Combining conventional and natural therapies offers the best treatment…
Psoriasis can be painful, itchy and embarrassing…and even trigger anxiety and depression. Plus, it’s often stubbornly resistant to treatment, forcing sufferers to try one thing after another. But for the estimated 7 to 8 million Americans with psoriasis, there’s finally some welcome news…
A better way: The most recent research shows that by combining conventional medical care with an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes, people with psoriasis can have fewer and less severe outbreaks. Plus, psoriasis patients using natural approaches often are more responsive to medication—enabling them to use less, which reduces side effects and cost. Added benefit: These same diet and lifestyle approaches also help treat eczema, another inflammatory skin disease.
Best drug-free ways to ease psoriasis…
- Limit high-GI foods. The glycemic index (GI) measures how fast different foods elevate blood sugar (glucose) and insulin in the body. The danger: High-GI foods trigger a very rapid insulin response, and high insulin levels have been linked to psoriasis. High-GI foods have inflammatory effects on the skin, making it more prone to psoriasis. Sugar and white flour are high-GI foods…vegetables, beans and whole grains are low-GI foods.What you can do: Eat meals that consist of 50% vegetables, 25% protein (fish, chicken, turkey, lean meat or eggs) and 25% unrefined carbohydrates (such as sweet potatoes or squash)—a mix that’s low GI and anti-inflammatory. Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and dairy products. In addition, to keep blood glucose levels balanced, be sure to eat two or three snacks daily, such as fruit, nuts or seeds.
- Try fish oil. In a study conducted at the University of Michigan Medical Center, psoriasis patients who received phototherapy (a common treatment for psoriasis that involves exposure to ultraviolet-B light) and took fish oil supplements had a greater decrease in plaques (raised red patches on the skin) than participants who received phototherapy and olive oil capsules.Why it works: Fish oil may reduce tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), a compound involved in systemic inflammation that’s more active in psoriasis patients.What you can do: Take 1 g to 4 g of fish oil daily (with a meal).*
Also helpful: Research conducted in Russia showed that supplementing daily with the antioxidants vitamin E (50 mg), coenzyme Q10 (50 mg) and selenium (48 mcg) improved symptoms in people hospitalized with erythrodermic psoriasis, the most severe form of the disease, which affects most of the body.
- Find out if gluten worsens your symptoms. Research shows that about one in seven people with psoriasis may have a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.In a study conducted by Swedish researchers, 30 of 33 psoriasis patients with an antibody to gliadin (a subprotein in gluten) improved on a gluten-free diet. When the patients started eating gluten again, 18 of the 30 needed to increase their medication because of worsening psoriasis symptoms.What you can do: Ask your doctor for a blood test called the Deamidated Gliadin Peptide Antibody Test. If the test result is positive, consider eating a gluten-free diet for three months to see if your condition improves.
- Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise improves several risk factors for psoriasis, such as inflammation and obesity.What you can do: Exercise five to seven times a week, at a moderate level (such as brisk walking or even vigorous gardening), for 20 minutes each time. I also advise strength-training two times a week and flexibility exercises, such as yoga or Pilates, two times a week.Caution: Heat intolerance can be a problem for people with psoriasis (they often have a dysfunction of sweat glands due to psoriasis plaques)—so avoid exercising in warm, humid environments and keep well-hydrated.
- Lose weight. A 14-year study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital linked a higher body mass index, or BMI (a ratio of height to weight), to a higher risk for psoriasis. Compared with people who had a normal BMI, those in the overweight range had a 40% higher risk for psoriasis…and those who were obese had a 48% higher risk.What you can do: Two of the strategies already discussed—a low-GI diet and regular exercise—can help you lower your BMI, which may minimize psoriasis flare-ups.
- Manage stress. A study from the University of Montreal linked higher stress levels to more severe psoriasis symptoms. And in research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, patients with moderate-to-severe psoriasis who listened to guided stress-reduction exercises during phototherapy had accelerated clearing of their skin.What you can do: To help relieve tension and anxiety, take slow, deep breaths (inhaling until your lungs feel full, and exhaling until your lungs feel empty) for a few minutes several times a day. Other ways to relieve stress include meditation, yoga and tai chi.
- Sleep better. Research shows that poor sleep worsens inflammation and weakens the skin’s protective surface, which can dry it out.What you can do: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, allowing yourself seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. For deeper sleep: Write down your worries at bedtime (and leave them on the dresser for the next day)…don’t eat or drink liquids one to two hours before bed…and keep your bedroom quiet and dark and at a comfortable temperature.
WHAT IS PSORIASIS?
Psoriasis is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease caused by an overactive immune system.
The most common form of the disease is plaque psoriasis—dry, itchy red (and sometimes painful) patches, with silvery-white scales, usually on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. Up to one-third of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, with stiff, swollen, painful joints.
*Check with your doctor before starting any new supplements—especially if you take a blood thinner or other medication or have a chronic health condition.