Herbs For Diseases Of The Skin
Herbal treatment of skin disorders — allergic dermatitis / atopy / flea bite dermatitis, alopecia, chronic pyoderma, and mange (demodectic / sarcoptic) — draws on some traditional concepts that need explanation. The skin is considered to be an outer manifestation of internal health; therefore, skin disease is considered to be a sign of a deeper disease process. Topical herbs are a superficial approach (but can be very useful) and as in conventional medicine, a diagnosis is imperative. There is no point treating a flea allergy dermatitis just with herbs! In most chronic skin conditions the skin lesion is thought to be an effort by the body to release, discharge, or remove toxic substances; therefore, medications that suppress signs (such as corticosteroids) are thought to drive the process deeper over time.
Consideration must be given to the organs of detoxification, and hence in human herbal medicine it is common to hear at least the principle of “detoxification” in order to “cleanse” skin. Even in veterinary medicine, in the early part of the 20th century there were references to Aloes for horses and Jalap for dogs for eczema, as well as alteratives for urticaria. Barbadoes aloe, Aniseed, Ginger, Gentian, Fenugreek, Fennel, and Linseed meal were common ingredients in alterative “physick” balls to improve general condition, including coat condition in horses.
When eliminative organs are impaired, toxemia, or the accumulation of toxic metabolites, occurs. In chronic skin disease, the digestive system is the eliminative process most likely to be impaired. The goals of herbal therapy are to remove toxins by enhancing and supporting the eliminatory functions of the body, and alteratives are considered to be fundamental. This group of herbs is thought to effect a change in metabolic processes through mild laxative, diuretic, or cholagogue activity, thus aiding elimination. While the theory of toxemia is a traditional one, there is some scientific support for it. We know that incomplete digestion, inflammation, and a failure of the local immune response (for systemic tolerance) facilitate the absorption of macromolecules with high antigenicity in animals, leading to the development of food sensitivities and allergies.
There is also increasing evidence to suggest that a leaky gut or a more permeable bowel wall may lead to translocation of bacteria and / or endotoxins, which may be an important stimulus for inflammatory cytokine activation, as well as increased toxic insult to the liver. Permeability is increased in a number of gastrointestinal diseases (parasitical, infection, inflammation) and by trauma, burns, and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Gastrointestinal herbs may correct the leaky gut and can improve overall health and reduce allergies and chronic disease.
Dysbiosis is also thought to be a major contributing factor to chronic disease, including skin disorders and food allergies. It follows the use of antibiotics, other medications, or diets that adversely alter the normal flora; or conditions that allow pathogenic microbes to multiply, producing endotoxins that challenge and deplete the immune system and increase gut permeability (thus predisposing to food allergies and sensitivities). Attention to correcting a suspected dysbiosis is worthwhile and relatively straightforward.
The key principle in addressing chronic skin disease, whether autoimmune, atopic, pyodermic, or simply chronic, is to consider the perpetuating factors such as leaky gut syndrome, dysbiosis, and toxemia, as well as the diet, stress levels, drug use, etc. Emphasis is placed on improving systemic health, not just skin health.