs. bad bacteria that populate the gut, otherwise known as the microbiome, these bacteria — about 100 trillion in all, outnumber the body’s cells 10 to 1 and undertakes a vast array of duties. In addition to digesting our food, they produce vitamins, regulate our immune system and protect us against disease-causing counterparts. As well as a balanced microbiome, all aspects of the gastrointestinal tract need to be functioning well in order to maintain great skin health and importantly, great systemic health. The digestive tract which starts at the mouth and includes the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and colon must function in unison in order for all roles to be fulfilled. If one aspect of digestion is out, often another will follow - this is when skin conditions may begin to manifest. For example, many hormones are metabolised in the gut by specific bacteria (b-glucuronidase), if these bacteria are out of balance this can lead to hormone recycling which can manifest in the skin, commonly as hormonal acne. A comprehensive stool analysis can provide excellent insight into many of these digestive processes, alongside a detailed overview of your bacterial community.
We have heard to you talk so much about the importance of stomach acid for great skin health, can you elaborate?
I like to remind patients to take a step back and think about how their skin receives the nutrients it requires to thrive and understand which aspects of their body are protecting them from harmful pathogens and infection on a daily basis. It nearly always comes back to digestion and stomach acid! Healthy levels of stomach acid are required to neutralise pathogens and breakdown proteins from the food we eat. If pathogens make their way through the digestive tract and settle in, often this can manifest as a skin condition or simply increase inflammation in the skin cells due to the toxins they produce. If our stomach acid levels are sub-optimal, we are unable to breakdown proteins from the food we eat, this can further disrupt skin cell health and collagen formation (after all protein is required to produce every single cell in the body). A large percentage of acne sufferers are known to have low stomach acid, also known as ‘hypochloridria’. If you suspect this might be you, I suggest trying apple cider vinegar before meals which acts to replace and replenish your stomach acid levels. Importantly, stress can down regulate stomach acid production, vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as a deficiency of zinc and B vitamins.
Photographer Holly Osbourne - @hollyosbournelifestyle
How is your immune system and conditions such as eczema, acne and rosacea connected?
We can often forget the integral role our immune cells play in protecting our skin from developing infections and reducing inflammation. Vitamin D is our key immune surveillance nutrient, therefore when you are deficient, there is reduced potential for immune cells to arrive at a site of infection or inflammation to carry out their duties. Vitamin D receptors are located within the hair follicle of the skin, a common site of infection and inflammation. As you can imagine, if you are deficient in this key nutrient - there can be direct impacts on skin health where infections are common eg; cystic clumping acne, fungal acne, eczema and rosacea amongst others. Practising safe sun exposure is essential to boost your vitamin D levels, alternatively supplementing with Vitamin D in the cooler months may be required depending on your location.
Photographer Tasha Tylee - @tashatylee
Stress and poor skin, what’s the connection?
You can have a huge impact on reducing inflammation and promoting graceful ageing in the skin by taming your stress levels. The skin senses everything! Begin a daily meditation practice or simply ensure you are consistently taking deep belly breaths throughout your day. This alone is enough to improve your stress response and reduce inflammation within the skin follicles (there are stress receptors in your skin follicles, which if activated by chronic and ongoing stress, an inflammatory cascade is triggered within the follicle presenting as redness, dehydration, breakouts, dermatitis/eczema and the list goes on.
Why is microbiome diversity important and why is it essential for great skin health and graceful ageing?
Consuming 30+ plant food per week is associated with greater microbiome diversity. Greater diversity of microbes results in greater production of anti-inflammatory compounds which have a direct effect on skin and systemic health. To promote bacterial diversity, start by introducing a new fruit or vegetable into your diet each week, switching meat for mixed legumes once per week and getting familiar with your local farmers market for fresh, seasonal and unique vegetables. I love to keep a jar of toasted and chopped pepita, sunflower seeds and sesame on the bench and sprinkle on everything. Consider tallying up your plant foods at the end of the week to measure your progress!
Written by Freya Lawler, BHSc Naturopath and Nutritionist.
Expertise in gut, skin and hormonal health