Irene Prantalos speaks from experience when she says she knows what it is like to want to Live Psoriasis Free after being diagnosed at 11 years of age Irene has been there and learn to live with it were not words she was prepared to accept.
Irene battled her way through adolescence and into early adulthood, suffering from the skin disease… until she found a way to live free from psoriasis with the help of her mother.
During her long journey of healing, Irene visited a slew of dermatologists and dabbled in many alternative therapies, some of which provided some relief yet neither approach ever resulted in a permanent cure.
In her own words: 'In terms of psoriasis though, the years passed with little relief. I tried endlessly to find a cure, with a variety of treatments all claiming to heal my psoriasis. By now that simple rash had spread to cover 90% of my body. The worst of it came when I was in Year 11 and 12 with the pressures of VCE and the personal desire to do well. Whatever normal skin I had left now vanished. My body was really struggling; my legs had fluid retention and had swelled to the size of 2L coke bottles. I could barely walk, let alone move without pain. My beautiful mother sold her hairdressing salon and started caring for me 100% of the time. I later found out that all the money my mother received from the sale went on medical bills."
At the age of 19, Irene turned to Chinese medicine for answers and was amazed by what ensued. Within just two months, her skin had cleared up – a pivotal moment marking the beginning of a lifelong passion for this ancient system of healing. 'I was amazed, I felt normal. Normal! Who would have thought some stinky herbs would help me? I knew then this is what I had to do; I had to learn Chinese medicine to make sure I never got sick again. I asked the Chinese medicine practitioner: -Where can I learn this?' She told me of a new course starting at RMIT University."
The following seven years saw Irene studying Human Biology and Chinese Medicine, eventually going on to launch her own private practice, Salubre Health Solutions, dedicated to treating the condition she once suffered from so badly.
Irene is now a highly sought-after author, speaker and thought leader in the field of psoriasis treatment and is regarded as a pioneer in the promotion of healthy skin techniques.
In addition to being a health practitioner, facilitator and author, Irene has personally created an outstanding range of teas and skincare products, which harness the power of nature itself to achieve healthy skin.
Today, Irene is almost completely free of psoriasis. She never gave up on her quest to find a cure and now offers her clients the same inspirational, passionate and dedicated service. What's more though, Irene is able to give them hope.
Irene has also published: Feel Great in Your Skin… 7 Simple Ways to Heal Psoriasis and Healing Psoriasis with Mediterranean Cooking. Both of these invaluable works aim to help patients create healthy lifestyles to combat skin ailments, with especially the cookbook which Irene wrote together with her mother, proving a big hit with the media.
In the past Dr Irene has been featured on ABC Radio National on World Psoriasis Day, and appeared on 3AW's Dennis Walter show as well as on Studio Ten and Channel Nine News. The programs profiled Healing Psoriasis with Mediterranean Cooking, and highlighted the uplifting story of a mum and daughter finding ways to alleviate the severe skin condition that is psoriasis.
Feedback from the public was encouraging and scores of parents began to reach out, asking for help with their children's health problems. Irene says: 'My mum being desperate and frustrated with the lack of help I received seemed to resonate with many parents out there, while my story in changing my diet to manage this condition struck a chord with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis sufferers."
Irene's studies included a spell at Nanjing in China where she explored various herbal therapies and natural remedies in great depth and by September 2002 she had returned to Melbourne – feeling ecstatic at having completed a double degree in Chinese Medicine and Human Biology.
As Irene sums it up herself: 'As soon as I stopped fighting this illness and stopped feeling sorry for myself the sooner I was able to see what my skin was trying to tell me for years. Acceptance and acknowledgment of this illness will allow you to listen to your body and embrace the changes you need to make to ensure you live a life that is happy, and fulfilling. From there all you require is guidance and determination to completely change what is not working in your current diet and lifestyle to generate healthier looking skin."
Question: What is Psoriasis?
Irene Prantalos: Psoriasis is a skin disease that results when the skin cells are signaled by the immune cells to shed at a faster rate than is normal. The immune cells are triggered by inflammation. This inflammation can be a result of stress, hormonal changes, metabolic and hereditary.
Normally, skin sheds every 14 days but psoriatic lesions will shed every 4 days. So in fact psoriasis is just too much skin, although its appearance can be quite red and raised which is why many sufferers feel embarrassed and will often cover the area of their body that is affected.
Question: What do you hope to achieve on the upcoming World Psoriasis Day?
Irene Prantalos: We are running a free information seminar that will have 4 experts presenting information that attendees can take away with them and utilize to help them manage their psoriatic disease better. My aim is to inform sufferers and their carers with as much knowledge on what treatments are available, what they can do to empower themselves in a situation they may feel powerless in and present new research into an array of treatments that will potentially help heal their condition. Secondly, I would hope to build a community for people with psoriatic disease to provide a platform to freely express their challengers and have access to a variety of options for the management of their illness.
Question: Can you talk about how Psoriasis affected you as a teenager?
Irene Prantalos: I was first diagnosed at the age of 11 and my initial understanding was that it could be simply managed with cortisone cream. Unfortunately, this was not the case. By the age of 17 years my entire body was covered which was especially difficult as I was doing year 11. Every teenage wants to fit in and be accepted by their peers so I was no different. However, this illness presented a huge obstacle and in my early teens (from 13 – 15) I was bullied and found it difficult to make friends. It seemed to turn around when friendships began to form and I was judged for the person I was rather than the appearance of my skin. By 16 years of age, I somehow managed to have my skin become healthier but that all changed with the stress of year 11 and 12.
When my skin was bad I would isolate myself and intentionally withdraw from socializing with my friends. I would often spend my free time during school hours in the library studying as it was difficult to study later in the evening due to the pain of my skin. Having said all that, this illness did teach me many positive things as well. My resilience to challengers in my life is high where I will assess a situation and try to resolve it rather than giving up, I'm close with my family as we share a period of time in our lives that was difficult but the fact that we shared it together meant that we weren't alone and finally I met my husband who is caring and supportive and never made me feel awful no matter how bad my skin was even if I felt completely unlovable.
Question: Can you talk about how you learnt to live Psoriasis free?
Irene Prantalos: I was constantly told that I needed to accept my psoriasis and its severity. However, deep down in my heart I couldn't and for my mum that was not an option. When one treatment failed we looked for another so I began to look at it from a different perspective. I thought to myself, if there are triggers that increase inflammation in my body that lead to the psoriasis what would happen if I avoided these triggers.
With that in mind I realized that I did in fact have some control of my situation and potentially could better control flare ups. So with changes to my diet I noticed and felt better in my skin. I personally found making changes to my diet easier than to manage my stress levels. I felt that to manage stress meant I would have to change who I was, which was someone who stressed very easily. But I reached a stage that I thought if my emotions aren't addressed then there would be little to no relief in my skin. This process of figuring out what my body needed to be healthy and to be committed to adopting these principles every day did take time. But my dedication was spurred on by the fact that psoriasis is a skin disease EVERYONE can see so I really had to get myself accepting of my circumstance sooner rather than later if I wanted any long term relief. So, over time my flare ups appeared to be less frequent and with less severity. Now, there are potential circumstances that can cause a flare up, for instance after I had my baby, but I have developed a treasure chest of effective treatments to heal my skin at a much faster rate. I say it's a treasure chest because this information is valuable to have and I really recommend anyone with any type of illness that's challenging for them to look at developing their own treasure chest. For me it contains Chinese herbs and acupuncture, glutathione IVs and natural cream to ease the lesions.
Question: What treatment did you and your mother discover for Psoriasis?
Irene Prantalos: I wouldn't be able to remember the exact number of treatments I tried, as there are so many but also there is a huge period of time that I have forgotten about because it is too painful to remember. The one thing I do remember was that when I was 19 years of age I tried Chinese Medicine shortly after being discharged from hospital the second time with very little relief. I was skeptical but I was also out of options as many doctors had turned me away as my condition was too severe and difficult to manage. To my surprise and definitely my mother's surprise too, my skin became normal after 2 months of treatment. My shock turned into hope and I decided to study Chinese Medicine to understand why this had worked when so many had failed.
Question: How can we purchase copies of your books?
Irene Prantalos: My books are available on my website www.ireneprantalos.com and also online on www.amazon.com.
Question: How does food affect Psoriasis?
Irene Prantalos: Food is often a topic that many discuss as to whether there is any impact on psoriasis. Personally, I always felt there was an impact, which resulted in itchier, redder skin or more spots on my body. However, science is looking into this more closely.
Here's what they have found so far:
1. People with moderate to severe psoriasis have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome makes a person prone to developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A symptom of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance. So it has been researched that moderate to severe psoriasis sufferers need to eat low GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet etc and small portions per meal. This way you can reduce insulin resistance to reduce inflammation in the body, leading to a reduction in psoriatic disease. Another way to reduce insulin resistance is via exercise, specifically weight training.
2. Gluten has been discovered to increase insulin resistance and inflammation in the body. So it is beneficial for all sufferers of psoriatic disease to eliminate gluten from their diet.
Question: Can you share a recipe from Healing Psoriasis with Mediterranean Cooking?
Irene Prantalos: One of my favourite recipes in the Healing Psoriasis with Mediterranean Cooking cookbook is the Apple and Coconut Muffins. They contain anti-inflammatory ingredients such as flaxseeds, coconut oil and make a tasty for the whole family.
Apple and Coconut Muffins
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 60 minutes
1⁄2 Cup Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
1 Cup Pureharvest Organic Rice Milk
2 Organic Fuji Apples, peeled, cored and grated
1⁄2 Cup Soy Flour
1⁄2 Organic Brown Rice Flour
1 Tablespoon Gluten Free Baking Powder
1⁄2 Cup Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1⁄2 Cup Walnuts, Crushed
Melt the coconut oil over low heat and add to the milk and blend thoroughly.
Add in the apples, flours, baking powder, flaxseeds and walnuts, and combine thoroughly.
Pour into muffin tray and bake 170oC for 60 minutes.
Note: Makes 12 muffins – can be frozen to eat when so desired.
Question: What advice do you have for other teenagers with Psoriasis?
Irene Prantalos: I would empathise with their situation and then empower them to look at their affliction as a way of improving their health in all aspects (mind, body, spirit). Consider making changes to your diet and lifestyle. You won't miss a thing except for your psoriasis.
Also never give up, its perfectly fine to have tough days where you feel you can't do this anymore but the beauty of being down is that the only way is up. Make sure you are supported by optimistic and positive people. Avoid people that pity you as that will strip you from your power instantly.
When it comes to treatment, give anything a go. You don't know how your body will respond until you try it but be committed as you don't want to waste an opportunity in getting better by doing things only half way.
Most importantly you are not alone, up to 3% of the world's population have psoriasis with many celebrities sharing their own struggles with the disease.
To keep on top of what works and what doesn't, journal your daily activities, food intake, emotional state and the severity of your psoriasis. That way you will pinpoint what is working for you.
Interview by Brooke Hunter