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Commonly found on the neck, groin and eyelids, skin tags are little growths of excess skin attached by a stalk (peduncle) that rise above the surrounding skin area. These benign lesions range from smooth to irregular and may be flesh-coloured or dark. Sometimes they appear due to friction in skin creases. Extreme hormone changes during pregnancy and lactation may also cause them, and they drop off once hormones settle. However, a sudden outbreak may indicate an insulin problem: natural medicine practitioners often regard them as a pre-diabetic body sign, because they're associated with diabetes mellitus, obesity, insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and atherosclerosis. When insulin metabolism goes wrong, it throws off everything else. Insulin resistance means the pancreas is producing insulin, but the cells are not responding. If cells are insulin-resistant, glucose cannot enter; instead, it accumulates in the blood, and this creates the risk factor for diabetes, and possibly skin tags.

Preventing the problem

Consulting a natural medicine practitioner is recommended for anyone with insulin resistance. The best medicine is prevention and normalising metabolic imbalances before disease takes hold.

For patients with insulin sensitivity, I recommend a dietary regime based on required weight loss, refined carbohydrate and sugar control, inflammation reduction, and digestion support, plus maintaining good sleep patterns and increasing exercise. Avoiding processed, high-sugar, high-sodium foods and drinks is especially important for PCOS sufferers. A diet consisting primarily of lean organic meats and other proteins, high-fibre grains, leafy greens, vegetables, legumes and fruit substantially aids the body’s ability to balance insulin. I often prescribe mung bean soup with specific spice remedies and a special bitter gourd juice recipe.

For patients who are already insulin-resistant, I recommend a wholefood, low-inflammation meal plan. Each meal should have no more than a palm-sized portion of carbohydrate in the form of coloured vegetables and fruit, with some lean protein and lots of herbs and spices. Also important are healthy fats, or those rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs), found in avocados, cold-water fish such as wild salmon, soaked flaxseed, and eggs. EFAs may also be taken in supplement form. I also recommend a pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplement that helps decrease carbohydrate and sugar cravings and normalise hormonal function. This may include alpha lipoic acid (an antioxidant that helps turn glucose into fuel for the body), magnesium, chromium, cinnamon, and herbal medicines, such as goat’s rue.

A minimum 30 minutes’ exercise three to five days a week is also beneficial for regulating metabolic function and hormonal balance. Decreasing stress and reducing the burden on the adrenal glands will result in better overall health and help keep control insulin levels. Meditation, yoga nidra and pranayama breathing are recommended. Stopping smoking, moderating alcohol intake, and developing good sleeping habits further alleviates insulin and hormonal imbalances. In my experience, the tags drop off once the underlying causes of the imbalance are addressed. Try topical applications of tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar or fresh garlic juice to the skin tag overnight until it drops off.

Ann Vlass BHSc(Nat) Bsc(Hons) is a natural medicine practitioner, research scientist, and member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. www.atms.com.au