When Hanna Sillitoe was told that chemotherapy was her final treatment option, she decided to look into how lifestyle and dietary changes could save her skin. The outcome was better than she could have imagined

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As far as skin, health and weight are concerned, I’m far from genetically blessed. I don’t come from a particularly privileged background either – kale and quinoa were certainly never staples in our household! I’m an ordinary, northern girl and I’ve had to work hard to conquer an autoimmune illness which plagued me for most of my adult life.

The saying ‘beauty comes from within’ and the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ ring so true in every sense. My poor diet, and the stress I put my body through, were very much reflected on the outside.

I battled psoriasis  throughout my twenties. Red, scaly patches on the surface of my skin, which were caused by a poorly functioning immune system. My bad diet would exacerbate the problem, which in turn would stress me out, which would cause another flare-up and so the cycle went on. But, let me tell you, there is hope. Changing my diet and healing from the inside completely changed my body on the outside. My skin is clear, I can think straight, I no longer get sick, I sleep peacefully and wake full of energy when the sun rises. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this way of being is absolutely life changing.

Problem Skin

A few facts and figures for you:

>>At least 100 million individuals are affected by psoriasis worldwide.

>>A survey by the National Psoriasis Foundation found that almost 75 per cent of patients believed their psoriasis had a significant negative impact on their quality of life. Another survey reported that at least 20 per cent of psoriasis patients had contemplated suicide.

>>Research shows that the psychological effects of skin conditions such as psoriasis can be equal to those experienced with heart failure or cancer.

Those are frightening statistics. And this is just one skin condition, out of the many severe skin problems that have a devastating impact on so many people of all races and ages around the world.

People are more aware of skin problems such as acne and eczema , but psoriasis is less well-known. It is an autoimmune disorder activated by an over-responsive immune system. When the immune system functions properly, a highly complex collection of processes work together as our first line of defence to prevent diseases. However, this defence system can go wrong, triggering autoimmune disorders. The body detects that there is a problem, and the immune system goes into overdrive and sets out to defeat the perceived problem. Except, there is no problem. So the immune system attacks perfectly healthy tissue, replacing it far too quickly and erratically. For psoriasis sufferers the result of this unnecessary response is red, flaky patches spreading all over the body.

If you’ve never suffered from a skin condition, it’s hard to describe the effect that it can have on everyday life. For me, coping with psoriasis, eczema and acne meant that ordinary things such as buying clothes stopped being a pleasure, and became more like a mission to find something that would make the angry red patches covering my body look a little less obvious and feel less painful. My condition shattered my confidence, and when my doctor told me that the only remaining treatment was chemotherapy, I began my own research and changed my diet and lifestyle. Instead of just treating the symptoms of my immune system disorder, I look a long hard look at my lifestyle (I was easily going through twenty to forty cigarettes a day at one point, and full-bodied red wine was my preferred poison). I hit a turning point and decided to make long-term, sustainable dietary and lifestyle choices to promote true health and longevity.

I completely changed my life through re-educating myself on the benefits and detrimental effects that food can have on health and wellbeing. I cleared my psoriasis, eczema and acne, and lost five stone in weight without trying. My recurring kidney infections disappeared, my bleeding gums healed and my energy levels bounced through the roof. I truly believe – with a little commitment and time – you can achieve the same.

Skin before

The important thing to remember, when it comes to skin problems, is that we all differ a little. The speed with which long-term conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and  rosacea  begin to clear can depend on so many factors. Healing varies greatly from person to person. I’ve known a change in diet begin to yield results within just a few days, while for others it may take weeks or even months to see a notable difference on the skin’s surface. Below are five tips that I found the most impactful on my skin and general health- try them and see how you get along.

Skin after

Drink more water

It sounds simple and dare I say it, even a little bit boring! But proper hydration is absolutely vital for clear skin. If you’re not used to drinking at least a couple of litres of pure, still water each day, it might feel a little like you’re drowning at first or never off the loo! Believe me, that feeling soon subsides. Drinking water helps us to process nutrients from the foods we eat, plus water replenishes our skin tissue and increases its elasticity. This in turn helps to delay the signs of ageing such as wrinkles and fine lines.

Exercise often

Regular exercise is absolutely key to healthy skin. Sweating during exercise is nature’s way of eliminating the toxins that can build up under the skin. It increases blood flow, helping to nourish our skin cells and keep them functioning correctly. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin. In addition to providing oxygen, blood flow also helps carry to away waste products, including free radicals, from working cells. Exercise has also been proven to reduce stress and lowering stress can certainly improve certain skin conditions including acne and psoriasis.

'Changing my diet and healing from the inside completely changed my body on the outside'

Ditch toxic toiletries

If you’re struggling with dry skin, using shower gels, bath foams and even particular body lotions can actually make the problem worse. Have you ever taken a moment to read the ingredients list  on a bottle of shampoo? It’s often a long list of chemicals. Sodium lauryl sulfate , for example, makes our shampoos foam up but it’s so damaging; scientists use it in tests to irritate skin so that they can discover how to heal it. Alcohol is used in many topical lotions and potions, which is incredibly drying and can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema. Look for a truly natural brand, or one free of potentially irritating chemicals, or use a few simple ingredients to make your own alternatives.

Up your vitamins

Selenium, zinc and vitamin A are particularly beneficial when it comes to restoring and maintaining healthy skin. Just five brazil nuts a day provide our daily requirement of selenium and pumpkin seeds, while chickpeas and spinach are a wonderful source of zinc. Carrots, sweet potato and kale are full of vitamin A, which helps to protect against UV damage and can slow down the signs of ageing. Vitamin A also helps to strengthen the skin’s outer barrier over time, protecting our complexion from harmful irritants which may otherwise attack the skin’s surface.

Add in more antioxidants

Antioxidants reduce inflammation to help maintain healthy skin and prevent the formation of wrinkles. They protect our complexion by limiting the production of free radicals, which can damage skin cells. Some of the best sources of antioxidants include pomegranates, raspberries, nuts and seeds and even dark chocolate. Antioxidants can also help to protect our skin from the damaging effects of the sun. Unlike sunscreens and moisturisers, antioxidants protect us from the inside out by guarding our cells from damage.