The Natural Approach to Treating Problem Winter Skin

Last year, my best friend asked me what I knew about psoriasis remedies. Her daughter, my lovely twentysomething godchild Kate, had just been diagnosed with the itchy skin condition. Kate was hoping to try something natural instead of a pharmaceutical treatment that might have unwanted side effects.

So I did some homework. I learned there are strategies that can be helpful, if you're very diligent about their use. Now that we're in winter's grip, when dryness can worsen psoriasis and other skin conditions such as eczema and chronic dermatitis, I thought it would be a good time to share what I discovered.

According to Barry Kendler, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, the best way to beat psoriasis and other skin woes is by hitting them with everything that's been shown to improve the problem; he calls it the "shotgun approach." He tells me that in his experience, "the more agents you use, the more likely it is that the treatment will be successful." Also, he notes, "It may take several months for the treatment to take effect." So be patient and give the treatments time to work—at least three to four months. Here's what Kendler recommends:

  • Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods. Add more legumes (beans, lentils, peas), fruits, and veggies to your diet—or, try these fiber-filled recipes.
  • Avoid foods that contain gluten, such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Also avoid sugar, alcohol, and animal fats (except fish oil; see next bullet point). These can exacerbate inflammation, which worsens psoriasis.
  • Swap out red meat for oily, cold-water fish such as salmon, black cod, and sardines. These sea creatures are a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take a daily high-potency multivitamin-mineral. A whole-food based vitamin such as Only One by New Chapter is a good choice.
  • If the above multivitamin doesn't contain enough of these nutrients, take extra: 400 IU vitamin E, 400 mcg chromium, 200 mcg selenium, 30 mg zinc, 5 grams of a water-soluble fiber supplement containing psyllium (such as Metamucil, taken at bedtime), and 10 grams of fish oils containing 1.8 grams of EPA and 1.2 grams of DHA daily (Nordic Naturals is a good brand to try).

In addition, a combination of Oregon grape tincture, taken by mouth, and Oregon grape cream, applied to the skin, has been proven to improve psoriasis. Oregon grape (also known as Barberry or Berberis aquifolium) contains an anti-inflammatory compound called berberine. An herbalist friend of mine, Douglas Schar, PhD, conducted an informal psoriasis study in his London clinic several years ago, and reported that his patients improved considerably when they used this double-pronged approach consistently for three months. Other psoriasis studies have confirmed his results as well. Find the cream and the tincture at and follow label directions.

Of course, these are just a few of the drug-free remedies that have been used to treat problem skin.

According to Kate, the shotgun approach is a big success. Her symptoms have improved dramatically, which is great news indeed—she's just gotten engaged, and is hopeful that her psoriasis will be under control for her big day.

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