How I Cured My Eczema Naturally Part 2 | Focusing on Gut Health | a Plant Based Diet for Skin & Microbiome Health
This is part two of a four part blog series exploring the natural, functional ways I cured my own eczema. Read Part One here.
These days I care greatly about what I put in my body.
It isn’t that I ever didn't care what went into my body, but I once had a distorted view of what healthy was…I didn’t always have a healthy relationship with food. But that all started to change during my last semesters in college. As I learned more about my gut microbiome through the years, I grew to love my gut microbiome… and if you love something you take care of it…right?
I didn’t just get a degree in microbiology, you guys… when I started to learn about the natural world of microbes I became a full-on microbiology nerd. Microbes became my passion, my love, my calling. I began to see how microbes related to EVERYTHING I did in a day. If I was eating, cooking, gardening, flossing my teeth, going for a walk, traveling, basically doing anything at all, I could tie the action back to microbes in some kind of way. A lot of science degrees are tailored to pre-med, so you end up learning a lot of anthropocentric views of microbes and mostly about pathogens (i.e. how microbes kill humans). Luckily, I elected to take a few microbiology classes that taught me about microbes and food, microbes in nature, and how microbes are literally a part of everything good in life. Our lives, and the lives of all creatures and plants actually depend on microbes. I’m here writing this blog because of microbes. You are here reading this, because of microbes. I no longer have eczema, in part, because of microbes.
FOCUSING ON GUT HEALTH
For Skin Health and Skin Microbiome Health
Long story short, I learned all about fermenting vegetables and the microbiology of fermentation in my Junior year of college. That made me fall down what I like call a “research rabbit hole,” learning more and more every day about the microbes involved in vegetable fermentation and how they impact gut health… which impacts all other areas of health, including skin and skin microbiome health.
The human microbiome basically serves as a necessary, complex organ in and on our bodies. The functions of the microbiome govern your health on the same level as your heart, brain and liver… and more so, because the health of your microbiome influences the health of all other organ systems in the body. The human microbiome produces many, many metabolic substances that direct a plethora of human bodily functions. Thankfully, if you have a not-so-great microbiome it’s relatively easy to adjust the makeup of your microbiome to be healthier and more beneficial. This applies to the skin microbiome as well as the gut microbiome.
Having balanced and thriving skin and gut microbiomes can translate to having clearer skin, a healthier weight, and healthier bowel movements. A healthy microbiome is a key factor in the prevention and control of common ailments like allergies, eczema, anxiety, depression, cancer and diabetes. Basically, multitudes of research shows that the microbiome should be factored into treatment plans for any and every type of ailment, disease and condition.
With this in mind I started a journey into eating for my microbiome. I started eating with the goal of forming the healthiest thriving microbiome possible. I wanted to eat for my microbiome mainly because I have a respect for the microbial ecosystem in my gut, and I felt like they all deserve the best. But I also had a feeling that my gut microbiome was a key factor in finding a way to cure my own eczema. This all meant that I needed to switch to a dietary lifestyle focusing on abundance of plant based foods and fermented vegetables.
MY FIRST VENTURE INTO A PLANT BASED DIET
…and how I learned more about what “healthy” actually means.
I decided to go vegan for the first time around August of 2015, but I had no idea what I was doing. I was eating bagels for breakfast, the same vegetables everyday at lunch, and homemade bean burritos every night. That’s about it, I wasn’t even taking any vitamins. Needless to say I was a malnourished vegan. This way of eating only lasted about 5 months before I went back to eating cheese and sometimes meat… But I hated meat. Eating it always gave me heartburn and I was afraid to handle it and cook it. Ever since I studied parasitology and bacterial disease in the same semester meat just isn’t appetizing to me anymore. In microbiology labs when you want to grow pretty nasty, pathogenic microbes on a petri dish that petri dish is usually made with tissue, blood, or meat from animals. If I remember correctly the broth we always used to grow Clostridium species (a VERY bad type of bacteria) in the lab is called “chopped meat broth.” This led me to my own way of thinking about the benefits of a plant based diet. If you use meats and animal tissues to isolate and grow bad, pathogenic microbes… maybe animal proteins aren’t the greatest thing for a thriving gut microbiome.
So I tried eating vegan again, and this time I did better. I started intuitively eating and incorporating more varieties of legumes, eating lots of sprouted beans and seeds, eating fermented and/or sprouted soy, and eating a larger variety of seasonal and local vegetables. I began my life long love affair with potatoes, avocados and rice. If I had to put a label on the way I currently eat I would say that I am “Plant Based.” Occasionally I do consume broths made from animal bones, and about once a month (during my period) I crave salmon, so I eat it salmon.
I’ve come to this place in my eating where the label isn’t important. I don’t need to call myself vegan to be my healthiest self, or to be classified as eco-friendly. I eat for my gut microbiome and my skin health in the most sustainable, eco-friendly way possible. It’s called balance and intuitive eating. I don’t count macros, or calories or anything at all really. I do not use numbers to dictate my eating. I listen to my body and feed myself the best foods that I can afford.
FERMENTED VEGETABLES ARE THE BEST THING FOR GUT HEALTH.
…and gut health is the best thing for skin health.
The major change in my skin health came after we started Cultured Guru. About half a year into business owning, we started eating our own fermented food products every day with breakfast, lunch and dinner. We wanted to create recipes with our own food products so we had to start getting creative with ways to incorporate fermented foods into almost every meal. I was fully vegan and about 75% raw vegan for a year, while Jon was mostly vegetarian. My intake of fermented foods and raw plants increased ten fold, and my skin health improved ten fold. Being mostly-vegan and eating fermented foods every day allowed my intestines and gut microbiome to heal from the damage I inflicted upon them in college ( I ate a lot of cheese and bread in college). Since fermented foods contain bacteria from nature that are more adapt to survive the digestive journey, they made a huge positive impact on my gut health.
Check out how far I’ve come in my skin healing journey. 👇🏼
I'll go over what I eat in a day, what I do not eat and why, and some foods that I'm always sure to eat daily/weekly to boost skin health below!
Encouraging a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Gut health is not as simple as just popping a probiotic pill. It’s about forming a dietary lifestyle based around fresh plant foods, eating a variety of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables, and consuming natural sources of probiotic bacteria. Natural Sources of Probiotic Bacteria = fermented vegetables from a reliable source.
Where I refuse to get my daily dose of probiotic bacteria from: Pills, capsules, powders, superfood powders with probiotics, protein powders with probiotics, and foods with added cultures or “probiotics”.
Where I do get my daily dose of natural probiotic bacteria: Our Cultured Guru Fermented Vegetables along with the occasional water kefir or kombucha and homemade vegan yogurt made with heirloom cultures. These substances contain natural probiotics that originated in nature/ on the raw ingredients used in the production process... (For instance the bacteria that ferment our sauerkraut live on cabbage leaves, no cultures are added to transform the cabbage into kraut). I also eat vegetables I ferment for fun in our home kitchen using our fermentation kits.
Why am I picky about where my probiotics come from?
Well I’m so glad you asked. If you walk through the grocery store you’ll see all kinds of things labeled as “probiotic” but if you know a little bit about the gut microbiome you’ll ask yourself “but why?” There’s everything from probiotic orange juice, coffee and peanut butter to probiotic ice cream and potato chips. It’s called marketing y’all. There’s also probiotic capsule sections in most stores now, where you can find a 30 day supply of probiotic pills for like… 80 dollars or more. These things are not good for you and are not the most effective or affordable option for three main reasons:
Reason 1: Adding probiotic bacteria to unhealthy, refined and processed foods doesn’t make that food healthy at all. The food products using “probiotic” as a marketing ploy are normally unhealthy, full of sugar and refined ingredients and are not considered foods good for gut health anyways. So before you grab that ice cream with probiotic cultures added remember that healthy gut microbes don’t thrive on ice cream. So the product in itself is counteractive.
Reason 2: THIS IS SO FREAKING IMPORTANT Y’ALL: Genetic modification of probiotic bacteria aka “pharmacobiotics” …This is going to make a lot of you uncomfortable if you take probiotic capsules, use probiotic powders, or eat foods with added probiotics. Pharmaceutical companies and big food companies have their eyes set on the profit potential in patenting particular strains of probiotic bacteria. They are specifically interested in patenting particular strains of bacteria for the treatment of certain diagnosed diseases. How might they do this you ask? Well… first off they have tons and tons of money and they have to power to navigate and lobby FDA regulations. Secondly, they have the resources to GENETICALLY MODIFY species of bacteria so to make they preform a specific function. When they genetically modify the bacteria, the bacteria contain unique gene sequences that can be registered with the US Patent Office. Sounds like the beginning to a freaky science-fiction book huh? Well its real, and I don’t want my gut microbiome to be someone’s greedy for-profit science experiment.
Reason 3: The digestive journey is tough. Digestion starts in the mouth and takes foods and substances on a harsh journey. Since the bacteria that are are grown in a labs are never exposed to harsh conditions, they are not adapt to survive. Cultures that are added to foods or capsules are commercially grown in huge vats in laboratories under perfect living conditions for the bacteria. They never have to compete with pathogenic species for living space, and they never have to survive at low pH or other stressful conditions while being grown in a lab. So the bacteria are not as adapted to survive stressful conditions as bacteria for the natural world are. The bacteria in naturally fermented vegetables come from nature, specifically they originate in the soil in which the vegetables are grown. In that soil these microbes compete for space and for their lives. During fermentation only bacteria that can survive in a very low pH environment, with no oxygen and some salt continue to thrive. These bacteria are natural, strong, and are used to harsh conditions that are very similar to the terrain of the human digestive tract! (Here’s some reference material on this subject)
What I Do Not Eat
I'm quite intolerant to wheat, all gluten containing products, peanuts and especially dairy. All of these foods give me diarrhea, bloating, cramps, and pimples… which means they inflame my gut and disrupt my gut and skin microbiomes. These are food intolerances that I recently found out run in my family. An Inflamed gut exacerbates skin issues because when your gut is inflamed you cannot properly digest food, absorb nutrients, and expel waste. I also stray away from all cane sugar. Sometimes I’ll have a piece of organic chocolate or a GF vegan muffin from my favorite vegan place in Baton Rouge, but when I eat things sweetened with cane sugar I get pimples all over my chest and back… so I don’t eat it on a regular basis. I stay away from processed foods, and I always remember to just eat real food.
I do not eat red meat, pork or chicken. The only animal products I eat in extreme moderation (as in maybe once a month) are bone broth, salmon and sardines. I mentioned this earlier, but I sometimes crave fish during my period, so I occasionally eat fish during my period.
I spent a lot of time guessing what foods I'm intolerant to. Even a few months ago I suspected multiple foods to be the reason my eczema was returning just on my eyelids. (There are tests for this, but I haven't taken any. idk why, I just haven't). I suspected soy for the past month, but when I cut it out of my diet I still had eczema on my eyelids periodically. I've even suspected the lack of vitamins or the lack of essential amino acids to be the cause, but when I supplemented correctly, I still had eczema periodically. It turns out that these suspected other food intolerances weren't causing my eczema. It was the new skin care products I was unnecessarily trying out 🙄 (I’ll talk about this more in the skin care routine blog).
Water is a Main Component of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
In order to get the full benefits of a healthy diet and to have hydrated skin, you MUST stay hydrated with good ole' water. If your urine is any shade of yellow you need to drink more water. I like to start my day with a quart of lemon water before my first cup of green tea and before eating anything. If you don't have a reusable water bottle, GET ONE NOW! Having a S'well bottle has changed my life.
What I eat in a Day
My morning food routine starts at about 6:45 am before going to the gym.
I start every morning with a quart of lemon water. Sometimes warm, sometimes cold with fresh squeezed juice from 1/2 a lemon. Drinking water before ingesting anything else in the morning promotes great hydration and proper digestion throughout the whole day! Ever since I started drinking lemon water every morning my skin is more hydrated, I have tons more energy, my digestion is better than ever, and I preform better at the gym... this is partly thanks to the water and partly thanks to my hydrated microbiome!! 💧💦 Staying hydrated greatly impacts your gut microbiome because hydrating your whole body includes hydrating your gut mucosal cells. 🔬 Keeping the cells in the mucosal barrier of your digestive tract fully hydrated is proven to encourage a healthier, thriving microbiome 🙌🏻
After my quart of lemon water, I make breakfast, aka the best meal of the day. My breakfasts always have three main components: a healthy source of complex carbs, a whole avocado, and a lot of Cultured Guru kimchi. I eat our kimchi every single morning, and my life is better for it. Honestly, (let’s normalize poop talk) my daily morning bowel movements are perfect because of my morning dose of kimchi. I know this because sometimes we’ve run out of kimchi, and my perfect bowel movements aren’t as perfect without my kimchi. I usually vary between three breakfasts: Sometimes I have a gluten free microwave english muffin topped with avocado and kimchi, sometimes I have a crispy rice tortilla topped with avocado and kimchi, and sometimes it’s a bowl of brown rice with kale, arugula, avocado and kimchi! I also sometimes mix things up with a sweet breakfast, like a good ole’ smoothie bowl!
After breakfast while I get to work on business, I drink a cup of green tea or a green tea latte. I make my green tea lattes in my blender with hot organic sencha, flax oil, oat milk, a dash of maple syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon of spirulina! I prefer to use brewed green tea to make my lattes because matcha is too expensive for me.
I usually hit the gym around 10 or 11 am after breakfast and completing the usual morning business to-do list. After the gym I like to eat lunch right away. I do intense HIIT workouts at the gym, and I leave the gym in a ravenous huger. For lunch most days I have a sriracha tofu with huge salad. I pretty much eat the same thing for lunch every day and I’m okay with that. The key to my healthy lunch is all in the salad. It’s a pretty elaborate salad. Its Just:
kale + romaine + red onion + our Cultured Guru Sauerkraut or Kimchi (can’t forget the best source of probiotics! ☝🏻) + a drizzle of ACV + 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast + 2 tablespoons tahini + a squeeze of lemon juice + chia seeds 🥗 I prefer to massage it and mix it all together with my hands🤚🏼... but if you feel like being fancy you can use utensils I guess🤷🏼♀️🍴I also sometimes add brown rice noodles to the salad if I’m feeling like a need a little more added to my salad.
Snacks on Snacks + More Tea
After lunch I sit down to do a lot more business work. So the first thing I need is a cup of green tea. I like organic sencha and gunpowder green tea to be exact. No sweetener or anything added, just plain green tea!
My go-to snack is the fruit and nut mix I make myself! I make it with just roasted salted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins and this paleo granola from the Whole Foods bulk section. It’s delicious.
Other snacks I enjoy: Grapes, sliced peaches, sliced apples with sunflower seed butter, summer rolls, veggie sushi, kale chips, and crunchy roasted chickpeas.
Dinner time is where it varies for Jon and I. This is when we mix it up, try new things and develop recipes for our blog and Instagram. We just always to remember to eat real food. All of our meals are based around fresh vegetables. To explore some of the things I like to eat for dinner just visit the recipe portion of our blog! Some mentionable favorites that we frequently make: Tempeh Reubens, Thai Curry Soup, Beet Burgers, Pasta Salad, Sushi Bowls and Ma Po Tofu!
Some Things I keep around to help keep my microbiome nourished
A note about histamine, and internet misinformation:
Vegan fermented vegetables do not contain significant amounts of histamine.
We have a whole blog about this. Fermented vegetables that do not contain animal-sourced and/or high protein ingredients do not contain relevant amounts of histamine.
Histamine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gets a bad rap, but histamine is necessary for human body function. Histidine is an essential amino acid, and histamine is vital to the proper function of the immune system. Average healthy people have no problem consuming moderate amounts of histamine in foods, as the histamine is degraded in the gut by microorganisms and the enzyme DAO (Diamine Oxidase)
Fermented vegetables that contain animal ingredients such as fish paste or whey, will be high in histamine. Fermented dairy yogurt may have histamine, cultured meats and cheese have histamine, and some cultured soy products may have histamine. This is because the high protein ingredients in the foods contain the amino acid histidine that microbes can convert to histamine using the enzyme histidine decarboxylase.
Fermented vegetables made with only vegetables, salt, water and spices cannot physically contain relevant levels of histamine... this is because the precursor amino acid histidine is not present in relevant amounts in the ingredients, so there's little to no histidine for microbial enzymes to decarboxylate into histamine.
Certain species of Lactobacillus found in fermented vegetables are also capable of breaking down histamine.
If you eat a high animal fat, high animal protein diet in tandem with any source of probiotics, or in tandem with a healthy gut microbiome, this is what can potentially cause a problem with histamine in the gut. Probiotic bacteria and a healthy gut microbiome will convert the amino acid histidine in those foods into histamine. So too much protein, too much histidine can be a main problem for people with diagnosed insufficient DAO.
For a nourished microbiome, a plant based diet along with vegan fermented vegetables is wonderful.
Are any vegetables high in histamine?
Very few vegetables contain relevant levels of histamine, and any relevant levels are usually a result of spoilage microorganisms. (This does not apply to beans, legumes and starchy vegetables which have varying amino acid content).
People with diagnosed histamine intolerance
Certain types of green leafy vegetables are high in other biogenic amines like putrescine, cadaverine, and tyramine. These biogenic amines are competing substrates for an enzyme called DAO. DAO breaks down histamine in the human body.
Most people who have a histamine intolerance have inadequate DAO, so eating foods with competing substrates is not the best idea. People on low histamine diets are told to avoid spinach, kale, eggplant, tomatoes and avocado for this reason.
In general people with histamine intolerance should avoid old, aged, and preserved foods in which the ingredients were high in the amino acid histidine. This includes canned fish, aged meats, cured meats, canned beans, smoked fish, and high protein left overs.
Obviously if you have a diagnosed histamine intolerance, follow any recommendations provided by your doctor.