When fungi mess with your skin
UNDER YOUR SKIN - Grace Carole Beltran, MD (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2017 - 4:00pm

The classic answer to the question what keeps one healthy is a mixture of nature (your personal DNA or genes) and nurture (your experiences within your environment and how you take care of your body).  Until quite recently, scientific opinion basically agreed with this assessment.  Now, however, the consensus is that the behavior of our body depends on our nature, nurture, and the existing microbes in and on it. There are actually trillions of microbial organisms living in and on our body (skin, reproductive tract, digestive or gut tract) outnumbering our own cells three to one.  We have battled them for years, with antibiotics and disinfectants, but as we get to know them better, a lot turn out to be our allies in preventing disease and protecting us against terrifying microbes that can make us sick and even kill us.  Our body has a natural process in place that keeps undesirable organisms from growing in us.  From dead skin cells shedding to sweating.  Our sweat glands determine what organisms grow and where on our body they grow.  The skin itself generally has a low acidity, low moisture content, various immune cells and enzymes that break apart any organisms that may hang out there. Aside from these natural defenses, there’s also our diet that determines what type of sweat comes out and what type of organisms feed off it. There are a lot of components when it comes to skin health.  Take, for example, a common nuisance of the skin, the microbes called fungi.  What makes one susceptible to fungal infections?

1. Medicines like:

a. Antibiotics are designed to kill harmful bacteria that are causing infection or illnesses.  Sometimes, however, these drugs can also reduce the useful bacteria that live in the body. When these populations are reduced, pathogens like fungi may take the opportunity to colonize.

b. Corticosteroids are a group of drugs that reduce inflammation.  They effectively treat many skin disorders.  Unfortunately, these drugs also can reduce our immune response and improve conditions for fungal growth.  Same thing with immunosuppressive drugs, chemotherapy drugs, and other drugs for treating rheumatoid arthritis (e.g. TNF inhibitors).

2. Medical conditions and health problems that compromise the immune system: Individuals with diabetes, or cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, AIDS, extensive burns, endocrine problems such as an underactive thyroid gland could be more susceptible than the general population.  A depressed immune system will less effectively ward off all types of infection; thus, a fungus that normally would be controlled by the immune system may begin to propagate. 

3. Environmental factors:  Fungi require moisture to grow and reproduce.  Which is why fungal infections are prevalent in warm, moist areas of the body such as the mouth (which is a haven for the fungi Candida Albicans).  Likewise, sweaty clothes, which make one susceptible to tinea versicolor (an-an), tinea corporis (buni), and sweaty shoes (athlete’s foot which could lead to onychomycosis, a fungal nail infection) can enhance fungus growth on the skin.  Exposure to fungi is more frequent in communal areas with moisture such as locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools.

Nuns and priests who live in tropical countries like the Philippines are also vulnerable to get fungal infections because of what they wear (their long, thick, heavy habit).  Athletes with unhygienic practices, like allowing wet clothes to dry on their skin, are also susceptible.  People who wear closed shoes all the time with thick socks and sweaty feet are also predisposed to fungi.

4. Heredity factors:  Some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to fungal infections. That is, they may contract infections more easily than others exposed to the same conditions. This may be due to differences in immune response, skin chemistry or other factors that need to be studied further.

So, what can you do to make your skin a happy home for good microbes?

1. Use virgin coconut oil, olive oil or sesame oil all over your skin when you get out of your bath or shower, assuming you have normal skin. This feeds the good microbes in your skin cells and improves the functioning of your immune barrier at the skin level. 

2. Stop using antibacterial products as these are highly overused and unnecessary in most situations.  Continuous use of such products will cause a breakdown of your own immune defenses.

3. Sunbathe from time to time, not to burn, but just to soak in the sun for about 10 minutes on each side to help kill off microorganisms that should not be there.

4. Exfoliate to remove layers of dead skin cells where some microbes thrive.

5. Make sure you get rid of reservoirs of infection like if you have deformed toenails, be sure to check them for the presence of fungi as having these areas left untreated is the most common cause of recurrence of fungal infection elsewhere in the body.

6. Treat existing medical conditions that make your fungi recur.  Treat your sexual partner and all other infected persons in your household at the same time.  Disinfect all items used by affected individuals and refrain from borrowing things from them like shoes, for example.

7. Use antiperspirants, preferably the spray type (they work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores with aluminum salt so that they cannot release sweat).

7. In cases of stubborn infections, visit a board-certified dermatologist. 

* * *

For questions or inquiries, call 09174976261, 09998834802 or 263-4094, or email gc_beltran@yahoo.com.

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