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Skin Condition as Indicator of Health
Robb Wolf  |  Nutrition  |  April 25 2006

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Art Devany has made the point for years that aesthetics are key indicators of health status and have potent evolutionary underpinnings. Here is a classic example of this concept with regards to the skin condition vitiligo. For those unfamiliar with the condition, vitiligo is a loss of pigmentation in sections of the skin.

 This first paper points to vitiligo occurring amidst several other autoimmune conditions:

1: Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2006 Jan-Feb;72(1):68-71.

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Click here to read 
Vitiligo: a sign of systemic disease.

Huggins RH, Janusz CA, Schwartz RA.

Dermatology, New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey 07103-2714, USA. hugginri@umdnj.edu

Vitiligo reflects a systemic process that has important implications beyond the skin. These include other autoimmune diseases and ocular and neurological abnormalities. Alezzandrini syndrome and Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome particularly exemplify this relationship. In addition, vitiligo may be confused with other systemic disorders, including tuberous sclerosis, progressive systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), melanoma, and, in endemic regions, leprosy. We describe these associations and emphasize the importance of depigmenting disorders.

 This second paper shows a treatment with broad action that addresses not only aspects of autoimmunity but also conditions directly linked to hyperinsulinism such as Acne Vulgaris:

Ernst Schering Res Found Workshop. 2006;(56):1-27.

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Inhibition of IFN-gamma as a method of treatment of various autoimmune diseases, including skin diseases.

Skurkovich B, Skurkovich S.

Pediatric Infection Disease, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI 2903, USA. Bskurkovich@pol.net

We pioneered anticytokine therapy (ACT) for autoimmune diseases (ADs). In 1974, we proposed that hyperproduced interferon (IFN) can bring AD and anti-IFN can be therapeutic. In 1989, we proposed removing tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha together with certain types of IFN to treat various ADs. We found IFN in patients with different ADs and conducted the first clinical trial of ACT in 1975. Anti-IFN-gamma and anti-TNF-alpha work in similar ways, but the latter brings serious complications in some patients. We obtained good, sometimes striking, therapeutic effects treating many different Th-1-mediated ADs with anti-IFN-gamma, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), corneal transplant rejection, and various autoimmune skin diseases such as psoriasis, alopecia areata, vitiligo, acne vulgaris, and others. Anti-IFN-gamma was in some ways superior to anti-TNF-alpha, which was ineffective in MS. Anti-IFN-gamma therapy holds great promise for treating many Th-1 ADs, especially skin diseases.

 Vitiligo is virtually unknown in hunter-gatherer populations but is quite prominent in populations with recent transition to Neolithic and worse, modern refined foods. The dual insult of gut irritation from incompatible plant lectins combined with increased systemic inflammation from chronically elevated insulin results in quite an array of pathologies.

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Robb Wolf is the owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning, a co-founder of the Performance Menu journal, and author of The Paleolithic Solution. His website is www.robbwolf.com.
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3 Comments
Marc Moffett 1 | 2006-05-03
Robb, sorry for being pedantic, but citing DeVaney as a player in the development of evolutionary psychology is extremely misleading. (I know that probably wasn't the intent, but the blog entry makes it sound as if DeVaney was the person who developed these ideas. One of my pet peeves is to get citations right, sorry.) These ideas are more appropriately traced back to sociobiology and the work of E. O. Wilson. The most sophisticated recent versions come from Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. Other major contributors include Donald Symons (especially on mating strategies), Steven Pinker, Randolphe Nesse, Jerome Barkow, and David Buss. The locus classicus for papers is the anthology "The Adapted Mind" (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, eds., OUP, 1992). For a more popular overview, Steve Pinker's book "How the Mind works" is a good bet. Recent criticisms include Jerry Fodor's short book from MIT, "The Mind Doesn't Work that Way" and David Buller's excellent critique "Adapting Minds : Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature" (MIT Press, 2006).
Robert Wolf 2 | 2006-05-05
Thanks Marc! I think all I intended was to mention that Devany has been talking about this concept of aesthetics and "fitness" since at least 1995. I have no doubt these other folks have contributed far more to the fields of evolutionary psychology/sociobiology than Prof. Devany but love him or hate him, he has done more than any of the academics in the field to popularize these concepts and make them both accessable and palatable to a broad audience. He certainly influenced my interests! Great reading recomendations BTW, I'll be adding these to the summer list!
Marc Moffett 3 | 2006-05-20
Rob, no offense intended, but evolutionary psychology has gotten all the press it needs without Devaney's help. For instance, Robert Wright (a journalist) wrote a book length discussion of it a few years ago called "The Moral Animal". Pinker is widely read outside of academia. and Donald Symons book "The Evolution of Desire" is another popular book that sold quite a few copies. Buller's critique is top notch and really does a service in clearing up the field. I highly recomend it as a starting point in the discussion. In particular, he does a very good job of disentangling the two importantly different ideas: (1) approaching the mind and behavior from an evolutionary perspective and (2) thinking of the mind/behavior as modular adaptations (mental "organs" a la Chomsky) that process domain specific information. The first issue is hardly controversial, but doesn't really begin to justify the sorts of "men-prefer-nubile-females and women-prefer-high-status-males" bunk that tends to parade around under the auspices of the second set of ideas. Just my two cents....
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