Health: Preventing dry skin and eyes

Health columnist Nicola Parker writes about what to eat to help combat winter dryness.
Dry skin in winterDry skin in winter
Dry skin in winter

Despite the wet and windy weather, this time of year I find myself confronted by a lot of conditions characterised by dryness.

Perhaps we feel this dryness more keenly due to our central heating, especially while we hide away from the chill of the approaching winter.

Dryness can be a sign that we are lacking in oils though.

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Dry mouth, dry eye, dry skin and even vaginal dryness can be aggravated by a lack of nutrients that help us maintain moisture.

When I talk about mucus membranes, I usually refer to areas in the body that are kept moist, like the sinuses, the mouth and the tissue around the eye.

Keeping these areas healthy and hydrated isn’t just about drinking enough water.

For example, one of the characteristics of dry eye is watery eyes. These tears are produced because the dry mucus membranes are easily irritated, the tears being an attempt to relubricate the eyes.

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Along with water, our mucous membranes also need the right types of omega oils called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s). They’re called essential because we must consume them in our diet to make them available to us.

Dietary sources of essential fatty acids (EFA’s) include oily fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

It’s not enough to include these foods in your diet once or twice a week, especially if you suffer from a condition characterised by dryness.

My Grandad would insist that he got enough omega 3 because he ate fish once a week and used omega 3 containing eggs.

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In reality though, eggs that contain omega 3 come from hens that have been fed on a seed rich diet.

While the yolks will contain some omega 3, they do not contain as much as we need.

If you have dry skin, the type that seems to drink up body lotion the moment you apply it, you could be low in EFA’s.

If you want to change your diet, I recommend increasing your intake of the foods above for a few months and see what effect it has on your skin.

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For faster results or for especially dry conditions like eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis, I offer my patients a high potency EFA capsule that I expect to start working within four weeks.

The other type of omega deficiency I come across, is omega 7.

We should be able to make omega 7 ourselves but for some reason, especially in women after menopause, we have difficulty doing this.

This can lead to faster ageing skin, dry (or watery) eyes and discomfort in our intimate mucus membranes, caused by vaginal dryness.

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All these problems can be related to omega 7 intake and can improve surprisingly quickly with Sea Buckthorn.

Sea buckthorn is the most potent source of omega 7 available to me and I recommended regularly for all dry conditions.

My biggest success with Sea Buckthorn was with a lady that visited me to request help with chronic sinusitis.

Everything made her nose run – perfume, pollen, air freshener, air conditioning, everything.

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As I was questioning her, I had all my usual sinusitis herbs mentally prepared, when she added conversationally how irritating the wind was at this time of year.

Living by the sea, we are no stranger to the winds but for this lady it was so aggravating that it made her eyes tear up, to the point that her vision became blurry.

Taking a different line of questioning I asked her about other types of dryness.

Dry mouth?

Yes, she said, she was always sipping water.

Dryness after menopause?

Yes, her doctor had given her a hormone cream and pessaries.

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I started to wonder if this lady’s sinusitis was being caused by low omega 7 and decided to scrap all my usual herbs in favour of a diet high in EFA’s and daily capsules of Sea Buckthorn oil.

When the lady returned after four weeks, she was delighted.

Her sinusitis had markedly improved as had all her other symptoms of dryness that she has previously thought were unconnected.

It can be surprising how many symptoms can be grouped together once deficiency is recognised, which is why I always recommend taking time to seek the cause of a symptom, rather than just managing individual symptoms alone.