Sinseh Says

Kidney, liver health linked to acne

Chinese herbs, good lifestyle habits and better diet may help

Exercising regularly and eliminating constant stress, depression, fear and anxiety can strengthen the liver's function. According to TCM principles, the health of one's kidneys and liver directly impact one's hormones, which are linked to an acne bre
Exercising regularly and eliminating constant stress, depression, fear and anxiety can strengthen the liver's function. According to TCM principles, the health of one's kidneys and liver directly impact one's hormones, which are linked to an acne breakout and menstruation. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Q. I am an 18-year-old girl.

I suffer from minor acne every now and then, which worsens during my period.

By then, I would have a large pimple either around my chin or mouth.

I experience irregular periods as well. I read that this might be due to an imbalance of hormones, and that birth control pills can help.

Are there any natural ways to balance out my hormones with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

What herbs can I try?

Does drinking green tea help?

I believe that my body is "cooling", so I try not to drink too much tea.

A. Acne is a disorder arising from hormones and other substances on the skin's oil glands (sebaceous glands) and hair follicles.

Acne usually occurs on the face, neck, back, chest and shoulders and can be severe enough to lead to permanent scarring.

In TCM, acne is likely caused by deficiencies in the kidneys, liver, lungs and stomach, and external pathogenic factors of heat and dampness.

According to TCM principles, the kidneys manufacture blood while the liver stores it.

The health of these two organs directly impact one's hormones and hence affect an acne breakout and a woman's period.

When one's kidney yin is deficient- due to a weak body constitution, the practice of keeping late nights and chronic illnesses- internal heat will be created in the body.

This will trigger an acne breakout that may spread under the chin, and give rise to other symptoms such as a dry mouth and throat, constipation, yellowish urine, lower-back aches and weak knees.

An acne outbreak is typically more severe before menses, which can also cause mood swings and breast tenderness.

Since the liver also governs the circulation of qi (vital energy), emotions such as anger, depression, fear or constant stress will cause the liver qi to stagnate and create liver heat and fire.

This leads to the breakout of dark and red acne - mainly nodules, pustules or cysts - which can be chronic and spread over the cheeks, head and face.

When the lungs are weakened from over-exertion or chronic illnesses, external factors such as wind, heat and dampness can invade the skin and trigger redness and itching.

There may be painful pimples or pustules that occur more on the right cheek, accompanied by blackheads and whiteheads.

The person may constantly feel thirsty, have constipation and yellowish urine.

When the stomach is weakened from excessive consumption of alcohol, a diet of oily and spicy foods, heavy meals and late nights, food is unable to be digested properly and creates stomach heat.

This leads to red and painful papules or pustules that occur around the nose, mouth, lips and forehead; oily skin on the face, chest and back, together with bad breath, constipation and yellowish urine.

If a person suffers from insufficient kidney yin, lung or stomach heat over a prolonged period, this will create phlegm, blood heat and stasis, and trigger lumpy red or dark red acne, nodules, pustules or cysts.

Chinese herbal medicine (both oral and topical), facial acupuncture and cupping therapy can help to improve your condition by strengthening the organs and dispelling pathogens.

To increase your kidney yin to regulate your menses and reduce acne breakouts, try herbs such as glossy privet fruit, yerbadetajo herb and rehmannia root.

To strengthen the liver, take Chinese thorowax root, red peony root and motherwort herb.

To dispel the heat in the lungs, go for mulberry leaf, weeping forsythia capsule and baical skullcap root.

To dispel stomach heat and dampness, turn to pinellia tuber, dried tangerine peel and cablin patchouli herb. Herbs such as golden thread, danshen root and tree peony bark can help address blood heat and stasis.

You should also adopt other good habits to improve your condition.

Make it a habit to clear your bowels every morning to pass out heat and toxins from the body.

Make the effort to sleep before 10pm to help produce kidney yin and reduce stomach heat.

Adopt regular exercise and eliminate constant stress, depression, fear or anxiety to strengthen your liver function.

Abstain from alcohol, coffee, tea and spicy, sweet and oily foods. You should also quit smoking to reduce heat in the stomach and lungs.

Take more vegetables and fruit to reduce stomach heat and dampness. You should also consume carrots, barley, tomatoes, green beans, winter melon and cucumber to help strengthen the stomach, reduce the oil on the face and resolve any skin inflammation.

Lim Lay Beng

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline Kidney, liver health linked to acne. Subscribe