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Nutrients and herbs may be very effective in preventing recurrences of all-too-common – and troublesome – eczema and psoriasis.

Itching, burning, redness, even weeping sores – eczema and psoriasis are impossible to ignore, and can significantly impact quality of life. At first, we see them through one dimension, as a surface problem – but in fact, they are signalling underlying, complex issues occurring in the body.

Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition, characterised by flaking and red/silvery, scaly patches, usually on the elbows, knees, hands, and scalp. The moist, red, itchy and sometimes cracked patches of eczema, on the other hand, tend to present in skin folds, like behind the knees and inner elbows. The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, though research suggests an underlying autoimmune disorder that causes the skin to constantly regenerate. In eczema, causes are more defined, with studies showing a clear inherited tendency in atopic (allergic) conditions, frequently diagnosed in infancy.

Go for your gut

Natural treatments for both problems focus strongly on the gut, with particular emphasis on intestinal permeability (where toxins from the intestines seep into the bloodstream), dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria), and inflammation.
* Probiotics: These are essential for both disorders. A Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology study has shown the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii is effective in reducing intestinal permeability, while another, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, demonstrates the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus reduces eczema symptoms, supporting the link to dysbiosis. Another potentially therapeutic probiotic is Lactobacillus plantarum, shown in animal studies to inhibit inflammatory mediators involved in psoriasis while reducing the effects of histamine.
* Essential fatty acids: According to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, a deficiency in the omega-6 fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) occurs in atopic eczema, due to an inherited abnormality in metabolising fatty acids. Studies using evening primrose oil (a source of GLA) in treating eczema also show beneficial effects, significantly reducing skin roughness and elevated stress markers.
* Herbs: Research published in Advanced Biotechnology shows the herb Coleus forskholii is able to increase an important messenger (cAMP) in the body that is often deficient in patients with psoriasis. It can be applied topically or taken orally.

Preventive treatment strategies will also assist. In eczema, avoid aggravating factors like fabrics, grasses, climate fluctuations, allergenic foods (e.g. wheat, dairy), emotional stressors and irritants, such as soap and cosmetics. In psoriasis, be aware of triggers, such as alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity. With both conditions, remember that each individual case is unique, and that what works to redress the internal balance for one person may not work for another. Patience and some experimentation will be required for effective long-term results. Finally, practise calm, acceptance, and self-soothing: A University of Michigan study shows people who buried their anger were twice as likely to develop psoriasis before age 40.

Shannon Favell is a naturopath, research nutritionist, writer, and blogger. Her passion is empowering individuals with the tools to achieve lives of vibrant wellness. www.shannonflavell.com