Did you know that diet affects psoriasis outbreaks? Have you noticed that the food you eat impacts the appearance of your skin? Are you familiar with the term “probiotic?”
I’ve found that fermented foods dramatically improve digestive health as well as skin health. Numerous testimonies echo this fact. For example, the National Psoriasis Foundation recounts the experience of Sylvia, a middle-aged woman with resistant facial and scalp psoriasis. Topical medications didn’t help.
At a friend’s suggestion, Sylvia tried probiotics. Within one day, her scalp stopped tingling. A few days later, the itchy scales disappeared, including a stubborn patch beneath her eyebrow. Similar success stories fill online message boards. (source)
Asians have long known the merits of probiotics. Eating fermented foods contributes to the healthy glow of their skin. It’s time you reaped the same benefits! In this blog, you’ll learn how to improve digestive health and achieve greater control over psoriasis.
1. What are probiotics?
Typically, we associate bacteria with illness and disease. We use antibacterial soaps to kill germs, and doctors prescribe antibiotics to combat infection. So, the concept of “good” bacteria may be hard to swallow.
However, certain microorganisms called probiotics increase your immune strength. They’re already within your digestive tract, helping you break down food and absorb nutrients. They’re also trying to protect you from pathogens.
2. Why do people with psoriasis need probiotics?
Although bacteria line your intestines, it’s likely you don’t have the proper strains and optimal levels. Over time, your digestive environment has grown less hospitable for friendly bacteria to thrive. You’ve been exposed to toxins and stress. Your food supply isn’t as pure as that of your ancestors.
Additionally, when you have psoriasis, your immune system is impaired. White blood cells can’t distinguish between cellular enemies and friends. Normally, T-cells destroy invaders. However, proteins called cytokines give faulty instructions to T-cells, telling them to attack innocent skin.
To compensate for cellular destruction, your body steps up production. Cells replicate up to 10 times faster than the normal rate. However, your body can’t shed the dead cells fast enough, and so they accumulate. These patches of thickened skin are the “plaques” of psoriasis. Cytokines can also target your joints, making them swollen and painful.
However, when probiotics arrive on your digestive scene, they correct abnormal immune responses. These smart microbes train your T-cells to discern pathogens from benign substances. The good bacteria also trigger antibody production to eradicate invaders. Probiotics keep detrimental bacteria from reaching harmful levels. Fermented foods contain these friendly microbes. When you eat them, your skin smiles!
3. What’s the link between psoriasis and leaky gut?
The term “leaky gut” doesn’t sound very scientific, does it? Yet, it aptly describes this condition. The intestinal lining becomes porous, allowing waste products to leak into the bloodstream.
Among these undesirable substances are toxins, undigested food, and bacteria. Alarmed by their presence, T-cells spring into action. However, probiotics foods help to mend leaky gut. (source)
Incomplete digestion also leaves protein residues called polyamines. High levels cause skin cells to multiply faster than normal. Psoriatic lesions contain elevated amounts of polyamine protein. (source)
Read the interview “Can friendly bacteria improve skin health”? You’ll learn more about the link between skin and gut.
4. Which bacteria are best for psoriasis?
The most effective probiotics for psoriasis are strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, including:
- L. acidophilus
- L. bulgaricus
- L. rhamnous
- L. rhamnosus bifidus
- L. lactis
- B. infantis
- B. longum
- B. bifidum
- S. thermophilus (source)
5. What foods are rich sources of probiotics?
Probiotic powerhouses are yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Each of these foods is produced by fermentation. Bacteria naturally engage in this process, converting sugars into energy to fuel their metabolism. When you eat fermented foods, the bacteria repopulate in your digestive tract, arming your body against inflammation by forming a protective barrier.
Each bacterial species contributes unique benefits, flavors, and textures to food. By eating a variety of dietary sources, your health gains are maximized. Here are descriptions of each cultured food.
This dairy product results when bacteria ferment milk. The most commonly used microbes are L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus, although many yogurt brands contain additional strains. These bacteria are known as “yogurt cultures.”
The lactic acid they produce give yogurt its creamy texture and delicious tang. In the US, most brands contain probiotics, but the organisms must be added after heat processing to remain viable.
Look for labels that either specify the strains, state “live and active cultures,” or display the National Yogurt Association seal. Here’s a list of approved companies. Below is an image of the seal.
Also a cultured milk product, kefir contains beneficial yeast and bacteria. Its flavor is similar to unsweetened yogurt, but the texture is fluid. Kefir’s bacterial and yeast microbes work symbiotically. They also produce lactase, an enzyme that aids milk digestion.
What distinguishes kefir from milk fermentation are the grains used to culture it. Kefir grains contain bacteria, yeast, milk proteins, and complex sugars. The grains incorporate their friendly microbes into milk.
You’ll find kefir in the refrigerated sections of natural food stores and supermarkets. You can also easily make it at home with milk kefir grains.
This Japanese seasoning is made by fermenting soybeans with salt, fungus culture, and grains such as barley and rice. The end product is a highly nutritious source of protein, fiber, and probiotics with a pasty consistency.
Although miso is high in salt, it’s typically added to other foods, diluting the sodium content. There are three popular varieties of miso, each with a distinctive hue. Generally, the darker the color, the more potent a miso tastes.
- White miso is the mildest type. It’s produced by fermenting soybeans and rice, yielding a sweet flavor. Use white miso for light sauces, dressings, and marinades.
- Yellow miso is typically made with fermented soybeans and barley. It’s slightly stronger than white. Use yellow miso to punch up soups, dressings, glazes, and marinades.
- Red miso is the saltiest version, derived from soybeans and barley. It’s ideal for hearty soups, sauces, and marinades, contributing a bold flavor and pungent aroma.
You’ll find miso at Asian groceries and the refrigerated section of health food stores. Supermarkets sometimes stock miso in white plastic tubs near refrigerated mock meats and dairy substitutes. Asian grocers may sell miso in clear plastic tubs or sealed plastic bags. They tend to carry more varieties. Miso is also marketed as “soybean paste.”
Two tablespoons of miso paste equal one-quarter cup of soybeans. Since most cultivated soybeans are genetically modified, purchase miso that’s certified organic.
This soybean product is fermented by fungus and grains, followed by steaming. The result is a chewy patty with a nutty flavor and firm texture. A 3-ounce serving contains 18 grams of protein and 10 percent of the daily values for calcium and iron. Use tempeh to flavor soups, stir-fries, and chili. At the bottom of this link, you’ll find 15 tasty recipes.
Purchase organic brands to avoid tempeh that’s genetically altered and chemically processed with hexane. In the US, 94 percent of cultivated soybeans are genetically modified. (source) You’ll find tempeh in the refrigerated sections of health food stores and supermarkets.
Among probiotic food sources, raw sauerkraut is king! With over 13 species of friendly bacteria, kraut rivals the advantage of taking supplements. (source) Provided it’s not heat-treated, the diverse microbes remain alive.
Lacto-fermentation of cabbage yields sauerkraut. Beneficial bacteria are naturally present on vegetable surfaces. One of these microbes is Lactobacillus. When submerged in a salt solution called “brine,” the bacteria convert cabbage sugars to lactic acid, a natural antibacterial and preservative.
I prefer homemade sauerkraut to store-bought types which are saturated with salt. One cup of commercial kraut has 1,560 mg of sodium, exceeding the 1,500 mg daily maximum advised by the Mayo Clinic. (source)
Too much sodium promotes auto-immune disease. Our bodies store excess salt within skin, raising levels of inflammatory T-cells. This is the finding of a 2015 study cited by the Journal of Clinical Investigation. (source)
Since cabbage will likely spoil without the addition of some salt, I don’t recommend making salt-free kraut. A reduced-sodium version is ideal, such as this recipe.
If you prefer the convenience of store-bought sauerkraut, purchase a raw, low-sodium brand. You’ll find a wide variety at Amazon.com, such as:
- Organic Raw fermented sauerkraut from Oregon Brineworks
- Organic sauerkraut from Gold Mine Natural Foods
This spicy dish hails from Korea, where it’s so popular, the average adult consumes 40 pounds per year. (source) Koreans enjoy it so much that rather than saying “cheese” when taking pictures, they smile and sing “Kimchi!”
Think of kimchi as hot sauerkraut. The base ingredient can be cabbage, mustard greens, radish, or cucumber. Red chili pepper accounts for the flavor and heat of many varieties. Other seasonings used are ginger, garlic, scallions, onions, vinegar, and salt.
High in fiber and low in calories, one serving yields over 50 percent of the daily value of Vitamin C and carotene. Lactobacillus is the primary probiotic.
Traditionally, kimchi is eaten with rice or noodles. It’s also a savory addition to soups, omelets, and vegetable pancakes. Some people use it as a filling for wraps and a topping on pizza and baked potatoes.
You can buy kimchi at Asian markets and the refrigerated section of supermarkets. To avoid the high sodium content, I make mine at home. If you’re likewise interested, here’s a reduced-sodium kimchi recipe.
6. What are prebiotics?
A type of non-digestible fiber, prebiotics are food sources for beneficial bacteria. Your lower colon digests prebiotics, producing short-chain fatty acids that nourish microbes.
Choice sources are asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kale, leeks, legumes, and onions. To treat psoriasis, meals that combine probiotics and prebiotics are ideal. Examples are topping yogurt with bananas and eating tempeh with steamed asparagus.
7. Is it advisable to take a probiotic supplement?
Labels on fermented foods don’t indicate their probiotic counts. Supplementation gives you a standardized means of tracking consumption. However, to ease adjusting to higher microbial levels, begin with eating probiotic foods. After one month, if your skin health doesn’t improve, augment your meals with a supplement.
8. How do you choose a probiotic supplement?
For a supplement to be effective, it must meet certain criteria. Here’s a summary of guidelines from National Psoriasis Treatments.
1. Purchase a supplement in an opaque container with an expiration date printed on the label.
2. Look for a brand with at least 1 to 6 billion organisms per daily dose. Labels often indicate organism counts as “colony forming units” (CFUs).
3. Enteric-coated capsules are preferable since they ensure the organisms will survive exposure to stomach acid.
4. Choose a supplement containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains. Research shows these bacteria strengthen immunity. (source) Ideally, a supplement should contain at least six different strains.
5. Follow label instructions for dosage, and take your supplement with meals. Don’t worry if you have increased gas or bloating during the first week of use. This is a natural reaction.
According to Top 10 Supplements, the following are high-quality products. I’ve scaled the list down to five, based on the above purchasing guidelines and cost considerations.
- NOW Foods Probiotic-10
- Healthy Origins Probiotic
- Nutrition Now PB8
- Sedona Labs iFlora Multi-Probiotic
- Puritan’s Pride Premium Probiotic 10
Here are the product reviews.
Beneficial bacteria strengthen immunity and promote skin health. Psoriasis responds favorably to fermented foods, proven by research and personal testimonies.
To invite friendly microbes to your digestive tract, consume yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Supply your intestinal flora with the food they need in the form of non-digestible fiber. Ideal sources are asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kale, leeks, legumes, and onions.
Drink green smoothies to include plenty of leafy vegetables and fruits in your diet. Also, stay away from sugar as explained by Dr. Mercola in this video:
After one month of eating probiotic foods, if you don’t see symptomatic improvement, add a broad-spectrum supplement, taking it with meals.
Have you ever taken probiotics for psoriasis? Please share your positive results with probiotics, below. Thank you!