The Mind-Skin Connection with Functional Medicine Practitioner Dr. Will Cole
Our team took a few minutes to talk with Functional Medicine Practitioner, Dr. Will Cole, about his approach to holistic healing - especially the intricate mind-skin connection between our emotional and physical health. Keep scrolling to learn Dr. Cole's powerful insights on how chronic stress, unresolved trauma and our mental state impact our skin, plus his professional tips to alleviate the root cause of your skin conditions (from aging to inflammation) and restore homeostasis, holistically.
What is the mind-body connection and why is it important?
"The mind-body connection is ultimately the idea that your thoughts and feelings can control certain aspects of your physiology and that your physiology can also play a role in the state of your mental health. One of the biggest examples of how your emotional health impacts your physical health and vice versa, is your gut-brain connection.
Often referred to as your "second brain" your gut contains 95% of your happy neurotransmitter, serotonin, with studies showing that chronic emotional stress is linked to gastrointestinal conditions like IBS, GERD, and ulcers. And when your gut is compromised it can result in higher levels of inflammation in both your gut and your brain leading to problems like anxiety, depression, and brain fog.
I see the realities of this mind-body connection so much in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, that it is the subject of my newest book Gut Feelings. In it, I explain the mechanisms behind this deep rooted connection and provide a plan to bridge the gap between your mental and physical health."
What is psychodermatology?
"This subset of dermatology aims to treat skin problems by focusing on the impact our emotional health has on our skin with researchers seeing how negative emotions can result in skin problems such as acne, rashes, psoriasis and more.
By working toward alleviating stress and other mental health problems, practitioners in psychodermatology are working toward alleviating the internal root factors of skin problems rather than solely treating them topically with skincare products."
How can our emotional health influence our skin?
"Your skin is your largest organ that acts as a barrier to protect us from environmental triggers and bacteria. However, it is also a permeable barrier that is influenced by what is happening underneath the surface. For example, high levels of inflammation and stress can show up on the surface of your skin as inflammatory skin problems.
When you are stressed, your levels of inflammatory IL-6 drastically increase. Therefore, if you are chronically stressed chances are high that you also have chronic inflammation. Interestingly enough, stress can be a major trigger for autoimmune conditions like psoriasis (which is characterized by chronic inflammation) with many people correlating the start of their autoimmune condition with a traumatic or stressful event in their lives.
This chronic stress and inflammation can also throw your hormones out of whack. One example is when there is a miscommunication between your brain and endocrine system it can lead to adrenal fatigue, further hinder your body's ability to handle stress, and contribute to acne and other skin problems. Inflammation and chronic stress can also lead to androgen dominance or estrogen dominance - two issues that both contribute to acne."
In your practice, what skin disorders do you commonly treat that tend to have an emotional component to them?
"Psoriasis and eczema are two skin problems that I see on a pretty regular basis in my telehealth functional medicine clinic. While lab work often shows high inflammation levels, I like to dive a little deeper and go through a comprehensive health history with individuals. When I do this, I discover that these individuals are currently dealing with a lot of stress in their lives or are working through past trauma that have acted as a trigger for poor gut health, inflammation, and hormone imbalances.
Since I like to approach healing from a whole-body perspective, I do try to incorporate topical healing strategies in addition to focusing on internal physical and emotional healing. I love Dr. Whitney Bowe's skin cycling technique along with Primally Pure's products. It's important to choose all-natural, non-toxic skincare to avoid absorbing toxins that contribute to external and internal inflammation, and further skin problems."
How can chronic stress influence the way our skin ages?
"Chronic stress is one of the biggest contributors to premature aging. When you are stressed, your body releases high amounts of cortisol that ends up breaking down your skin's collagen and elasticity resulting in dull skin and wrinkles."
For those struggling with psychodermatological skin disorders or who feel that their skin conditions could have an emotional link, what practices/tools do you recommend?
"Managing your day-to-day stress is the first step. I always encourage my patients to start a daily mindfulness practice, whether that is journaling, mediation, breathwork, or something else. Counseling can be life-changing as well, especially if you are dealing with emotional scars from past trauma, or are just looking for extra support for dealing with everyday stress.
In addition to the emotional component, factors like poor diet, toxin exposure, mold toxicity, and nutrient deficiencies can all trigger and further perpetuate gut problems, inflammation, and hormone imbalances. Your health is influenced by everything you do - physically and emotionally - so while we can't ignore the emotional component to skin problems we have to look at everything holistically to get an accurate picture of why someone is dealing with skin problems in order to achieve long-term, sustainable healing."
To dive deeper into the mind-skin connection or to schedule a telehealth consult, visit Dr. Cole's website and social media.
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