Natural Chinese Remedy Helps Psoriasis Disappear
Remember those 1960s advertisements about the “heartbreak of psoriasis”? Back then I had no idea how miserable this skin disease (which some experts believe is an autoimmune disorder) can be. The ugly patches and tremendous discomfort that characterize psoriasis have been shown to lead to low self-esteem and even depression and anxiety in some patients. Research has also shown that people with the disease may be at risk for cardiovascular problems and also arthritis. Psoriasis can, indeed, be a heartbreak.
What a shame, then, that even decades later, mainstream medicine doesn’t have much to offer in terms of a cure. Pharmaceutical drugs can help but, as always, carry significant side effects such as increased risk of kidney problems and blood disorders. It’s no surprise that many people turn to natural remedies, including sunlight and dietary adjustments — according to naturopathic physician Eric Yarnell, ND. These are not as quick to work but do bring a measure of relief, sometimes significantly so. Now a research study from Taiwan demonstrates the efficacy of a Chinese botanical ointment called indigo naturalis.
TESTING INDIGO NATURALIS TREATMENT
The research study involved 42 patients with severe psoriasis who had tried but not found relief from at least two conventional medical approaches, including pharmaceutical drugs. All patients had psoriasis on both sides of the body. On one side, participants were instructed to spread a soothing ointment made of petroleum jelly, yellow wax and olive oil — on the other side, to rub on an ointment made with those ingredients plus indigo naturalis, a traditional Chinese medicine derived from the plant Strobilanthes formosanus Moore. It turned out that both versions of the ointment were at least somewhat soothing — however, for three quarters of the patients (31 of the 42) the one containing indigo naturalis brought complete or nearly complete clearing of the plaques in 12 weeks. There is one problem, however — the dark blue indigo left temporary unattractive stains on the skin, which researchers say wash away with soap and water. (The stains are more difficult to remove from clothing.)
OTHER NATURAL TREATMENTS FOR PSORIASIS
In treating psoriasis, Dr. Yarnell traditionally prescribes assorted approaches that not only address the symptoms of psoriasis but also its underlying causes, since they are dramatically safer than conventional treatments. Dr. Yarnell carefully tailors psoriasis treatments to meet each individual’s unique set of needs. The indigo naturalis study adds yet another option. He recommends some combination of the following strategies to reduce stressors and strengthen the body’s immune system…
Identify and avoid triggers. Psoriasis often flares up in response to triggers such as physical illness or trauma, poor diet, smoking, stress, changes in the weather or the seasons, and/or menstrual irregularities.
Examine and adjust your diet. Diet is the core of a naturopathic program for people with psoriasis, emphasizes Dr. Yarnell. He advises:
- Consume whole-foods. Increase your intake of omega-3-fatty-acid-rich cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables (especially carotenoid-rich leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangos, etc.). Liven up your cooking with anti-inflammatory turmeric (in curry powder), ginger, onions and garlic. At the same time, keep your body’s inflammatory response under control by avoiding excess sugars, saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, processed and deep-fried foods, and fast foods, all of which promote inflammation.
- Try to identify your individual trigger foods and/or food allergies by following an elimination/challenge diet. This is a process your doctor will supervise over several weeks — it involves removing from your diet specific foods and ingredients that you suspect cause food allergies or sensitivities that contribute to psoriasis. Common allergens are milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy.
- Get tested for celiac disease. A subset of people with psoriasis simultaneously have this other autoimmune disease, in which they experience difficulty digesting the protein gluten in wheat, rye and barley. (Learn more about celiac disease at www.celiac.org.)
CONSIDER FISH OIL AND OTHER TREATMENTS
- Fish oil. This anti-inflammatory supplement is slow-acting, but critically important in reducing psoriasis symptoms, says Dr. Yarnell. He adds that fish oil is especially effective when coupled with lowering your omega-6-fatty acid intake — he advises eating fewer grains overall, limiting consumption of hydrogenated vegetable oils, if not eliminating them altogether… and when possible opt for grass-fed instead of grain-fed animal products.
- Immune-strengthening with botanical medicines. To balance underlying immune disturbances, Dr. Yarnell often prescribes some combination of Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) or licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).
- Vitamin D-3 supplements. In his practice, Dr. Yarnell uses natural and inexpensive vitamin D-3 supplements, noting that like fish oil it works slowly but effectively.
- Folic acid. Psoriasis sufferers are often deficient in folic acid, which is necessary for DNA synthesis, cell formation and growth and more. For optimal absorption, take folic acid together with a multi-B vitamin or get it from dietary sources such as broccoli, leafy vegetables, orange juice, dried beans and peas.
OTHER NATURAL REMEDIES
- You can get immediate relief with creams and ointments. To relieve itching and inflammation and keep skin moisturized, Dr. Yarnell recommends topical treatments such as capsaicin, which helps itching, and topical vitamin D-3. (Note: Capsaicin may cause an initial burning sensation, which won’t last.) To a lesser degree, aloe can also be helpful, he says.
- Light therapy, whether in the form of natural or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light, slows skin cell turnover and helps reduce scaling and inflammation. Short, daily exposure of the affected areas to natural sunlight is best, says Dr. Yarnell, although too much sun can backfire and worsen symptoms. Work with your doctor to determine the level that is best for you.
- Apple cider vinegar. This is an old folk remedy that many psoriasis patients swear by. Dr. Yarnell agrees it is beneficial for people with hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), which often accompanies psoriasis.
PRACTICE STRESS MANAGEMENT
If stress and anxiety act as triggers of your psoriasis, take active measures to get them under control. Since different stress relievers work for different people, explore what works best for you. For instance, try a yoga or tai chi class, keep a journal or practice meditation, breathing exercises or visualization. You may find it helpful to connect with others facing the same challenges by visiting psoriasis blogs such as http://well.blogs.nytimes.com and http://www.mypsoriasistreatment.com/blog.
Psoriasis is a stubborn disease that requires considerable time, patience and expertise to successfully treat. While naturopathic treatments may not work quickly, you’ll get the best and most lasting results by working with a naturopathic practitioner who resorts to only minimal use of strong conventional medicines on an as needed basis. In the long run, addressing the underlying causes of your symptoms this way will give you a greater likelihood of bringing psoriasis under control.