Technically eczema and psoriasis are two different conditions. Eczema is an inflammation of the skin that can be caused by vast variety of factors, both external and internal, while psoriasis is a more serious auto-immune condition. However, these two diseases have two major things in common: both are inflammatory conditions and both have similar symptoms such as itchy, red (sometimes “weeping”), scaly patches that usually occur around the scalp, back of the wrists, elbows and knees, but can affect any area of the body from face to ankles. What is not usually known by those affected is that these skin conditions are commonly correlated with problems of digestive system – even the autoimmune psoriasis – because our digestive system is a big part of our immune system. It can be poor digestion, Candida Albicans, impaired liver function, alcohol consumption, intake of animal fats and sugar, nutritional deficiencies or food intolerance, but whatever the cause, the treatment is usually quite simple: dietary adjustments. Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to eat everything and not to suffer any consequences. Some need more enzymes, others can not tolerate certain foods, some people develop liver or stomach/gut problems later in life. Correcting abnormal liver function or improving digestion is achievable through the correct nutrition and exclusion diets.
Most common foods that cause skin problems are: meat, dairy, sugar and alcohol, wheat, gluten and soy. Common problems that can cause eczema and psoriasis include:
- Liver dysfunction. Anything that puts a strain on liver must definitely be eliminated, e. g. simple sugars (including alcohol), saturated animal fat and overeating.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as leaky gut syndrome, poor protein digestion, bowel toxemia. Gluten often cause damage to intestinal walls due to inability of many people to properly digest it. Other undigested proteins can cause similar problems, thus excluding gluten, dairy and meat might help. Poor digestion might also cause malnutrition and lack of certain minerals and vitamins in the presence of toxins can result in inflammation.
- Candida Albicans is a fungus that populates the gut and most of the time it doesn’t cause harm. However, its overpopulation – candida overgrowth – is one of the common causes for psoriasis. There is a special elimination diet that one has to follow to get rid of Candida Albicans.
- Any particular food intolerance is also a common cause of eczema and the most common food group that is associated with skin rashes and eczema is dairy. Sometimes just cutting out dairy products can be enough to notice the improvement.
My Personal Experience Of Treating Eczema.
This post is somewhat personal to me because I suffered with horrible weeping eczema from toddler age all the way until mid twenties – this was when I started to take interest in nutrition and it was the time I was getting immune to steroid creams that are so commonly prescribed for such conditions. I was even prescribed antibiotics to treat my eczema and did take them because I didn’t know any better. Through all these years of hiding my arms under the long sleeves, applying prescription creams, swallowing one medication after another and trying to expose my arms to UV radiation (not a good idea), going from one doctor to next without getting any results and no one – not a single one of these doctors! – has ever mentioned to me the obvious: most skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis, indicate that there’s something wrong inside, not on the outside, and most of the time it is completely reversible with the right nutrition. Simple! I look at my arms now and there’s not the slightest hint of any of the skin problems of the past. If only I knew this earlier.
So about eight years ago, when I lost faith in my doctors and their prescriptions, I started to dig for information for any treatment of eczema and most of it was down to food that you eat. I asked for a referral to dietitian and was refused, even ridiculed, but I did managed to persuade my doctor to refer me to an allergy clinic, where they would test me for standard food allergies. It was a good idea to do this test prior to exclusion diet as this diet is sort of blind test and would be pointless if I would actually be allergic to certain foods. All results came back negative. That meant that maybe I could not digest certain proteins or sugars, or my liver was not doing its job properly. I ruled out Candida because I did not have any other associated symptoms. So I started my exclusion diet* that lasted for a few months. Every month I would exclude one food group completely from my diet (I had to read all labels!), the following month another, then another, etc. Over the course of 5 months, I excluded wheat, gluten, dairy, soy and sugar – as these foods were my suspects judging from the information that I gathered and my diet patterns. I have to mention that by that time I had already given up eating meat and processed foods, and I was also taking various supplements, which I continue to take, and drank on average 1.5 litres of water per day.
I discovered a lot of difficulties and also interesting things while I was following this diet, for example my sense of smell and taste has changed a lot when I cut out dairy products! They improved. Also, you’d be surprised how much soy and its derivatives there are in foods – cutting out soy was the most difficult thing to do! But to stay on the subject of this post, the major improvement in my condition was after I gave up gluten and sugar. This is when I really started to notice the clearing up of eczema. When I say sugar, I don’t just mean table sugar, chocolate and desserts. I mean all fruits and berries (especially citrus fruits as they can cause skin inflammation on their own), dried fruits and berries, all types of sweeteners and alcohol. I was eating clean protein such as fish, eggs, some nuts and legumes and plenty of vegetables. After about 5 month, I started to gradually introduce some foods back. Soy didn’t make any difference to me whatsoever, so I jumped right back on eating tofu without any consequences. After I reintroduced wheat/gluten and dairy, my eczema didn’t come back, but I didn’t feel very good at all and had other issues so I’ve decided to stay away from dairy completely and only eat wheat and gluten occasionally. When I reintroduced fruits and berries back – I was fine, but as soon as I came back to a combination of wine, bread and sugar (desserts) my skin has immediately flared up. So for me it was a combination of things, but overall sugar (especially simple sugars) and wheat always lead to inflammation.
Food And Supplements For Treatment Of Eczema And Psoriasis.
The above conditions are not only about exclusion of certain foods. It is also about proper nutrition to restore liver and bowel function, to reduce inflammation and to heal the skin. There are certain foods that one must eat and certain nutrients that would be beneficial to take as a supplement. Overall, a diet of plenty of fresh vegetables, “northern” fruits and berries, healthy whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat and barley (if not allergic to gluten), lean protein such as eggs, fish, tofu, beans and legumes and healthy oils are beneficial for recovery. Including anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, garlic and turmeric in daily cooking might also help.
If following an exclusion diet (and chances are that you will) – a good quality multivitamin and a probiotic supplements is necessary to avoid any possible deficiencies. A good probiotic supplement will also ensure that intestine is repopulated with beneficial bacteria – this is especially important during the treatment from Candida.
Fish oil (EPA and DHA) helps to reduce inflammation and to moisture the skin and joints (which is beneficial for those with arthritic prosiasis). Vegetarians and vegans can get EPA and DHA from Chia or Flax seeds, but as I wrote previously (here and here), the conversion rates are quite poor, especially considering that many people with eczema and psoriasis do have lack of nessesary enzymes and minerals. Taking a good quality, liquid fish oil daily in addition to two to three servings of good quality oily fish per week can provide the nessesary amount of EPA and DHA. Other healthy oils to include are cold pressed olive oil, avocados and coconut oil. Common vegetable oils such as sunflower, soy, canola and corn are not recommended because they can trigger inflammation.
Beta Carotene is essential for skin health and psoriasis patients are often prescribed vitamin A (retinol) creams for topical applications. Vitamin A is not recommended in large doses during pregnancy, but eczema during pregnancy is very common, so beta carotene supplement is safer to take. However, there is also plenty of beta carotene in food and the optimal intake can be achieved through diet alone. Healthy food sources include pretty much all orange, yellow and green colored vegetables and fruits and egg yolks. So eat your carrots, spinach, yams, pumpkin and squash, kale, etc. Vitamins E and D are also essential for skin health, detoxification and normal immune system function.
Zinc is an absolute must for healthy immune system and to repair the skin damage, reduce inflammation and to boost the effectiveness of fatty acids. This is also the mineral most people are not getting enough of. Taking Zinc supplement of 20mg to 45mg per day should be sufficient.
Quercetin is an excellent anti-inflammatory and natural anti-histamine compound, which makes it perfect for both “digestive” and hay fever induced eczema as well as auto-immune psoriasis. It also helps to reduce redness and skin lesions. Quercetin is best taken in supplement form to ensure optimal intake. In food, onions are very rich food source of quercetin.
Sulphur is also beneficial for skin health and is one of the best and most prescribed natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Apart of reducing inflammation it also helps to alleviate redness and itchiness and to accelerate healing process. MSM is one of the best known sulphur supplements, but sulphur is also abundant in food, especially in legumes, cruciferous vegetables, onions and garlic. There are also sulphur based creams and bath salts that can provide relief from redness and itchiness.
The example diet mentioned above should also reduce the strain on liver and help to restore normal liver function, but there is one supplement that is recommended to aid the process. Milk Thistle is a herb that is very good for liver cleansing and improving the liver function. Silymarin (the active compound of Milk Thistle) has been found to improve psoriasis due to reduction of excessive proliferation of skin cells, inflammation and improved liver function. 70mg to 210mg of Silymarin 3 times per day or liquid tincture according to package instructions has to be taken for at least one month.
In conclusion, I must say that it might be more to it than just the right diet, especially in case of psoriasis, but trying to treat these conditions with nutrition is cheap, easy, safe and in many cases very effective, so it would be lazy not to try. Who knows, you might just stop using that steroid cream for good. But please also note, that the information above is only concerning adult eczema and prosiasis. Baby and toddler eczema can also be treated through nutrition, but with a different approach.
*I did the exclusion diet by myself with no medical supervision. If you are lucky enough to have a good doctor, do follow medical advice and let the doctor monitor you. I just couldn’t find a doctor who would do it.