Anyone who has struggled with symptoms of an autoimmune disease will be all too familiar with the frustrations that can come with seeking treatment. Numerous creams and tablets can bring hope, and, while some options can bring relief, once treatment is stopped symptoms often return and, in some cases, with a vengeance.
This was Dr Irene Prantalos’ experience with psoriasis. The incurable condition first appeared on a trip to Greece when she was 11 years old. Homesick, she was feeling stressed and started to notice spots on her scalp. After returning to Australia, the condition spread to her arms and was confirmed by doctors to be psoriasis. Despite seeing specialists and undergoing various therapies, the condition progressed to the point that her entire body was covered by the age of 16.
“So years 11 and 12 were pretty tough,” Dr Prantalos told Neos Kosmos.
“Then the day after my year 12 exams I was hospitalised, and, not disrespecting medicine, but it didn’t work for me. When I was discharged the doctor said ‘You must go elsewhere, we don’t know what else to do’.”
Psoriasis involves inflammation entering the body due to stresses brought about by diet, emotions, or infection, leading the immune system to overact and instead of shedding 40,000 skin cells every minute, faulty signals trigger the creation of excess skin cells. Instead of falling off, the cells build up on the skin and form red, scaly patches. Therapeutic treatments have advanced to include biologics (widely used to treat cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases). But in hindsight, she says that while she would have tried the treatments, she is glad they didn’t exist at the time, leading her down a path to better understand her body.
At the age of 19 she found herself in a difficult place. Feeling abandoned by medicine, she turned to traditional Chinese medicine – an option her mum Angela had introduced her to when she was 15, but which she had rejected due to its unfamiliarity – and she couldn’t believe the results.
“She gave me herbs and I did everything she told me to do. Within two months my skin was normal,” Dr Prantalos recalls.
While she clarifies that it was not a cure, she says it helped her to target the inflammation and manage the disease by making additional adjustments to her diet.
It was this experience that inspired her to pursue studies in Chinese medicine, of which she is now a practitioner and founder of Salubre Health Solutions in Surry Hills, where she draws from her studies and experience to help others looking like herself.
“Being incurable, people have this perception that you’re stuck with it forever. It just means you have to change various aspects of yourself to be healthier so that you don’t have the disease present,” she explains.
After releasing her book Feel Great in Your Skin: 7 Simple Ways to Heal Your Psoriasis, Dr Prantalos says it was only natural to follow it up with a cookbook to show people that changes to diet and lifestyle are easily manageable and that there are options. Having observed her mum modifying traditional Greek recipes throughout the years to help treat the inflammation in her skin and allow it to heal, they joined forces to write Healing Psoriasis with Mediterranean Cooking.
She says Greek cuisine, in comparison to that of other cultures, is similar to the popular ‘paleo’ diet, which she says is psoriasis-friendly. Low in carbs with a focus on vegetables and meat, it also includes healthy natural fats such as olive oil, and fresh herbs which mean there’s no skimping on flavour. She’s particularly fond of endive which features broadly in Greek cooking. The vegetable is high in chlorophyll, and if home grown or bought organic, she encourages people to drink the juices as a powerful and effective anti-inflammatory.
“It’s really interesting because in my first year of studies, we looked at the history of traditional Chinese medicine and it was fascinating to me that the Chinese and the Greeks were in the forefront of medicine – they didn’t call it natural medicine then, they just called it medicine,” she explains.
“You speak to the older Greeks and they use herbal medicine a lot. So there’s a huge crossover with these two historical countries where they utilise their environment as medicine.”
With more funding being invested into researching alternative therapies, Dr Prantalos says that traditional Chinese medicine is gaining momentum, particularly for those like herself who feel let down by mainstream medicine, but also those faced with the ramifications of being on multiple drugs with side effects.
“The problem is when you take a drug that takes away your awareness of your disease, your behaviours don’t change. But if I told you how I eat, you’d be like ‘why are you eating that way?’ Well I know that my body doesn’t tolerate sugar, it doesn’t tolerate high levels of high GI carbs, I can’t have anything processed,” she says.
“It’s all about recognising that the body is trying to tell you something is not right and unfortunately medicine looks at it like ‘Well the body is a nuisance so let’s just shut it up’. Whereas my experience and my opinion is don’t shut up your body, because your body will get really annoyed. Instead let’s listen to it and figure out why it’s presenting in this way and let’s fix it.”
HERBS THAT HEAL:
Fresh herbs often get dismissed as something we can add to our food to make it more tasty. The truth is nature has provided us with delicious herbs that are full of nutrients that encourage a healthier body. Dr Prantalos breaks it down so you know which herbs you need to revitalise and rejuvenate.
Basil contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial nutrients which makes it a great herb for maintaining better health and a great herb of choice for those affected by skin issues. It contains vitamin A, vitamin K, manganese, magnesium, potassium, copper, and iron.
Dill is a good source of protein and carbohydrate, as well as containing numerous minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B3 (niacin), iron, zinc and magnesium.
Mint contains vitamin C, potassium, iron and calcium.
Oregano is an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and magnesium.
Parsley is extremely beneficial for enhancing skin health. It contains vitamin C, vitamin K, betacarotene, calcium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, potassium and has oils that have antibacterial and antifungal properties which assist in promoting health and wellbeing.
Rosemary has healthy amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, and is rich in manganese, calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium.
Vitamin & Mineral Key
Vitamin A: Promotes healthy skin
Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Enhances the metabolism of fats and sugars to assist in the maintenance of healthy cells
Vitamin C: As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects the skin cells from oxidation due to the presence of free radicals in the body
Vitamin K: Strengthens bones, promotes healing and reduces redness
Betacarotene: Precursor to Vitamin A production which can promote healthier looking skin
Calcium: Regeneration of healthy skin cells
Copper: Promotes healthy skin function
Iron: Assists in the transportation of oxygen throughout the entire body
Manganese: Helps with the detoxification of free radicals and assists in the utilisation of vitamins such as C and B1
Magnesium: Promotes elasticity and moisture in the skin
Phosphorus: Assists in the metabolism of other nutrients
Potassium: Improves hydration of the body as a deficiency of potassium can exacerbate dryness in the skin
Zinc: Reduces inflammation, promotes healing and regeneration of skin cells
* Information and recipes supplied by Dr Irene Prantalos. For more, visit salubre.com.au/ or facebook.com/DrIrenePrantalos/
BEETROOT DETOX JUICE
This detox juice is a fantastic way to start your day. Choosing to use beetroot will intensify its detoxifying effect in the body. For added effect add fresh dandelions to your juice. Remember, the more bitter your juice, the more detoxification action it has on your body.
3 vegetables (choose from list below)
1 fruit (choose from list below)
1 tsp ground flaxseeds
1 probiotic capsule (optional)
1. Place vegetables (any quantity), fruit and flaxseeds into a blender.
2. Combine all ingredients until smooth.
3. Stir in the contents of probiotic capsule if using.
4. If you wish you can add a little filtered water or coconut water to liquify the juice.
Red delicious apple
2 pieces of any melon
Endive is a fantastic vegetable, especially with fish, as the meal will dramatically improve the appearance of your skin. If you use organic endive, drink a glass or two of the water they are boiled in. Many vitamins are water-soluble and leach out of the vegetable into the water during the cooking process. If you do this three to four times per week for a month you will see a dramatic improvement to your eczema/psoriasis (if you’re also omitting foods that will aggravate your psoriasis).
Endives are packed with a huge range of vitamins and minerals that act to nourish and detoxify the skin and the entire body too.
1 bunch organic endives
1 tbsp Celtic sea salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 organic lemon
5 g organic pine nuts
1. Clean the endive individually by cutting off the ends and removing any bruised or damaged leaves.
2. Clean the remaining leaves by washing them in a bowl of cold water. This process needs to be repeated two to three times depending on how much dirt is left in the bowl.
3. Fill a two-litre saucepan to the ¾ mark with boiled water. Cut the endive into halves and add to the saucepan. Cover with a lid and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to simmer with the lid slightly off for 30 minutes or until the stems are soft.
4. When the endive is cooked, remove from the heat and drain into a strainer. Place the endive into a bowl and season with salt, olive oil, and lemon juice. Combine thoroughly.
5. Garnish with pine nuts.
A delicious meal packed with low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates and lean lamb. Use mince from premium lamb fillets as lamb mince typically sold at your butcher has a lot of fat. Cheap cuts and cheap mince are likely to have a level of fat that may inflame psoriatic skin. So ensure high quality lamb by asking your butcher to mince lamb fillets. Use organic herbs and vegetables.
1 kg biodynamic lamb mince
1 tsp Celtic sea salt
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh oregano, finely chopped
6 large sweet potatoes
6 medium zucchinis
100 mls extra virgin olive oil
1 litre organic soy milk (malt-free and gluten-free)
1/2 tsp Celtic sea salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp organic brown rice flour
1. Preheated your oven to 180°C.
2. Marinate the lamb with 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
3. Place the lamb in a heated two-litre non-stick saucepan and sauté for 30 minutes.
4. Add herbs and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.
5. Add a glass of water and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Ensure there is broth remaining in the lamb mixture and if not add a small amount of water during the cooking process.
6. While the lamb mince is cooking, peel and slice potatoes and zucchini into ½ cm thick pieces.
7. Season the potatoes and zucchini with sea salt. Place the potatoes on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Place tray under the grill for 5 minutes both sides or until golden brown.
8. Repeat the process with the zucchini slices, grill for 20 minutes on either side.
9. Once the potatoes, zucchini, and lamb mince are ready, prepare your cooking area by placing a lasagne dish on the kitchen bench with all your ingredients close by.
10. Place one layer of cooked potatoes on the base of the baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, then repeat the process with the zucchini.
11. Pour all the lamb mince over the zucchini including the thickened broth. Repeat the layering process with the potatoes and zucchini.
Preparing the sauce
1. Place ¾ of the soy milk into a medium-sized sauce pan.
2. Add the sea salt, olive oil and rice flour to the remaining soy milk and stir thoroughly. When the flour has dissolved thoroughly, add to the soy milk already in the saucepan on the stove and heat, continuously stirring the mixture until it boils, then reduce the heat and simmer until sauce thickens.
3. Pour the sauce over the moussaka, ensuring you spread the sauce evenly over the zucchini.
4. Bake in a for 40- 50 minutes or until golden brown.
Moussaka freezes really well, so why not divide the portions evenly and place individual pieces in freezer bags and store in the freezer? This will provide a very quick and easy set of meals with no fuss!