Treating the cause of acne, eczema and psoriasis, not the symptoms

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Our skin is our largest organ, an important detoxifier and immune barrier. Poor skin reflects an unhealthy internal environment, so the most effective way to clear up one’s skin is from the inside out.

Acne, eczema, and psoriasis are relatively common skin conditions that affect many kids and adults, and can potentially effect a large emotional toll. Many feel self conscious and embarrassed in social situations due to poor skin, and some may actually withdraw because of it. Ironically the stress caused by the skin condition can often make the skin condition worse. Topical ointments don’t usually work very well, and corticosteroid-type creams may create further imbalances in the hormone system, resulting in trading a skin condition for something more serious like osteoporosis. Although acne, eczema and psoriasis are different conditions, they all involve skin inflammation, so here are some things one can do that are very effective in helping all three.

  1. Most important and most effectivedecrease or eliminate flour, sugar, alcohol and processed food as these foods are highly inflammatory to the body.
  2. Optimize omega 3 / omega 6 ratio by reducing intake of vegetable oils and eating more fatty fish or taking a good quality omega 3 fish oil. Too much omega 6 is inflammatory to the body.
  3. Eat lots of leafy green and orange vegetables, organic if possible, only lightly cooked so as to preserve the nutrition.
  4. Take probiotics daily to improve the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Research has shown that this is helpful.
  5. Work on decreasing stress levels – get adequate sleep, reduce toxic relationships, do relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, meditation, more fun time, do what you love.
  6. Avoid scratching to avoid infections (Yup, way easier said than done!)
  7. Don't wash with extremely hot water, or use an abrasive cloth. Instead just soap up with your hands to wash your body, so as not to break the lesions, and also to avoid washing off too many of the skin's natural oils. Pat yourself dry.
  8. Spend about an hour each day in the sun without allowing yourself to burn (I know – tough if it is cold and cloudy). UV rays actually help clear up skin.

Acne, often the bane of teenagers and young adults, seems to be related to insulin insensitivity, so once again, eliminating grains or at least flour products and sugar can help a lot. Sugar and flour products raise insulin levels, which in turn raises insulin-growth factor (IGF-1), which raises testosterone, which increases sebum production in the skin, which attracts acne-causing bacteria, which worsens acne. IGF-1 also increases keratinocytes, a type of skin cell associated with acne. It is interesting to note that acne is virtually non-existent in parts of the world where refined, and processed flour and sugar are rarely consumed. Another major problem with the refined grains in the western diet is those grains are not soaked first, before being turned into baked goods, pasta, crackers or whatever. Grains can be a good source of zinc, but if the grains are not soaked for at least 12 hours before using, the zinc is bound up and can’t be accessed. Zinc deficiency is also linked to acne.

Acne is commonly treated with antibiotics, but I’m not convinced antibiotics get at the cause of the problem, and although this band-aid solution may mask the symptoms by killing the surface bacteria which aggravates the skin, it will further disrupt good health by killing all the good bacteria in the gut, which then compromises gut and immune function, creating a whole host of other problems, such as chronic yeast infections, leaky gut, etc. Often antibiotic treatment goes on for months, so taking probiotics to repopulate the gut with good bacteria doesn't work very well, as they are promptly killed with the next antibiotic dose. Not only that, but antibiotic use increases antibiotic resistance, which is becoming a huge problem. Accutane, the other popular medication for acne is linked to depression and suicide in some. So, to eliminate acne safely, religiously follow the list above, and:

  1. If you must eat grain, make sure it is whole (looks like a seed and is not ground into flour), and soak it for 12 hours first before cooking in order to make the zinc bio-available.  Eat with a protein and a good-quality fat like organic butter to slow the sugar into the bloodstream.
  2. Eat free-range meats, poultry, seafood or egg yolks – good sources of zinc.  Best flesh source is oysters, best plant source is pumpkin seeds, but soak them first.  (All grains, nuts and seeds should be soaked before eating.  Just put them in a jar of water for 12 hours, drain off the water, rinse, and dry by laying them on a cookie sheet in the oven under the pilot light. Refrigerate). Don't take zinc supplements as it is easy to overdose, and zinc in isolation messes up absorption of other trace minerals, especially copper.
  3. Avoid processed soy isolate products, like soy milk, soy cheese, soy burgers etc., as processed soy reduces zinc absorption.
  4. Avoid chlorinated and fluoridated products.  Halogens seem to make some acne worse.
  5. Don't pop or squeeze the pimples.

Eczema, a very itchy skin condition that causes red, swollen, sometimes scale-like splotches, particularly on the flexor side of joints, is very common in infants and children seems to be a skin expression of food sensitivities. If you or your child has eczema, you may find it worthwhile to see an allergist for a skin prick allergy test, and possibly for a check for celiac sprue (allergy to gluten). In addition to the very important suggestions in list 1 above, here are some ideas to eliminate eczema. (If your baby has eczema and is being breastfed, Mom can reduce the baby's eczema by doing the following):

  1. If you can't get to an allergist to discover what you or your child is sensitive to, use an elimination diet. Eliminate wheat, or better yet, all gluten grains (all grains except for rice, millet, buckwheat and corn). Eliminate all pasteurized dairy. Within 3 weeks you will most likely notice a reduction in eczema. If not, eliminate other common allergens like soy, eggs, nuts, shellfish etc. After 3 weeks you can introduce the foods one at a time, and look for a worsening in the skin condition in order to figure out what the sensitivities are.
  2. Many skin creams contain gluten-grain (like oats) or other food allergen ingredients – read labels and don't use them if you know you are sensitive to the allergen. What you put on your skin gets into your blood.
  3. Look for ways to reduce exposure to toxic chemical compounds at home and at work by using natural laundry detergents, cleaners etc., eliminating the use of perfumed products, avoiding jewelry containing nickel etc.
  4. Take a GLA supplement like Evening Primrose Oil. This in combination with the other ideas may help.
  5. Some people are so sensitive to grains, they react to the grains fed to cattle. Eat grass-fed meats.

Psoriasis is also an auto-immune problem, but may be more a result of poor detoxification capabilities , and although food can sometimes be a trigger, it is frequently caused by external or chemical allergens (like aspartame or certain drug classes like beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, or lithium). Once again, eliminating the offending product(s) is key to the solution, as well as doing all one can to reduce the load on our detoxification system. Psoriasis is often much worse in cold weather, or when progesterone is high in the female cycle. Skin rashes usually occur on the extensor side of joints. To help resolve psoriasis, in addition to the critically important first list above, try:

  1. Stop smoking if you smoke. Stop drinking alcohol, if you drink.
  2. Encourage detoxification by sweating – do some exercise or take a sauna (infrared saunas are very effective).
  3. Drink half your bodyweight in pounds, in ounces ofwater each day to dilute the toxins and help the kidneys with elimination. (If you weigh 150lbs, drink 75oz of pure water each day.)
  4. Zinc deficiency is common in psoriasis. Eat free-range meats, poultry, seafood or egg yolks – good sources of zinc. Best flesh source is oysters, best plant source is pumpkin seeds, but soak them first (Don't take zinc supplements as it is easy to overdose, and zinc in isolation messes up absorption of other trace
    minerals, especially copper.)
  5. Try eating an apple (organic) before bed to encourage a bowel movement in the morning if you are constipated.
  6. Speak to a functional-medicine physician regarding testing liver and kidney function, and get treated if needed.
  7. Avoid pesticide residues and food additives by eating organic, unprocessed food only.
  8. Look for ways to reduce exposure to toxic chemical compounds at home and at work by using natural laundry detergents, cleaners etc., eliminating the use of perfumed products, avoiding jewelry containing nickel etc.
  9. Consider having mercury amalgam fillings removed.
  10. Taking a greens superfood like chlorella (a fresh-water seaweed) may help take heavy metals out of the body.

Just like bad teeth reflect a poor diet, bad skin reflects a struggling internal environment. You can be sure that once your skin clears up using the above techniques, you will be far healthier on so many levels than you were when your skin was not clear. You may have also just cleared up the beginnings of disease processes like diabetes and heart disease too, so congratulations!

If you want to search for other posts by title or by topic, go to www.wellnesstips.ca. Happy New Year, everyone!

Related tips
Food sensitivities, digestive problems and joint pain
Maintaining bone mass by preparing grains, nuts and seeds properly
It’s not what you eat but what you digest that counts
Our toxic body burden
Dealing with inflammation and inflammatory conditions
Stress and digestive issues

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Smith R et al. A pilot study to determine the short-term effects of a low glycemic load diet on hormonal markers of acne: a nonrandomized, parallel, controlled feeding trial. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Jun;52(6):718-26.

Smith RN et al. A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 1, 107-115, July 2007

Smith RN et al. The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Aug;57(2):247-56. Epub 2007 Apr 19.

Bibi Nitzan Y, Cohen AD. Zinc in skin pathology and care. J Dermatolog Treat. 2006;17(4):205-10.

Horrobin DF. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 1, 367S-372s, January 2000

Duchén K, Yu G, Björkstén B Atopic sensitization during the first year of life in relation to long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in human milk. Pediatr Res. 1998 Oct;44(4):478-84.

Duchén K, Björkstén B. Polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids and the development of atopic disease. Lipids. 2001 Sep;36(9):1033-42.

Rapid responses to Ross St C Barnetson and Maureen Rogers Childhood atopic eczema BMJ 2002; 324: 1376-1379

Kalliomäki M et al. Probiotics and prevention of atopic disease: 4-year follow-up of a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2003 May 31;361(9372):1869-71.

Wickens K et al. A differential effect of 2 probiotics in the prevention of eczema and atopy: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008 Oct;122(4):788-94. Epub 2008 Aug 31.

Bor, Naci M. ZINC IN TREATMENT OF PSORIASIS Journal of Islamic Academy of Sciences 4:1, 78-82, 1991 82

Saraceno R et al. Does metabolic syndrome influence psoriasis? Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2008 Sep-Oct;12(5):339-41.

Dika E et al. Drug-induced psoriasis: an evidence-based overview and the introduction of psoriatic drug eruption probability score. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2006;25(1):1-11.

Chen YJ et al. Psoriasis independently associated with hyperleptinemia contributing to metabolic syndrome. Arch Dermatol. 2008 Dec;144(12):1571-5.

Ersoy-Evans S et al. Phototherapy in childhood. Pediatr Dermatol. 2008 Nov-Dec;25(6):599-605.

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Copyright 2008 Vreni Gurd

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8 Comments »

  1. Jodi said,

    January 4, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    Hi Vreni,
    Great information on skin conditions. I have suffered from acne myself for 10 years, been on several courses of Accutane (which I’m convinced must do some kind of permanent liver damage), and have found that the only permanent solution is through change in diet and lifestyle.
    Anyway, what I actually wanted to comment on was point 8 for improving psoriasis. I work in dentistry, and all of the literature I’ve read on amalgam fillings says that the patient is actually exposed to more mercury through the removal process as opposed to just leaving the filling in. Most fillings will not last a lifetime though, so eventually you will probably have to replace them anyway. But if you are an older adult and you have a relatively new amalgam filling that is strong and sound, I’m not sure if it’s most wise to get it removed. I’ve also read that there is no evidence that amalgam fillings affect blood mercury levels. I’m not sure yet if I agree with that, but I do know that the alternative filling material should also be examined. “White” composite resin fillings, to the best of my knowledge, are basically plastic and usually contain some form of Bis-GMA or Bisphenol-A. I’m not a dentist, so I’m not as familiar with these biomaterials as some are…I just thought I’d throw this information out there for thought in case anyone is interested in this topic.

  2. Carol Dannhauser said,

    January 5, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    Hi Vreni,
    Thanks a bunch for your very informative yet easy-to-read suggestions on using (or avoiding) certain foods to help care for your skin. We loved it so much it is our national story of the day on our site, http://www.CookinTeens.com!
    Best,
    Carol

  3. Vreni said,

    January 7, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    Glad you liked the post – thanks for referring others to my site. Much appreciated!

  4. Dave T said,

    January 12, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    Hi Vreni,
    Great topic, and close to home. Acne and other skin conditions affect so many of us, and at so many ages! Personally, my fiancee is combatting rosacea and it can be awfully embarassing. We know that alcohol is a trigger, but even when alcohol is eliminated, the conditions are intermittent. I wonder if this list of suggestions is also useful for eliminating rosacea? I would really appreciate some more info on this topic!

    Thanks for all the great tips and reading, have a blessed 2009!
    -Dave

  5. Vreni said,

    January 13, 2009 @ 2:12 am

    Hi Dave,

    I don’t know much about rosacea, but my impression is it is also due to inflammation, and as the top list above is all that can be done to eliminate inflammation, I would think it would make a difference. It may also be worth checking for food sensitivities or possibly environmental allergies, as there may be other triggers involved. I read also that spicy and hot foods may make things worse – is that her experience also?

    The other suggestion I have is based on no reading whatsoever, but it makes sense to me that if she found out her metabolic type, and ate the foods appropriate for her type minus the foods she is sensitive to, she may feel much better. She can go to http://www.healthexcel.com to learn more.

    Hope that helps!

    Vreni

  6. Hayley said,

    August 9, 2009 @ 6:31 am

    Hi Vreni
    Great blog – lots of information there on eczema. My son suffered terribly. It was awful. Natural remedies are definitely the best. I did my own blog on eczema – there are 20% of people who now suffer. http://eczemanaturalremedy.blogspot.com/

    Hayley

  7. Sharen Dolby said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    Typical features of acne include: seborrhea (increased oil-sebum secretion), comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules (pinheads), pustules (pimples), nodules (large papules) and, possibly scarring.The appearance of acne varies with skin color. It may result in psychological and social problems.

  8. Karren Humbert said,

    June 7, 2013 @ 5:27 am

    An allergist/immunologist can provide expert medical advice and treatment in the evaluation and management of people with allergic diseases, asthma and immune problems (see above for types of patients seen). This includes the ability to perform and interpret allergy testing, expertise in treating complex allergic diseases and asthma, as well as the ability to prescribe allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots).

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