February 22nd 2017
The Eczema Files: Nutrition for tricky skin
June 6th 2015
Can what you eat improve your eczema? Ali Hunter tries feeding her lizard skin...
In my long battle with a pick-and-mix of unpalatable skin conditions I’ve learned that no amount of miracle cream or pill-popping will completely calm an enraged epidermis. Whilst lotions and potions can help ease the symptoms, and even go some way to tackling the root of your skin condition, your biggest organ is only as healthy as what you feed it.
With this in mind, I embarked on a quest to find out how nutrition can help or hinder my aggravated skin. I learned a few interesting things on my adventures…
Dr Stefanie Williams
Dr Stefanie has carried out extensive research into the links between skin and nutrition, and her book Future Proof Your Skin, £9.99, gives a detailed guide to the ins and outs of how food affects the skin’s ageing process. During my consultation Dr Stefanie gave me a few golden rules to get me on the path to well-nourished skin:
Avoid Pro-inflammatory Foods
Pro-inflammatory foods are a major contributing factor in many skin conditions including acne and eczema. Some common pro-inflammatory foods are: sugar, refined carbohydrates (as they are quickly broken down into sugar), and omega 6 rich polyunsaturated fats found in many vegetable oils.
Go for “good fats”
According to Dr Stefanie’s book “lipids form a vital component of our cell walls (membranes) and help maintain cell structure and function” (p96). Eczema prone skin benefits hugely from the healthy fats we consume. Monounsaturated fats contained in olive oil, avocadoes and fatty fish are highly beneficial to skin and help prevent inflammatory reactions. Saturated fats such as coconut oil and moderate portions of animal fats are also essential to good skin health.
Henrietta Norton is co-founder of Wild Nutrition, author and nutritional therapist at Grace Belgravia and SP&Co in London. According to Henrietta “Like many skin conditions, eczema is thought to originate from imbalances in the gut. Often this imbalance is characterised by damage to the lining of the gut wall. This gut wall is the filter that stops large molecules from food entering the blood stream. When this filter is damaged, large particles are able to get from the gut into the bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response which can show as skin conditions such as eczema. The most common food triggers for this are gluten, dairy and soya.”
Henrietta’s top eczema busting foods
Avocado- Rich in good oils and the fat soluble nutrient vitamin E which can help to repair inflammation on the skin surface.
Lean fish- Rich in amino acids to repair damaged skin, lean fish also provides iodine necessary for healthy thyroid function and oily fish contains vitamin D which is necessary for a healthy immune system.
Shiitake or maitake mushrooms- These mushrooms are rich in vitamin D (if grown with some exposure to sunlight) as well as potent immune supporting compounds called beta glucans.
Fermented foods- Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria necessary for a well functioning immune system located within the tissue of the digestive system. They are also rich in B vitamins and minerals that support digestive and cellular health.
Foods to avoid
Trans fats– These are damaged fats found in processed foods, which can affect how well our body uses the good fats.
High intake of sugar- Sugar is known to disrupt healthy cell function, including the cells on the skin’s surface.
Cow’s milk– “The proteins found in dairy have been shown to be a common trigger in cases of eczema. In some cases there can be cross-reactivity with gladden (the protein found in gluten containing products including wheat) and so you may also benefit from removing gluten containing products from your diet too. However this should only be for short period of time and under the guidance of a qualified nutritional therapist who will also form a protocol to re-establish digestive wellness. Don’t be tempted to substitute with soya milk which can also be a trigger or gluten free products which are often highly processed and high in sugar.”
“Everything you eat becomes a part of not only your inner being, but the outer fabric of your body as well. The healthier the foods are that you consume, the better your skin will look. The reverse is true as well; the less attention we pay to eating a healthy skin diet, the more problems we may see cropping up with our skin. Most chronic skin conditions, like eczema, psoriasis and acne can be linked directly to diet.”
What to avoid
Stimulating drinks- Tea, coffee and other stimulating drinks affect the adrenal glands and encourage the stress response, which can contribute to flare ups.
Refined carbohydrates and sugars– These can upset the metabolism of essential fatty acids, which is often already a problem for people with atopic eczema.
Top eczema-fighting foods
Zinc-rich foods– Zinc “is involved in the normal functioning of the sebaceous glands in the skin (which produce oil) and helps to repair skin damage and keep skin soft and supple. Zinc-rich foods include fish, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.”
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats– These are found in avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds. “They provide essential fatty acids which act as a natural moisturiser for your skin. These fats also come packaged with a healthy dose of vitamin E (a vitamin which many of us lack), which is an antioxidant and will help to protect against free radical damage.”
Emma’s Mackerel Pâté
200g smoked mackerel fillets, skin removed
1 fresh lemon juice and zest
4 spring onions
Sprigs of fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
Put all the ingredients into a food processor, season with pepper and whizz it all up briefly in the blender.
Content Skin Nutrition
I went to the lovely ladies at Content for their Skin Nutrition Treatment. They asked me to fill in a three day food diary to discuss during the treatment. Doing the diary was a real eye-opener, as I finally saw on paper all the little treats and cuppas that don’t usually register when I think about my eating habits.
The treatment consists of a half hour consultation followed by a soothing Pai facial – the perfect incentive to commit to a few dietary changes! The key aims of the dietary advice are to decrease inflammation, decrease stress levels, balance gut flora and strengthen the skin’s barrier function, all of which help achieve healthier skin. We discussed my eating habits and the benefits of specific ingredients. I was given a shopping list of foods rich in key nutrients for sensitive skin so I know exactly what to look out for. I got loads of handy tips that really changed my attitude to food and eating habits, here a few of the best:
Eat bitters first– eating dark greens such as rocket first kick starts the production of hydrochloric acid so that you’re ready to digest the rest of your meal.
Go organic– fewer pesticides and chemical agents mean more nutrients and fewer toxins to upset your liver and your skin.
Grass-fed is best– grass-fed meat is higher in omega 3 and other nutrients than poorer quality corn-fed meat. Here’s a little tongue twister to help you remember: your food is only as good as the food it’s fed!
Skin Tea– Content have a great recipe for anti-inflammatory turmeric and ginger tea to start your day with a skin-soothing zing.
So there you go, I’m armed with a wealth of nutritional tips and ready to transform my skin from within and hopefully, shed my scales. Soon the only scales I’ll be seeing will be on the skin saving fish in my shopping trolley…
Have you made changes to your diet and seen a difference in your skin condition? I’d love to hear about it- comment below or tweet me @Ali_C_Hunter
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