For part three of our autoimmune series, we are focusing on autoimmune skin conditions, some of which include scleroderma, vitiligo, and psoriasis. Many skin conditions, including vitiligo, psoriasis, eczema, and others, are not clearly recognized as autoimmune diseases in allopathic medicine. However, considering that these disorders share many features with autoimmune conditions, many health care professionals believe they are autoimmune in nature, they often accompany other autoimmune conditions, and many people improve once they try an autoimmune protocol, we are going to include them under the autoimmune umbrella. Autoimmune skin diseases can also affect other body systems in addition to the skin- for example, systemic lupus erythematosus and psoriatic arthritis affect multiple parts of the body.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Skin Conditions
- Scleroderma: Scleroderma features a hardening of the skin that can also progress to affect connective tissues and joints
- Psoriasis: In psoriasis, skin grows too quickly and builds up to form thick silvery, dry layers of skin that can itch, flake, and hurt
- Vitiligo: Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of pigmentation in skin; it affects people with all kinds of skin tones, but is more noticeable in darker skin
- Lichen planus: Lichen planus causes bumps on the skin, and can also cause scaly skin, itching, blisters, and pain
- Bullous pemphigoid: Bullous pemphigoid can range from mild skin irritation to more severe blistering
- Other: This is not an exhaustive list. Tons of people experience other skin conditions, either in isolation or alongside other autoimmune conditions, that are likely linked. People might not associate bumpy patches of skin with autoimmunity, but many notice that when they address gut damage or autoimmune diseases, their skin improves.
5 Best Natural Treatments for Autoimmune Disease of the Skin
1. Address the gut-skin connection
Your gut and skin health are intricately linked. So many skin issues (and tons of other health issues!) stem from poor gut health. In fact, many medical professionals believe that leaky gut syndrome is a part of all autoimmune conditions. A major focus in any autoimmune skin protocol should be gut healing. There are a few steps to healing leaky gut:
- Removing irritants and food allergens
- Even if you don’t have a true allergy to a food, you may be sensitive to it and/or do damage to your gut when you eat it. You can find out what foods you are sensitive to by having blood tests done or by doing an elimination diet. An elimination diet is the most accurate way to determine if you have food allergies or sensitivities, as sometimes we don’t notice low-grade symptoms when we eat a food every day. Once you have eliminated a food for a while (at least a few weeks), you can ‘provoke’ yourself by trying a bit of the suspected food culprit in as pure a form as possible, and seeing if it causes any symptoms.
- Probiotics/fermented foods
- Good gut flora are essential for good gut health. You can nourish your microbiome by taking a daily probiotic and consuming fermented foods on a regular basis.
- Peach Vitamins has the best selection of high-quality probiotics
- Try consuming different varieties of fermented foods, such as:
- Cultured vegetables
- Miso (avoid if soy sensitivity is suspected)
- Natto (avoid if soy sensitivity is suspected)
- Raw fermented pickles
- Tempeh (avoid if soy sensitivity is suspected)
- Yogurt (unsweetened only, from organic, 100% grass-fed animals’ milk)
- Healing damaged gut lining
- Once you have removed foods that were damaging your gut wall, you want to be sure to repair the damage. To patch up holes in a leaky gut, you should incorporate good quality proteins, especially L-glutamine, which is a specific amino acid that helps repair gut lining. You should eat foods rich in collagen and glutamine, such as gelatin and bone broth, and supplement with L-glutamine. To help leaky gut syndrome, people typically need high doses of L-glutamine, upwards of 10 grams per day.
- Try a gut healing diet. There are now lots of people working to heal their gut through diet. You could try:
2. Reduce systemic inflammation
- Omega 3’s
- Omega-3 fatty acids are a natural anti-inflammatory found in fish, algae, and, in far lower potencies, in some nuts and seeds. Systemic inflammation is positively associated with autoimmune flares, so reducing inflammation throughout the body can reduce the severity of autoimmune symptoms. Get omega-3 fatty acids by eating seafood a few times per week and taking a daily omega-3 supplement. Vegetarians can take an omega-3 supplement from algal oil and eat chia, flax, and walnuts.
- Reducing omega-6’s
- A key, but often overlooked, step in reducing inflammation is reducing consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. Ancestral diets featured a far higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6’s, while our current standard American diet contains far more omega-6 fatty acids. Why are too many omega-6 fatty acids bad? Remember how omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory? Well, omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, meaning they cause more inflammation. Unless you reduce your omega-6 intake, your omega-3’s won’t be able to outweigh the inflammation. Omega-6’s are highest in processed nut, seed, bean, and grain oils– the worst offenders are soybean, corn, sunflower, and cottonseed oils.
- Reduce or eliminate grains
- Many people find that grains cause gut irritation and inflammation for them. There are many anecdotal stories of people improving on a grain-free diet, although in some cases, other allergens (even unexpected ones, like tomatoes) are the worst culprits of inflammation.
3. Track links between stimuli and skin outbreaks
- Keeping a food and symptom diary will help you notice when flares occur after certain triggers. It is hard to isolate every possible trigger, but journal as best you can and you’ll start to see trends over time. Common autoimmune triggers include:
- Nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplants, peppers)
- Seasonal pollen
- Detergents used on clothes and bed sheets
- Metal jewelry
- Skin care products
- Sun and/or heat
- Note: Some people’s psoriasis can be improved by sun, while some people’s worsened by it
- Humidity levels
- Extreme temperatures, especially when moving back and forth between extremes
- Sun and/or heat
- New apps can be very helpful for symptom tracking- anything from a simple notepad app that you can use as a daily journal, to a new app called Flaredown that is specifically made to help people track treatments and their effects on symptoms of chronic disease
4. Eliminate scented products, petroleum-based ingredients, drying agents, and synthetic chemicals
- This one speaks for itself. Synthetic scents, petrochemicals, alcohol, and other chemicals in skincare products can strip skin of its natural oils, clog pores, and cause allergic reactions. If you have any type of skin condition, it is best to find simple, natural products that work well for your body
- Check out why you should avoid petroleum-based products and stick to natural oil-based products:
- 5 Scary Reasons to Avoid Petroleum and Mineral Oil in Your Skincare Products
- How to Identify Petrochemicals in Your Cosmetics (including a list of petrochemicals for you to look out for in ingredient lists)
5. Reduce stress
- Anyone with autoimmune skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema knows that stress can trigger a flare. Reducing stress will reduce inflammation and modulate immune response, both of which will calm symptoms. Check out Peach Vitamins’ suggestions about how to stress less.