Living day in and day out with psoriasis—known for its silvery scales and itchy, painful red patches (plaques) on the skin—is hard enough for the more than 7.5 million Americans who have the disease.
But researchers are now finding that people with psoriasis also may be more likely to develop other inflammation-based conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. People with psoriasis should be screened for these conditions and talk to their doctors about ways to reduce other risk factors they may have for these diseases.
Problem: Even though drugs, such as apremilast (Otezla) and adalimumab (Humira), that inhibit parts of the immune system involved in psoriasis are now available, any therapy that suppresses immunity can increase the risk for infections, gastrointestinal upset and other conditions.
Solution: There’s mounting evidence that natural therapies can be used to reduce overall inflammation and help support the immune system. These drug-free approaches can improve the effectiveness of psoriasis medication and sometimes even eliminate the need for it (with your doctor’s approval). First, try the dietary approaches in this—they should result in improvements that increase over time. Supplements also can be used.
PUTTING YOUR DIET TO WORK
Eating the right foods (and using supplements when needed) can increase your ability to fight psoriasis on a systemic level by reducing inflammation and helping regulate your immune system—two key factors linked to psoriasis. My advice…
• Go for anti-inflammatory foods. Americans eat lots of processed foods—most of which promote inflammation in the body. Meanwhile, whole, nutrient-packed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables help attack the inflammatory process that is increased in psoriasis.
Good choices: Beets, blueberries, kale and other leafy greens, salmon, garbanzo beans, quinoa, lentils, nuts and ginger. For other food choices, go to Psoriasis.org, and search “anti-inflammatory diet.”
• Get more vitamin D. People with psoriasis, like many Americans, are often deficient in vitamin D, which is known to help regulate immune function and inhibit inflammation. That’s why it’s important to consume foods that contain vitamin D, such as oysters, shrimp, salmon, sardines and any fortified milk. Vitamin D supplements also may be needed. If you have psoriasis, ask your doctor for a blood test to check your vitamin D level.
• Spice things up. Turmeric, which gives mustard its bright yellow color and curry its distinctive flavor, contains the medicinal compound curcumin.
A 2013 study published in the journal BioFactors showed that turmeric helps healthy, new skin cells form more quickly. If you don’t like curry or mustard (you would need to eat 1 g to 3 g a day to get the therapeutic effect), you can try turmeric in supplement form—400 mg to 600 mg two to three times a day.
Talk to your doctor first if you take antacids, diabetes drugs or blood thinners, since turmeric may interfere with these medications—and if you have a history of gallstones (turmeric may cause stomach upset in these people).
• Load up on omega-3s. Get lots of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Daily amounts needed to fight psoriasis: Seven ounces of salmon…a small avocado…or two tablespoons of ground flaxseed (store in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage). If you don’t like fish and other omega-3–rich foods, consider taking 2 g to 3 g daily of a fish oil supplement. Choose one that has more EPA than DHA, and check with your doctor first if you take a blood thinner or diabetes medication—fish oil could interact with them.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that among many common supplements taken by people with psoriasis, fish oil—which may reduce tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a protein associated with systemic inflammation—demonstrated the greatest benefit.
FOR CRACKED SKIN AND PLAQUES
Among the more troubling symptoms of psoriasis are dry, cracked skin (that may even bleed) and the red, scaly, itchy plaques that can develop on the elbows, scalp, torso and other areas.
What works best…
• Oregon grape root. When used topically, this powerful, little-known antibacterial herb (also called Mahonia) helps reduce skin irritation and topical infections common to people with psoriasis.
A 2013 research review published in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that Oregon grape root reduced the development of red, raised psoriasis plaques and healed psoriasis-related cracked skin.
Oregon grape root is found in tincture form at health-food stores, and you can add two or three drops to your favorite skin cream. The herb also can be found in over-the-counter creams containing 10% Mahonia, which has been shown to help control mild-to-moderate psoriasis plaques.
FOR ITCH AND FLAKING…
Soaking in the high concentration of mineral salts found in the Dead Sea in Israel is a centuries-old remedy for the itching and flaking associated with psoriasis.
What helps: Adding one-quarter to one-half cup of Dead Sea (or Epsom) salts to a warm (not hot) bath has been shown to ease itching skin and remove dead, flaking skin cells. Dead Sea salts have a higher concentration of minerals than Epsom salts and are available online and at health-food stores and spas.
A substantial body of research, including a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, has shown that psoriasis patients who regularly take such baths report significant improvements in itch and irritation levels within three weeks. For even greater benefits: Mix the salts with colloidal oatmeal, such as Aveeno. Take these baths two to three times a week.