Diabetic Skin Issues
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We all know that. Yet if you have diabetes, your doctor may not pay much attention to your skin unless you develop painful cracking, infected sores, ulcers or hardening of the skin, at which point you may require some serious treatment.
Unfortunately, diabetes manifests itself in many organs including skin. Excess sugar damages the skin by causing accumulation of AGE – Advanced Glycation End products. AGE appears in your skin when sugars attach themselves to various skin proteins, including collagen and elastin.
Sugar may be sweet, but what it does to skin proteins is not nice at all. After reacting with sugars, your skin's proteins become hard and brittle and so does your skin. In time, the skin may develop painful cracks and sores. It also ages faster than normal.
In persons with diabetes, skin problems can produce unhealed sores which, at worst, can lead to limb amputations. The treatment of such skin problems costs $25 billion yearly in the USA according to the Journal Regeneration of the Wound Healing Society (Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2012) and nothing but palliative treatments are currently available.. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
By properly caring for your skin, creating a favorable environment for its protective and regenerative systems, you can maintain its healthy appearance, lessening adverse effects of elevated sugar and impaired immunity.
Your Skin May Be Dry and Sensitive
If you have diabetes your skin may appear dry, rough, itchy and unpleasantly tight after cleansing your face or applying cosmetics. These symptoms, which may appear years before you have any serious skin complications, indicate that your skin’s protective barrier is impaired. Dry and sensitive skin is not fun for anyone, but with diabetes you need to be especially attentive to your skin’s signals.
If the skin continues to become dry due to damage to skin’s proteins, its upper layer will eventually lose elasticity and develop cracks. You do not want this to happen, since those cracks may take very long to heal and may become a gate to infection. To keep your skin elastic and supple, you need to develop a habit of applying emollients twice a day or every time you feel that your skin is becoming rough. According to studies “A one month treatment with an emollient allows a similar skin hydration rate in diabetics to that in healthy people. This dry skin improvement is accompanied by a significant reduction in pruritus and desquamation, and a significant improvement in the skin barrier function.” (Seite S. et al. J. Eur. Acad. Dermatol. Venereol. 2011). If only a month's treatment with emollients reduced dryness, itching and scaling, it is definitely worth a try. Besides, this approach is safe and helps skin look younger and smoother.
The best emollients for your skin are those that are simple and assist your skin’s biology, creating a temporary barrier to water loss. They should also be free of irritants and substances that may disrupt your skin’s barrier.
Some of the safest moisturizers are pure natural healing oils such as squalane (a natural protective component of skin’s sebum) and emu oil. Squalane does an excellent job of softening the skin and making it more elastic, while at the same time protecting it from environmental assaults. Emu oil is an ancient healing remedy used by Australian indigenous people to treat wounds, insect bites and inflamed sores.
Another useful substance is aloe vera gel, which is rich in polysaccharides. Polysaccharides of aloe vera are very effective at binding moisture, acting similarly to your skin’s own natural moisturizing system. In addition, aloe supports the skin’s immune defense and stimulates healing.
If you have diabetes, please remember that not only your face and hands but the soles of your feet need emollients and moisturizers. Very often the soles are neglected up to the point when they cry for help and demand attention. With diabetes, it is not wise to wait until you are forced to pay attention to your soles, because cracks on the skin of your feet are extremely difficult to heal due to thicker skin and poor circulation.
AGE and Anti-AGE
No, we are not talking about "aging" here, even though diabetes may make your skin age faster. A.G.E. is an abbreviation for Advanced Glycation End products, which accumulate in the skin when sugars attach to proteins.
Fortunately, there are some substances that are known to counteract glycation. Those include the antioxidant compound alpha-lipoic acid, carnosine and copper peptide GHK-Cu (discovered originally by Dr. Loren Pickart in 1973). GHK has been shown to inhibit the damaging glycation of copper, zinc-superoxide dismutase caused by fructose, and was more active than carnosine in this respect.
It has further been shown that protein glycation in diabetics is linked to excessive production of free radicals in the mitochondria. Antioxidant compounds including coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid can protect mitochondria from oxidative damage and reduce protein glycation. In addition, plants carotenoids such as lycopene and lutein, as well as members of vitamin E family – tocopherols and tocotrienols may help reduce protein glycation.
Finally, copper peptides, especially GHK-Cu play important role in antioxidant defense, increasing the level of the skin’s own antioxidants as well as detoxifying harmful products of excessive peroxidation. By supplying your skin with those protective factors, you can do your utmost to help its appearance and bring forward its natural radiance.
The Healing Power of Your Skin
Diabetes is a perfect lesson in the importance of the skin’s own healing power. When this power is impaired, even small cracks and sores can become dangerous. Copper peptides, your skin’s natural regenerative molecules, have been shown to accelerate wound healing and lessen impact of underlying health conditions. Especially the GHK-Cu peptide demonstrated notable wound healing activity in numerous animal studies, improving wound healing in rats, horses, dogs and pigs. It was also successfully used in a collagen based wound dressing to accelerate wound healing in diabetic rats.
A study in a wound clinic that specialized in the treatment of diabetic ulcers used a 2% GHK gel on 120 diabetic patients after their skin ulcers were surgically excised of devitalized tissue. The percentage of closure for ulcers in GHK-Cu group was 98.5% compared with 60.8% for standard treatment. Most importantly, the incidence of infections (that cause amputations) lessened (7% for GHK-Cu vs. 34% for vehicle) (Mulder G.D, Wound Repair Regen. 1994).
However, a later trial of 530 patients in 33 hospitals failed to reach treatment goals. In short, GHK-Cu gel improved wound recovery in the wound clinic patients but not in regular hospitals. This failure was also observed with many other growth factors tested for wound healing and may have been due to the then unknown existence of bacterial biofilms that colonize 60% of hospital wounds. Biofilms secrete powerful proteases that degrade therapeutic peptides and proteins in minutes. The early positive results in the wound specialty clinic may have been the result of better reduction in bacterial contamination of wounds. Eventually, Dr. Pickart developed a second generation of copper peptides with better stability; however, they have never been tested for treatment of diabetic skin ulcers.
An Ounce of Prevention
It may be as long as 10-20 years, before your skin starts develop visible complications from diabetes. However, do you really want to wait until it happens? Of course not. The best time to start fighting for your skin’s beauty and radiance is when it is still healthy.
However it is not too late to start caring for your skin, even when you start develop dryness and increased sensitivity.
Remember, simple healthy skin care methods such as the regular moisturization and application of emollients as well as supplying your skin with natural nutritional regenerative factors may go a long way in keeping your skin looking youthful, smooth and vibrant.
Copper peptides are not drugs and have not been approved by FDA for treatment of diabetic sores and ulcers.
Therefore they should not be used on broken skin and are not intended for treatment of diabetic skin complication. If you have a special skin concern, please consult a physician or dermatologist first.
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