Eczema and psoriasis are two skin conditions that manifest time and again as rashes.
Eczema is an umbrella term for several types of skin swellings. It may seem like it’s caused because of skin-specific problems, since it appears only certain parts of our skin – but it’s a systemic problem, being an inflammatory response to allergens, which only manifests on the skin.1, 2, 3
Psoriasis, although different, is also not a strictly local problem. It’s a lifelong skin disease that occurs when our immune system leads to some skin cells multiplying too quickly (every three to four days, instead of the usual 30-day cycle). This makes extra skin cells build up on the skin’s surface, forming red, flaky, scaly lesions that can itch, crack, bleed and be quite painful.
While there isn’t a cure for these skin conditions, they are manageable in most cases – and although most people afflicted by them mainly turn to topical treatments and anti-inflammatory drugs, our diet matters far more than people think.
The foods that build our immune system are always important; here are some nutritional tips that can also help address these skin conditions –
1] Avoid foods that don’t suit you
A simple empirical elimination diet should be tried first, by excluding foods that have common allergens (like lactose and gluten), and most artificial colouring and preservatives.4
Any other foods that the one suspects may cause allergic reactions (based on personal experiences) should also eliminated at the same time.4
After eliminating allergenic foods for a week or two, you can begin to reintroduce food groups that contain these allergens one at a time, to see if any of these foods trigger these skin conditions.
2] Have healthy fats
a) Omega-3 fatty acids
These fats reduce skin inflammation, which can otherwise lead to several skin problems like excessive oil production (read: oily skin), acne and more.
Omega-3 fatty acids also keep our cells healthy, allowing them to support our skin’s structure, and sealing in the skin’s water, keeping it hydrated.1
Try making fatty fish (like tuna and salmon) and avocados feature regularly in your week’s diet, since they’re loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that can disturb our omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, on the other hand, are best avoided, since they could increase inflammation and worsen the condition.5
b) GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid)
GLA is another fatty acid that lowers inflammation, despite being an omega-6 fatty acid.
Since it’s a component of the oil that’s produced by the oil glands in our skin, and seals in our skin’s water (like omega-3 fatty acids), including it in our diet can help address skin conditions. 6
Unfortunately, we don’t generally eat the foods that this healthy fat is found in (borage oil and primrose oil being examples), which might make supplementation a better option.
3] Get the right kind of protein
Our skin’s proteins are constructed using amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from the protein we get in our diet. That might explain why very low calorie diets (of about 500 calories per day) seem to exacerbate skin conditions.
Collagen is an especially important protein, making up about 75% of the proteins in our skin, and is largely responsible for our skin’s firmness and elasticity.
It’s also exceptionally good at holding water within our skin’s network, and can go a long way in reducing the dryness that’s associated with these skin conditions. 7, 8
The good news (for non-vegetarians): high levels of collagen occur naturally in animals. The problem: they’re mainly found in the organs, skin, bone and cartilage of animals, so the muscle meats we eat today (chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef) don’t have quite the same amount.
That said, eating organ meats and slow cooked meat curries (which have the bone simmering in the water for many hours) can still be a great way to consume collagen and HA. Just be careful not to eat too much, though, because organ meat has a high fat content. A collagen supplement is also an easy way to ensure that you’re getting enough collagen in your diet.
4] Get enough vitamins and minerals
Vitamin C –
Essential for the production of collagen, vitamin C also helps boost our immune system. Given that both eczema and psoriasis are related to our immune system, making sure you’re getting enough vitamin C could help out.
Vitamin D –
Some studies suggest that low levels of vitamin D are associated with skin conditions, which seems likely, given that vitamin D is required for our cells to grow and mature into the correct type of cells.9, 10 Vitamin D also affects our immune system, and even creates a barrier between our skin and the environment, both aspects of which are critical for defending against skin conditions.11
Other nutrients like zinc, the B vitamins and vitamin E are also really helpful when it comes to managing skin conditions.12
5] Load up on Probiotics
Probiotics are foods that contain the “good bacteria” that’s also found in our gut, whose vastly beneficial effects on not just our immunity but also general health are fascinating.
Although more research needs to be conducted on whether they help reduce eczema and psoriasis symptoms, adding to these good bacteria’s numbers is still a good idea since they could boost the immune system and control allergies, especially in children.12
6] Get some antioxidants
Free radicals are harmful molecules that damage our cells and structures in their path. Their relationship with inflammation is becoming increasingly apparent, since they are constantly sent to sites of inflammation; in skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, this would mean them reaching the skin and its affected parts. Once there, the damage they cause makes the skin even more inflamed, leading to a build-up of cells and compounds along with the thickening and reddening of the skin.2, 3
Since free radicals are produced by external irritants and even emotional stress, it makes sense that both these factors seem to worsen skin conditions.2
Antioxidants are the body’s answer to free radicals – they neutralise the unstable molecules and thus prevent the damage that they otherwise cause.
While our body has its own inherent antioxidant stores, it’s important to constantly replenish them through our diet considering all the factors that create free radicals.
Vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene (a pigment found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables) and lycopene (the pigment that gives the red colour to tomatoes, watermelon, etc.) are some of the antioxidants that we can find in foods and supplements. Of these, vitamin C and lycopene also help build more collagen in our skin, making it even more useful in addressing eczema and psoriasis.13
7] Lower body-fat percentage
The human body has different types of fat; the type found predominantly in obese individuals tends to cause inflammation. 14
Since inflammation and obesity go hand-in-hand, losing weight by keeping an eye on our daily calorie intake has shown to be a hugely helpful addition to psoriasis treatments.
And seeing how problems like eczema and psoriasis only manifest on the skin but aren’t limited to it, bettering our general state of health is almost like setting off a chain reaction of improvements – all of which can lead to healthier and happier lifestyles.
1. Ruzicka T, et al. Handbook of atopic eczema. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.
2. Mihm MC, et al. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 1976, 67(3): 305-312.
3. Cookson W. Nat Rev Immunol 2004, 4(12): 978-988.
4. Atherton DJ. Clinical & Experimental Allergy 1988, 18(3): 215-228.
5. Ellwood P, et al. Thorax 2013, 68(4): 351-360.
6. Belch JJ, et al. Ann Rheum Dis 1988, 47(2): 96-104.
7. Sato T, et al. Aesthetic Dermatology 2002, 12: 109-120.
8. Proksch E, et al. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2014, 27(3): 113-119.
9. Heimbeck I, et al. Allergy 2013, 68(7): 906-910.
10. Wadhwa B, et al. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2015, 81(4): 344-355
11. Palmer DJ. J Clin Med 2015, 4(5): 1036-1050.
12. Bath-Hextall FJ, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012(2): Cd005205.
13. Rizwan M, et al. Br J Dermatol 2011, 164(1): 154-162.
14. Makki K, et al. ISRN inflammation 2013, 2013.