Eczema and Psoriasis Natural Treatments
Getting to the Root Cause
Our skin is a major part of our immune system, and literally covers our insides to protect and shielf us from the outside world. Two of the most common disorders that affect the skin are eczema and psoriasis. Conventional management of eczema involves the identification and avoidance of allergens and aggravating factors, beyond this little is done to address the underlying cause. Pharmaceutical management usually relies heavily upon creams containing glucocorticoids and histamine blockers to reduce inflammation and histamine respectively. This limitation in treatment is because conventional treatment tends to view conditions and body systems in isolation of one another. However in more recent years, novel new treatments involving UV light therapy are showing good results for psoriasis. Known risk factors for both eczema and psoriasis include food allergens, atopic family history, psychological stress and toxin exposure.
When viewing eczema and psoriasis through a naturopathic framework it is easy to see how food allergens, psychological stressors and toxin exposure contribute to the development of these conditions. Eczema and psoriasis are largely driven by an overstimulated immune system. Eczema is a hypersensitivity type-1 reaction, meaning that the condition is driven by an allergic response. The allergen causes chronic inflammation and activation of the innate immune system. Psoriasis, a much more complex condition involving increased cell turnover and skin keratinisation, is driven by different immune system pathways often involving the adaptive immune system.
So what is the difference between the innate and adaptive immune system?
Innate immunity can be thought of as the body’s first line of defense. It involves immune cells and molecules that are non-specific. Allergic reactions are a result of activation of these innate immune cells and molecules. The adaptive immune system can be thought of as the body’s second line of defense. It involves immune cells that specifically target an invader or foreign substance. Both the innate and adaptive immune systems interact and work alongside one another to identify and resolve threats. The innate immune system includes immune cells known as eosinophils.
It is these cells that the body uses to fight allergens through the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE). If the body becomes over sensitized to an allergen, the body produces too much of these eosinophils and IgE molecules. Eczema is a condition largely driven by this immune response resulting in local inflammation and histamine release. Though both the innate and adaptive system is involved in all immune system responses, the adaptive immune system is primarily implicated in the development of psoriasis. This condition is largely thought of as a type of autoimmune condition meaning the body produces specific immune cells that, due to a case of mistaken identity, attack cells of the body. This then results in cell death, increased cell turnover and thickening of the skin resulting in plaque formation.
Despite the differences between these two conditions, similarities exist. Both conditions are a result of immune system dysfunction.
Why Does The Immune System Go Awry?
The immune system is responsible for our interactions with the outside world, and the majority of that interaction occurs in our gut. Seventy percent of our immune system resides in our gut in an area known as the Peyer’s Patch. The Peyer’s Patch is forever sampling the food we eat and the bacteria in our gut and deciding whether these molecules are friend or foe. When the Peyer’s Patch deems something to be a foe, a local immune system reaction occurs to protect the body. If our gut immunity is exposed to enough of these foes, chronic inflammation can occur. This inflammation causes the lining of our gut to become leaky allowing molecules to cross into our system. Our body initiates an attack on these molecules causing an allergic response. Through this, it is easy to see how food allergens and gut inflammation is a major causes of immune system dysfunction. To learn more about food allergies versus intolerances, see my previous article.
Beyond Food – The Hidden Culprits
Gut immune reactivity is not only a result of the foods we knowingly consume but also the substances we ingest unknowingly. Pesticides, herbicides, food additives, preservatives and artificial colours are agents we ingest on a regular basis that our immune system also has to deal with. All of these substances place significant burden on our immunity and have been linked to the development of food allergens. For example, Glyphosate (round up) is a herbicide that is increasingly coming under the spotlight for its role in the development of a range of chronic conditions – including autoimmunity, autism and cancer. It seems that the irritation on the gut wall by glyphosate opens the door and lets proteins and lectins through, including the problematic lectin, gluten. Gluten sensitivity is widely linked to many autoimmune conditions and I have found many cases of psoriasis and eczema to improve when following a low lectin and gluten free/grain free diet. Other food chemicals can cause histamine release and inflammation which also exacerabate immune issues and the skin.
To reduce immune reactivity it is therefore important to not only limit consumption of known allergenic foods such as gluten from wheat, casein from dairy and mold from peanuts but also limit our exposure to the more hidden chemicals found in our food. Choosing whole foods that are minimally processed and preferably organic foods wherever possible is very important. Check out my previous article here on organic foods and the different chemical load found in a variety of fresh foods left over from agricultural practices.
Personalised Treatments Work Best
When treating psoriasis or eczema it is important to get a personalized approach as these conditions need to be understood in a holistic and individualised way. Addressing diet change, gut health and repair is always a cornerstone of treatment, along with using a range of remedies – both nutritional and herbal – that are specific for skin health, immunity, gut repair and inflammation.
Our skin is our most major external defence against the outside world and its health is very important on our overall health. It is also one of the few areas we get to see the visible health of it. Afterall, most of our organs are hidden inside the body and we can’t see how they look to gauge their health. So perhaps we need to pay attention to our skin, teeth, hair and nails to receive important clues as to our overall health!