An introduction to the causes of ichthyosis
Those that suffer from ichthyosis often despair as the primary cause of the disease is often rooted in their genetics rather than any other internal or external factor.
However, despite its predominant status as a hereditary condition, there are still steps that you can take to minimalise the symptoms of ichthyosis and other existing influences to consider when trying to treat the affliction.
Hereditary ichthyosis accounts for an overwhelming 95% of ichthyosis cases, making your genetics the undisputed offender when it comes to the appearance of the skin condition.
The affliction has even been termed ‘autosomal dominant’ meaning that only one of your parents needs to carry the defective in order for you to inherit it. Symptoms normally manifest in your childhood and remaining episodic in nature throughout your life.
Research has made a breakthrough in recent years, even identifying the specific mutation that causes ichthyosis, and it is all to do with the protein filaggrin.1
Filaggrin is essential for the structure of your skin and the formation of the epidermis. When the FLG gene, responsible for encoding profilaggrin and filaggrin, becomes altered or mutated, it can affect the function of your keratinocytes and stratum corneum.
This in turn leads to an overproduction of keratin and an excess of dead, dry skin on the epidermis known as hyperkeratosis. Often, this mutation is also associated with atopic eczema and the development of asthma and certain allergies.
Weak immune system
Although most cases of ichthyosis are hereditary, there are some known instances of ‘acquired ichthyosis.’
Acquired ichthyosis occurs when someone who was not born with hereditary ichthyosis develops the disease later in life. Unfortunately, acquired ichthyosis tends to appear in those with a weakened or vulnerable immune system, such as sufferers of kidney failure, cancer, HIV or even lesser conditions like hypothyroidism or certain nutritional disorders.2
This is possibly because the drugs associated with some of these illnesses can have a negative impact on your skin or because your ability to absorb essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins has been compromised.
These nutrients are vital when it comes to supporting your immune system and without them, your body may struggle to function as normal, with your digestive system, liver and kidney function and circulation all being affected.
A weakened immune system can also make you more susceptible to contracting a secondary bacterial or fungal skin infection, especially if your skin is already damaged or weakened by ichthyosis. This makes supporting your immune system critical to regulating the severity of your ichthyosis symptoms.
In episodes of ichthyosis, it is important to do as much as possible to maintain and support your immune system, and to supply your skin with as much nutrients as possible.
If your diet is full of refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine and processed fats then this will only make your symptoms worse as most of these foods contain inflammatory chemicals, like histamine.
These chemicals will place your immune system under a great deal of pressure, forcing it to produce more and more histamine until it become fatigued and ineffective.
Your skin will no longer be supplied with the nutrients it needs and can even become dehydrated, making it more prone to dryness and damage.
Instead, you should be focusing on eating a balanced and healthy diet, full of minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids.
The only thing that might weaken your immune system quicker than poor nutrition is stress. Stress can have an extremely adverse effect on all areas of your body, from your immune system to your digestive function.
This is because when your immune system recognised that you are being placed in a stressful situation, it will immediately trigger your primordial ‘fight or flight’ instincts.
These will force your body to redirect all essential nutrients, meaning that the vitamins and minerals that you have absorbed from your food will not go where they are supposed to.
Your body will also try to slow down your digestion, meaning that any stagnant faeces or urine might not be ejected from your body, allowing the toxins to build up. When it is not possible to excrete these toxins through your digestive system, the job will fall to other organs like your kidneys and skin, exacerbating your systems and making your epidermis more vulnerable to infection.
Finally, the constant demand for inflammatory chemicals will eventually overwhelm your immune system and you will become more susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections and other pathogens.
Your environment in and of itself, will not be the reason you develop ichthyosis but it can exaggerate your symptoms and trigger an episode.
Sufferers of ichthyosis often notice that their symptoms appear more pronounced and persistent during the cold months of winter.
This is possibly because the dry, cold conditions can suck the moisture out of your epidermis, drying out your skin and worsening any symptoms of scaling or hyperkeratosis that you are suffering from.
During the winter months you are also more likely to use central heating to warm your homes, again exposing your skin to low humidity and depriving it the hydration that it badly needs during ichthyosis outbreaks.