Hanna Sillitoe suffered with psoriasis and eczema for 20 years and tried everything under the sun to treat it. She was in such agony she would go out with clingfilm wrapped on her cracked, red-raw skin to stop her clothes rubbing against it. Her only option left was to take a chemotherapy drug.
But instead she started experimenting with her own anti-inflammatory diet – swapping sugar, dairy, wheat, alcohol and caffeine for leafy green vegetables, cold-pressed juices and coconut oil.
The 39-year-old from Manchester says the lifestyle change she adopted four years ago has “near cured” her from the painful skin conditions, which cause misery for millions of sufferers. She’s now become something of a ‘skin guru’ and claims she could save the NHS millions.
Hanna has started a blog, published a book that’s sold 14,000 copies and says she’s been inundated with messages from people around the globe who’ve seen significant improvements with their skin problems. She’s now given up her job as an interior designer to run retreats to help people fellow sufferers.
Both psoriasis and eczema run in families, and are considered chronic and largely incurable. Research has yet to confirm a definitive link between diet and psoriasis – an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to overproduce skin cells, resulting in thickened, red, scaly and itchy skin patches. It’s recognised that sometimes food allergies can trigger eczema. Research last year found the most common triggers reported by psoriasis sufferers were sugar, alcohol, nightshades, and gluten.
Hanna admits that she’s not a trained medical expert (but says she’s based her suggestions on sound research and worked with a qualified nutritionist). She feels it’s time doctors woke up to the role diet can play in these conditions, given the many anecdotal reports.
Here, i takes a look at some of Hanna’s diet success stories.
Hanna had eczema as a child and at 15 developed psoriasis. She said: “Stress – due to teen angst, school exams and a poor diet – likely triggered my first flare up. I’d dread the summer and I’d be boiling wearing long sleeved tops to hide my unsightly skin. And the discomfort stopped me from sleeping and from studying.”
By the age of 35 her skin problems were worse than ever. Eczema covered her eyelids, and plaque and guttate psoriasis spread across her arms, legs, chest, tummy and scalp.
“Again I was stressed through work and I’d split with my boyfriend, my diet was poor, I was overweight and I was drinking too much,” she explained. “I’d tried all the pots and potions, bath oils, shampoos and shower lotions with little effect. I remember feeling helpless when the doctor told me there is no cure. Not once was diet suggested as a potential factor.
“I went back to my doctor who suggested I try methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug, to suppress my immune system. But the side effects, such as hair loss, stomach ulcers and seizures, are pretty frightening so I began searching for something else.”
After educating herself on nutrition, she switched to an alkaline diet. “Fresh vegetables, most fruit, pulses, seeds, nuts, and filtered water are considered alkaline. At the opposite end of the spectrum, sugar, junk food, processed or refined foods such as white bread and pasta, sweets, carbonated drinks, and alcohol are acidic.
“The redness and unbearable itching were all reduced within days. Within a month, I had cleared my psoriasis, eczema and acne, and lost five stone in the coming months without trying,” she said. “I went out in short sleeves for the first time ages.
“I follow the diet around 95 per cent of the time, I’d go mad without the odd treat. Healing myself feels so amazing, all I want to do is shout it from the roof tops.”
Sarah’s story: ‘The difference is unbelievable’
“The doctors gave me steroid creams but I was frightened to use them because I knew the side effects were really bad skin thinning.”
Sarah Thomas, a self-employed beautician from Pembrokeshire, Wales, started suffering from psoriasis last summer, and again she believes the flare up was caused by stress.
“It really knocked my confidence, I locked myself away for a few months at my worst, only turning up to work,” she said. “I clothed myself head to toe and covered myself in foundation. It was really painful and I couldn’t sleep at night.”
She says the NHS waiting list for treatment was long so she had UVB light therapy privately. “After a six-week course it all cleared, but then it came straight back so I had just wasted my money. plus I had permanent skin damage and looked aged.
She then discovered Hanna’s book last November and saw a huge improvement within a couple of months on the diet. She then attended one of the retreats in Croatia. “The difference is unbelievable. I have almost clear skin now. I follow the diet 90 percent of time. I have the odd flare up if I have a bad weekend with food and drinking socialising but I get straight back on it and I’m great again in a day or two.”
Feedback from around the world
Hanna shares on her Instagram page a selection of before and after pictures she’s received from people following her diet.
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✨ I N S P I R A T I O N ✨ beautiful Charlie @psoriasissunshine 🦄 If you’re ever feeling down about your skin … think of Charlie 💕 This gorgeous, inspiring little girl has battled #psoriasis ever since she was a baby 🍼 Her ‘before’ pictures show just how tough topical steroid withdrawal is to go through. Her incredible family made the decision to stop medication in favour of healing Charlie through diet. As an adult this is such a difficult decision to make … watching your little girl go through this I can’t even imagine. How awesome does Charlie’s skin look now?! 😀 Inspiring a whole world age 2 💝 Full details of the same plan Charlie followed in my book Radiant ✨ #psoriasis #psoriasissucks #psoriasisdiet #psoriasiswarrior #psoriasisawareness #skincare #healnaturally #changetheworld #inspiration #amazingkid #beforeandafter #tsw #topicalsteroidwithdrawal
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I N S P I R A T I O N 💫 👀 WOW WOW WOW @norbagaygay ✨ check out these pics 😮 I totally believe that as you heal you are strengthening and repairing your immune system. Can you go back to a diet of junk? Probably … for a while … but for those of us with skin conditions I feel the skin is the visible barometer of our health 🌱 It’s our warning signal to sort things out! So, when the body becomes unhappy again, rest assured our skin will remind us 🙈 Finding your balance is the key 😌 Amazing work Norba – loving the clear skin and tattoos #thisisdiet #healingskin #progresspics #progresspic #beforeandafter #clearskin #healingfromwithin #healinflammation #healingfromtheinsideout #skinspiration #skindiet #hannasillitoe #hannasillitoeradiant
The experts’ verdict
There is no scientific evidence to date that diet influences psoriasis, although there is a potential hypothetical explanation why an anti-inflammatory diet might influence skin to some degree
Consultant dermatologist Dr Anton Alexandroff
The NHS does not make specific diet recommendations for people with psoriasis, beyond advising a balanced, healthy diet with regular exercise which it would recommend for everyone. It says this can also relieve stress, which may improve psoriasis symptoms.
The Psoriasis Association in the UK says scientific research has not yet found a definite link, or found a diet that works for everybody, but notes keeping a food diary may be helpful for some. It suggests eating foods known to reduce inflammation in the body in other inflammatory conditions like arthritis – such as Omega 3 rich oily fish, nuts and seeds – may bring relief.
Its website says that some recent research has suggested that gluten-free diets may help some people with psoriasis but more studies are needed.
Dr Anton Alexandroff, consultant dermatologist at BMI The Manor Hospital in Bedford, told i that while there is no hard evidence to support Hanna’s diet, it appears to be a healthy one. He also warned some people believe they have eczema when their symptoms are actually coeliac disease.
“There is no scientific evidence to date that diet influences psoriasis, although eczema, psoriasis and acne are all inflammatory diseases, so there is a potential hypothetical explanation why an anti-inflammatory diet might influence skin to some degree” he said. “There are other factors at play in these conditions too.
“With regards to wheat and gluten, sometimes skin conditions that may look like as eczema could actually be coeliac disease – so cutting out gluten from the diet would help for those people whose ‘eczema’ is actually a symptom of gluten intolerance.
“In regards to sugar and alcohol – for psoriasis it is difficult to say if psoriasis causes weight gain (people with psoriasis tend not to exercise as much as it hurts) or whether obesity predisposes to psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease and obesity itself is a chronic inflammatory disease.
“It is also well known that in some patients sugar can make skin itchier. I have heard reports from people who say that uncooked cumin may help to treat psoriasis.”