How Food Can Affect Chronic Skin Conditions

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Research suggests that the food you eat may be an important part of managing some skin conditions, especially chronic and inflammatory skin issues such as acne, atopic dermatitis (eczema), rosacea, and psoriasis.

Food for skin

Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) are inflammatory, autoimmune conditions. Psoriasis primarily causes silvery, itchy, flaky patches on the skin called lesions. PsA, which affects 30 percent of those with psoriasis, has characteristics of inflammatory arthritis and psoriasis. PsA largely affects the bones and joints. Both conditions can cause an inflammatory response throughout the whole body.

Managing psoriasis, PsA, and other skin conditions is possible through treatment options that range from medical therapies and alternative medicine to lifestyle changes, such as adopting an anti-inflammatory or psoriatic arthritis diet

That’s because certain foods may act as “triggers” that bring on or worsen certain skin conditions. Other foods may have protective benefits. 

Here’s how food can affect chronic skin conditions and your related health.

Food Weighs Heavily on Symptom Severity

Diet and weight go hand in hand. A link has been found between being overweight and the risk and severity of skin conditions. The relationship between weight and skin health usually goes both ways. For instance, if you’re obese, you’re at higher risk of developing psoriasis. If you have psioriasis, you’re more prone to becoming overweight or obese. People with a higher body mass index (BMI) tend to have more severe psoriasis symptoms. 

Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise has been shown to:

  • Improve treatment outcomes
  • Decrease the amount of skin affected by psoriasis 
  • Decrease the severity of psoriasis symptoms

Food Can Help Decrease the Risk of Comorbid Conditions

Adopting healthy eating habits can also help prevent or reduce the risk of developing other chronic illnesses that are more common in people with psoriasis (called comorbidities). Some common comorbidities related to psoriasis include:

  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
  • Diabetes 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) 
  • Metabolic syndrome

Food Can Help Balance Your Gut

A 2016 study found that people with psoriasis and PsA may lack several types of healthy intestinal bacteria. Among these healthy bacteria are probiotics, living microorganisms that are good for you. Probiotics found in certain foods can affect the immune system (responsible for the body’s inflammatory response) and metabolism and help you maintain a healthy weight. 

Fermented foods can help boost the levels of healthy bacteria in your intestinal tract. These foods include:

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yogurt

Food Can Trigger Sensitivities

The National Psoriasis Foundation doesn’t recommend a gluten-free diet for everyone with psoriasis, but rather only for those that have a proven or suspected gluten sensitivity, such as celiac disease. There is evidence that celiac disease is more prevalent among people with psoriatic diseases. Working with your healthcare provider to confirm whether you are gluten intolerant is your best bet.

Food Can Decrease Inflammation

Anti-inflammatory foods may help prevent and decrease inflammation in the body, which may help relieve symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions. Recommended foods include:

  • Beans, which are high in dietary fiber and protein, and have high amounts of both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents in them
  • Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, which have high levels of “good fats” and omega-3s, the anti-inflammatory properties of which may protect against heart disease
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables including berries, cherries, collard greens, kale, and spinach, which are all rich in antioxidants that can decrease inflammation
  • Nuts including almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts, which have been linked to  lower levels of inflammation
  • Olive oil, which is filled with heart-healthy fats and oleocanthal, a chemical that has pain-relieving properties similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Whole grains such as barley, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain breads, which are rich in fiber which may decrease inflammation

Food Can Increase Inflammation

Unlike the anti-inflammatory foods listed above, other foods increase the levels of inflammation in the body and can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions. Some inflammatory foods include: 

  • Alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor, which are common triggers in several chronic skin conditions
  • Fatty or fried foods, which can worsen skin symptoms and increase the risk of comorbid conditions like heart disease and obesity
  • Hot caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea 
  • Processed foods, which may be high in refined sugars, carbohydrates, and calories

Skin conditions are unique in the way they affect the person who has them. Therefore, “good foods” and “bad foods” won’t have the same outcomes on every single person. It’s important to figure out, through trial and error, what works for you.

Now What?

It’s important to note that diet alone cannot treat psoriasis or any other chronic skin condition. Food-based interventions should generally be used in combination with a holistic treatment plan including medical therapies.

Communicate consistently and work closely with the members of your treatment team to determine what dietary specifics are best for you and your symptoms. Consider getting a referral to an integrative doctor or dietician. Specialists in nutrition may be better able to recommend tailored dietary approaches that consider your food allergies as well as your personal, cultural, or religious dietary preferences and other medical conditions you may be living with in addition to your skin condition.

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