A Misunderstood Skin Condition Sweeping the Baby Boom Generation
August 01, 2009
By Dr. Mercola
Rosacea (pronounced roh-ZAY-sha) is a disorder of your facial skin. While it is similar to acne, it is distinctly different and is characterized by some or all of the following indicators:
- Redness on your cheeks, nose, forehead and/or chin
- Small but obvious blood vessels on your face
- Facial pimples
- Watery, irritated or bloodshot eyes
Rosacea is a chronic, progressive disorder which is often distinguished by flare-ups followed by remissions. The condition isn’t life threatening, but it can certainly be life altering due to its effect on your personal appearance. According to the National Rosacea Society, over 75 percent of people with rosacea feel the condition has affected their self-esteem. Many rosacea sufferers are uncomfortable in public settings and avoid social activities.
Among those with the most severe symptoms, a majority feel rosacea has adversely impacted their professional careers, and almost half of that group has missed work due to their condition.
Who Has it and Who is Most Likely to Get it?
Rosacea is seen more often in northern and eastern European countries than in the U.S. It is most common in fair-skinned people, but you can develop the condition regardless of your skin color. If you’re fair-skinned with a tendency to blush or flush easily, you’re at higher risk.
The disorder is more common among women, but the more severe cases are seen in men. That could be because men don’t seek help for the condition as readily as women do.
Over 14 million Americans have rosacea, and as Baby Boomers enter the target age to develop the condition (ages 30 to 60), the number of sufferers will continue to grow. You know it’s a widespread condition when major cosmetic companies are marketing products specifically designed to conceal redness.
Even though the number of rosacea sufferers is on the rise, less than a quarter of Americans-- including many with the disorder -- have any knowledge of the condition.
How to Recognize Rosacea
Frequently, rosacea begins as redness on your cheeks, nose, chin or forehead. Occasionally, you might see it on your neck, ears, scalp or even your chest. This early stage redness often comes and goes, and can be confused with simple flushing.
If the condition progresses unchecked, the redness will become deeper in color and more constant. Blood vessels may appear on your face. You might notice pimples or other bumps on your facial skin. If your condition is severe, your nose may appear swollen and bumpy with excess tissue, a condition called rhinophyma.
Your eyes may also feel irritated, water frequently, and appear bloodshot.
Other warning signs to look for include:
- Burning, stinging, itching or a feeling of tightness in your face
- Rough, dry appearance
- Raised red patches
- Facial edema (swelling)
There are four subtypes of rosacea. They are:
- Erythematotelangectatic rosacea (subtype 1): flushing, persistent redness, possible visible blood vessels
- Papulopustular rosacea (subtype 2): persistent redness with bumps and pimples that come and go
- Phymatous rosacea (subtype 3): skin thickening, enlargement of nose from excess tissue
- Ocular rosacea (subtype 4): dry eyes, watering, burning, swelling of your eyelids, sties, damage to your cornea resulting in vision loss
It’s possible to experience different subtypes simultaneously, and they can also appear one right after another. Any of the symptoms of rosacea can advance from mild to moderate to severe.
Possible Causes of the Disorder
The underlying cause of rosacea has remained a mystery within the mainstream medical community, however, theories abound.
- One theory suggests the condition may be the result of oversensitive blood vessels in your face.
- Another theory attributes the disorder to mites (Demodex folliculorum) which naturally live on your skin. Rosacea sufferers have more of these mites than people without the condition.
- Genetics (family history) may play a role.
- There may even be a connection between rosacea and a stomach infection caused by the H. pylori bacteria.
Is Rosacea the Result of a Malfunction of Your Immune System?
Recent studies conducted by Dr. Richard Gallo of the University of California, San Diego, and an international team of researchers show promise in uncovering, in my judgment, the most likely source for developing rosacea -- a dysfunction of your immune system.
Dr. Gallo’s research has found that specific immune system proteins might bring on the condition of rosacea. These proteins may trigger rosacea symptoms while they are in the process of protecting your body.
Your immune system generates natural antibiotic proteins to fight disease and help you stay healthy. These proteins go after harmful bacteria and set in motion other protective immune system responses within your body. These defending agents can be stimulated into action by either irritation or infection.
Researchers are looking into whether the action of a specific immune system protein called a cathelicidin, which has both antimicrobial and pro-inflammatory properties, might cause the development of rosacea in certain individuals. Some of the symptoms of rosacea, like skin inflammation and enlarged blood vessels, are associated with cathelicidins. Cathelicidins are made active by a specific enzyme, SCTE (stratum corneum tryptic enzyme).
Studies have revealed rosacea sufferers have an unusually high amount of cathelicidins in their skin, as well as elevated SCTE. For these patients, it appears the chronic production and activation of cathelicidins does not inhibit bacterial growth, but instead may trigger the symptoms of rosacea.
Treatment for Rosacea
While traditional medicine has been writing prescriptions for antibiotic pills, topical ointments and worse to help alleviate the symptoms of rosacea, I’ve been successfully treating the underlying cause of the condition for years.
In addition to the doling out of potentially dangerous medications, entirely too much mainstream emphasis has been placed on eliminating the triggers for rosacea symptoms, rather than investigating the fundamental cause of the disease.
Some of these “triggers” include healthy pursuits like exercise and exposure to sunshine. Others are often unavoidable, like hot weather and shifts in temperature from hot to cold.
I would never recommend a rosacea patient forego all exercise and sunshine in the hopes of not triggering a flare up. The “cure” in this case is ultimately much worse than the disease.
An Effective, Natural Approach
Rosacea can be an easy problem to manage with dietary changes, specifically the elimination of grains and sugars, coupled with emotional stress management. It is rare when the rosacea of patients that visit my clinic doesn’t rapidly resolve when they follow my dietary and other all natural recommendations.
- Limit Sugar and Grains.
You will want to normalize your insulin levels and one of the best ways to do this is make certain your intake of foods that will raise them like, sugar, bread, pasta, rice, corn and potatoes are kept low. Ideally it would be best to measure your fasting insulin level to determine if you are eating inappropriate amounts of these foods. Ideally your fasting insulin level should be 3 or lower.
- Exercise Regularly
This will also help to normalize your insulin level and overall improve the performance of your immune system.
- Eliminate Trans Fat and Processed Foods
Most people don’t realize that most of the fats in your skin cell membranes are exclusively omega-6 fats. If you consume processed foods that are loaded with damaged omega-6 fats, they will be incorporated into your cell membrane and predispose that skin cell to an increased risk of diseases like rosacea and skin cancers. You should make certain that you have a good source of omega-6 fat from organic pumpkin, sesame, or sunflower seeds, or their cold pressed oils.
- Optimize Your Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Levels
When you have appropriate levels of vitamin D, your body will produce over 200 antimicrobial peptides to fight any infection in your body. If for whatever, reason you are unable to receive regular sun exposure, then you will want to take a high quality vitamin D supplement and measure your vitamin D level so it is around 50-70 ng/ml.
- Eat for Your Nutritional Type
Eating the right foods for your individual needs is your best defense against disease. When you fortify your body with the nutrients it requires, you strengthen your immune system and prepare it to do its job.
Your body was designed to protect and heal itself. Give it the help it needs in the form of the proper fuel for your nutritional type.
- Control Emotional Stress
Uncontrolled emotional stress can seriously compromise your immune system. Stress is also a trigger for rosacea flare ups if you already suffer from the disorder.
I have found that energy tapping techniques work remarkably well in resolving emotional challenges.
If you suffer from rosacea, or if you’re a Baby Boomer not interested in becoming a statistic of this chronic and incurable condition, I strongly encourage you to consider prevention as well as alternatives to costly medications that carry the risk of overuse and dangerous side effects.
Think of it this way:
- Science is proving rosacea is caused by a malfunction of your immune system.
- Your immune system is your key to freedom from disorders and disease.
- A strong, well-functioning immune system starts with the nourishment you put into your body and your ability to manage emotional and psychological stress.