When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see? While this could be considered a very philosophical question requiring deep thought, for many people the first thing they notice is right on the surface—bags and dark circles under their eyes.
Dark circles under your eyes immediately give away the fact that you’re tired, stressed, or dehydrated—or maybe all three. But these causes are just scratching the tip of what your eyes—and really your whole face—are trying to tell you. By paying attention to the color, swelling, wrinkle location, broken capillaries, nose congestion, discoloration, spots, and of course to the eye bags and dark circles under the eyes, practitioners of holistic and alternative medicine know these blemishes are signs from the body signaling the possibility of deeper internal disorders.
Acupuncture and microcurrent facial rejuvenation are very popular and successful treatments for tackling dark circles under the eyes. Indeed, the majority of my “cosmetic” patients come with only one desire—to fix the problem using these techniques. However, while using facial rejuvenation can “fix” the issue on the surface, in many cases we end up treating internal symptoms associated with that facial sign to assure long-term good health results. With these cases, the dark circles and eye bags may have been the immediate reason for getting patients to the door; but years of observation and experience have shown they indicate the presence of various, and sometimes larger physiological imbalances.
Here are some examples of what else dark circles and the eye bags could be telling you about what’s going on in the body.
Digestive Dysfunction and the Rise of Leaky Gut Syndrome
As with most of our symptoms and illnesses, the underlying cause of this skin discoloration is a disturbance in the composition of our intestinal flora leading to inflammation of the intestinal mucosal lining and increased permeability (“leaky gut”). The disturbance can come from any of several sources: nutrient malabsorption, impaired immune response, GI problems and food allergies, chronic inflammation in the body and autoimmune diseases. They all account for and further aggravate the mucosal lining in the gut, establishing a repeating, destructive cycle, which leads to Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS).
Dr. Josh Axe is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a popular podcast and website that describes simply what’s going on with LGS:
Think of the lining of your digestive tract like a net with extremely small holes in it that only allow specific substances to pass through. Your gut lining works as a barrier keeping out bigger particles that can damage your system. When someone has leaky gut (often referred to as increased intestinal permeability) the ‘net’ in your digestive tract gets damaged, which causes even bigger holes to develop in your net, so things that normally can’t pass through, are now able to. Some of the things that can now pass through include proteins like gluten, bad bacteria and undigested foods particles. Toxic waste can also leak from the inside of your intestinal wall into your blood stream causing an immune reaction.
Put plainly, dark circles under the eyes may indicate that your immune system has become overactive, that autoimmune processes are taking place in your body. The “immune reaction” Dr. Axe refers to is just your body’s way of attacking the toxins by producing excess antibodies. These exerted attempts to detox your system naturally can often trigger or cause allergy symptoms to develop. Dark under-eye circles are just one allergic symptom, and one that’s often ignored by doctors.
Food and Other Allergies
Allergies cause congestion, which increases blood flow to the nose. This increased blood flow produces enlarged blood vessels around the eyes, creating a purple tint in the delicate, thin skin under the eyes. Among individuals with food allergies, dark circles under the eyes are often referred to as ‘allergy shiners’; people with seasonal and environmental allergies often develop these dark circles as well. To compound the problem further, allergy sufferers frequently sleep poorly, which contributes to the creation of those dark circles.
Pollen, dust, mold and other environmental allergies, as well as dairy, gluten/grains, and more food-related sensitivities, can be treated successfully by using a gentle homeopathic and acupressure/acupuncture approach known as the Bioset protocol. For example: it is common to see dark circles under the eyes of children with dairy allergies; but these lessen or disappear usually within a few months of combined treatment and corrected nutrition.
The adrenals are tiny but very important glands sitting right on top of the kidneys. Known as our ‘flight or fight’ glands, they produce a variety of hormones necessary for those functions—cortisol or hydrocortisone, corticosterone, aldosterone, adrenaline or epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA, testosterone, dopamine, and others. Most of us live in a fairly constant ‘flight or fight’ state in reaction to constant stress and sensory over-stimulation, accompanied by an inability or lack of knowledge about how to calm ourselves down. As a result, our adrenals work too hard, become fatigued, and the hormones in the body become disrupted. A primary indicator of adrenal fatigue is dark circles under the eyes.
Lack of Sleep
Even though under eye bags and dark circles are the obvious effect, the importance of sleep discipline for good health cannot be overstated. We need sleep to rest the body and brain, improve memory and concentration, alleviate stress, reduce inflammation, spur creativity, sharpen focus, maintain healthy weight, stabilize moods, and so much more.
Our circadian cycle dictates the need of adequate and lengthy sleep, usually averaging 8 hours a day, so disruptions should be kept to a minimum. Sleep should not be disturbed by television or by light, which affects the pineal gland of the central nervous system and leads to a lack of REM phase (rapid eye movement), associated with increased production of proteins.
Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the US. CDC statistics indicate that about 17% of adults 20 years and older have some sort of chronic kidney disease. In Chinese medicine, dark circles under the eyes indicate a deficiency or problem in kidney functioning. Eye bags can also indicate insufficient excretion and water retention in the body.
Often during electro-acupuncture testing of the kidney meridian, those patients experiencing the dark circles and eye bags can test poorly. When this happens, a homeopathic/herbal remedy to support kidney drainage is usually recommended. As a rule, dark circles under the eyes began to disappear in a few months to the point that other people easily notice it.
Insufficient Stomach Acid
A lack of stomach acid could also be contributing to dark circles under your eyes. Hypochlorhydria is a state in which the stomach produces insufficient hydrochloric acid (HCl). Without enough HCl, food passing through the GI tract gets fermented instead of properly digested. This leads to a host of possible post-meal complaints: gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and acid reflux. For many people this becomes a chronic health issue.
The body’s failure to produce enough stomach acid makes it difficult to obtain the level of nourishment it requires since the necessary amounts of nutrients can’t be absorbed during digestion. Chronic levels of insufficient stomach acid cause the membranes of the GI tract to continue allowing undigested proteins to pass into the blood stream, perpetuating the problematic cycle associated with Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Compromised liver functioning is another, related cause of dark circles under the eyes. Weighing in at about 3-3.5 pounds, the liver is our largest internal organ and the largest gland in the human body. It has several important jobs—produce bile, regulate metabolism and insulin, convert nutrients, control hormones and more—but one of the most important is to defend the body by filtering toxins. If the liver stops functioning well, it stops protecting us from these harmful invaders.
When we’ve developed Leaky Gut Syndrome, the liver can’t do its job adequately and symptoms of liver dysfunction develop, including:
blood sugar issues
weakened immune system
Liver dysfunction can also cause bad breath, skin rashes, itchy skin, offensive body odor, yellow discoloration of the whites of the eyes, acne, rosacea, liver spots on the skin, red palms and soles (which may also be itchy and inflamed), and a flushed facial appearance.
Chemotherapy and Other Drug Therapies
Chemotherapy and other extreme drug therapies can also lead to dark circles under the eyes. This likely happens because chemotherapy drugs and many other pharmaceuticals degrade the gut microbiome and create intestinal disturbances. The presence of this good bacteria disappears, the immune system is weakened, and the body in general is more vulnerable to any of the health issues described here.
Holistic and alternative medicine practitioners are trained to recognize outward signals from our bodies indicating when there could be a larger health issue at hand. Dark circles and eye bags are two of the most common markers in need of further examination. Electro-acupuncture testing for meridians & organs and food & environmental sensitivities, plus detoxification, natural homeopathy, herbs, nutrition and corrected diet are all techniques I use in my practice to identify and address the causative factors. The picture of your health can be read on your face, but many methods are available to you to gain back beauty and wellness.
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