Psoriasis comes from the Greek word psora, meaning fine bran like scaling. Psoriasis afflicts 1% – 4% of the general population, and is a type of chronic skin condition where itchy scaly red or white flaky patches form on the scalp (in approximately 40% of cases), elbows, forearms, knees, groin, and legs or lower back. For many it is a condition that seems to “come and go,” and may appear as a few spots or involve large areas. It is not contagious, either to other body parts or other people. It is characterised by thickening of the skin (epidermis) which reveals bleeding points upon removal of the scale.
The cause of psoriasis is uncontrolled skin-cell growth, the rate at which skin cells divide in psoriasis is roughly 1,000 times greater than in normal skin. This is a condition that generally can tend to run in families. Some cases I have seen in the clinic are quite severe, and can be quite physically and emotionally traumatic for the person involved. In most cases however, psoriasis is confined to a few spots, and seems to affect many people on the sides or at the back of the head.
Many patients visit natural therapists with psoriasis, and we are often the ‘last port of call’ when it comes to chronic conditions affecting the skin. Long-standing psoriasis patients often have been to a medical doctor or a skin specialist and have tried many creams, tar solutions, been prescribed pharmaceutical drugs and various other lotions and potions along the years. Most of these treatments are only of temporary use, and many patients I see have given up on conventional treatment and started to experiment and self-prescribe.
Natural medicine does have a big role to play in helping alleviate the condition. Skin eruptions such as psoriasis, are generally curable to a large extent if the patient perseveres with their treatment long enough, however, skin irritants such as the sun, anxiety, stress, and various other triggers take their toll over time, and the person relapses again and again. This makes it harder to stick with a treatment plan.
It can significantly help sufferers if they can identify their individual triggers, to eat a more ‘psoriasis-friendly’ diet, and to learn about the effects of stress and nervous tension on psoriasis.
Psoriasis is a stubborn and difficult condition to treat, both from a practitioner’s as well as patient’s perspective. Successful treatment requires patience, diligence and long-term treatments with detoxification to observe any true lasting benefits.
I have found that there are many potential causes of psoriasis, and several underlying factors may trigger skin flare-ups, including the following. Poor protein digestion and bowel toxemia: One major theory relating to the cause of psoriasis proposes that psoriasis occurs when the liver is functioning poorly, in which case endotoxins (wastes from within the body) enter the bloodstream. The build up of endotoxins, along with poor bowel flora (too many bad bugs, not enough good ones, or an imbalance of colonic bacteria) levels has been linked with psoriasis. Poor kidney function is also implicated. A low fibre diet is a common cause, because psoriasis is associated with high levels of circulating endotoxins, and a diet low in fibre is associated with increased levels of endotoxin-producing bacteria. In addition, a high fat diet: It is interesting to note in countries with lower fat consumption that psoriasis is rare. Some experts believe that psoriasis can result from the faulty utilisation of fat in the body.
Many doctors blame this condition on genetics (hereditary), psoriasis runs in families they say. There are always exceptions, however. A faulty immune system is common in psoriasis patients, and psoriasis may occur as a result of allergies. I always check the person out carefully for any underlying food allergies. It pays to go onto a trial elimination-diet for about three weeks to determine to what degree your diet aggravates your skin condition. Excessive activity of certain white blood cells called lymphocytes ( helper T-Cells) may be an underlying cause of psoriasis. People with AIDS or HIV patients often have the most severe forms of psoriasis.
Stress is a big one, and in fact one of the major triggers. I find that many people can tend to have a flare-up after periods of stress, this can include emotional stress, or physiological stress such as sunlight exposure. Alcohol is a strong aggravating factor, particularly with male drinkers. Tobacco smoking increases the risk of psoriasis developing in women particularly. Also, watch out for the less obvious forms of fat such as potato chips, chocolate, fish/chips, sausages, pizza and too much BBQ in summertime.
Certain pharmaceutical drugs I have found are strongly involved in precipitating a psoriasis flare up. These are the main ones: alpha-interferon, aspirin, cortisone, lithium, beta-blockers, phenylbutazone, progesterone, iodide, nystatin, and indomethacin. Over the years, I have found that various people actually have a drug-induced form of psoriasis. This is particularly true with elderly patients I have seen, who develop a bad case after certain types of pharmaceutical drugs were introduced. One such drug is hydroxychloroquine, sometimes used for rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause severe psoriatic skin reactions. Are you taking a drug and have psoriasis? Then go online and do some searches, you may be quite amazed.
First of all, it is important to be aware of causes & triggers of psoriasis. There is no sense in treating a condition such as psoriasis when you are aggravating it at the same time by being on a causative drug, too much alcohol, or a poor diet high in take-away. It is important to eat a healthy diet and avoid foods that could potentially trigger your psoriasis, as well as to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water daily to flush the body and keep the skin hydrated.
A cleansing diet, for 2-3 weeks, is advisable in the beginning of treatment of psoriasis. You are best to consult your Naturopath or qualified natural health-care practitioner about this. There are several ways you can do this, but the best way is to follow professional guidance until you know what you are doing. I place patients on what I call the ‘hypo-allergenic diet’ for a three week period, this special diet is avoid of all the potentially immune-trigger foods such as dairy, wheat and gluten containing grains, eggs, and the four to five key trigger foods. After the diet, you will be able to see for yourself to what degree your current diet affects your skin. You might be quite surprised to see just how much your health and vitality has improved over all, and not just your skin!
Fresh food diet: The people who appear to obtain the best results with psoriasis, are the ones who eat the most fresh foods in their diet. Plenty of fresh, steamed, and partially cooked vegetables. All the vegetables are fine generally. Carrots in particular have a most favorable effect on improving psoriasis, so eat plenty. Plenty of fruits (no banana, pineapple or citrus except lemon), raw and fresh nuts & seeds, sunflower & pumpkin seeds, and particularly sesame seeds. Alkaline grains such as millet, quinoa, rice, buckwheat are all good. Remember, lots of water
Proteins: Several gut-derived toxins are implicated in the development of psoriasis. With incomplete protein digestion, bacteria inside your bowel can break protein residues (amino acids) into various toxic compounds. One such group of toxic compounds is known as polyamines. The best way to deal with these toxins, is to reduce/limit your intake of animal meats, whilst simultaneously increasing your intake of dietary fiber. Psoriatic patients have shown remarkable improvements whilst on a vegetarian diet, and the experts think that it is probably due to their decreased levels of gut-derived toxins and polyamines in general. Digestive enzymes are occasionally important in the treatment of someone with psoriasis.
Low protein, low fat diet Many patients show signs of abnormal nitrogen (protein breakdown residues) retention. When placed on diets of no more 4-5gm/nitrogen daily (30gm protein), with an adequate caloric intake, patients experienced a gradual disappearance of psoriatic lesions whilst maintaining their weight. Lesions recurred when diet was stopped, however. When 140 patients were placed on a vegetarian diet, results were often brilliant, often the eruptions steadily faded and actually disappeared with absolutely no internal or local treatments. However, the best results were obtained by combining the diet with other forms of treatment. With a low protein, low fat diet, sometimes the rash will recur, but, as a rule, the outbreaks will not be nearly so severe or as persistent as the previous ones.
Cold-pressed vegetable oils such as sesame and/or flaxseed oil, 2 Tblsp per day. I am not a big advocate for recommending flaxseed oil as a supplement, primarily due to the fact that it is a difficult way for the body to access Omega 3, but for psoriasis it is an excellent adjunct to the diet. Extra-virgin olive oil is also great. The oils must be fresh, cold-pressed, unrefined and unheated. I believe that there are some great cold-pressed oils made here in NZ, ask around.
Animal fats: This is a major in psoriasis: If there is one thing that will make a difference, even if you just try this. Try to avoid all animal (saturated) fats as much as possible. Keep away from processed meats particularly, avoid anything from the ‘deli’ department of your supermarket. Watch out for those pre-cooked or frozen meals or snacks like pies, sausage rolls, fish-fingers, pizza, chips, etc. They generally contain hydrogenated (animal) fats. Watch out for the skin on chicken, and if you eat red meats, be sure to choose lean cuts, or remove ALL the fat carefully. I would recommend the avoidance of bacon, ham and pork as well. Venison is ok.
Fish Fats: Increase your intake of fish oils, and oily types of fish in general. Fishes rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs) are cod, sardines, tuna, mackerel, trevally, herrings, pilchards.
Avoid citrus fruits: Oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit, etc. Lemon is fine, it is the only alkaline citrus fruit! I would also recommend that you avoid both banana and pineapple.
Avoid gluten: Gluten has been implicated as a cause of psoriasis, when gluten is removed from the diet of psoriasis patients, their condition generally improves. So, this is best tackled by removing bread, wheat, rye, barley, and even oats from the diet for a few weeks. Rice or millet, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat all contain no gluten, so be adventurous give them a try.
Avoid alcohol: Alcohol consumption is known to worsen psoriasis considerably. The connection between the liver and psoriasis involves one of the liver’s basic functions: filtering the blood. When the liver becomes overwhelmed by the increasing number of gut-derived toxins, the level of toxins increases in the blood, and the psoriasis gets much worse. Do you really want to improve your psoriasis profoundly once and for all? Then you need to stop alcohol altogether for some time.
Get your medicines checked: Are you on a ‘Beta-Blocker’ for high blood pressure? You may want to check with your doctor if it is causing any aggravations of your skin. In fact, do you have psoriasis and are on any pharmaceutical? Your GP or pharmacy should be able to tell you if your drug/s have any possible skin-based side effects. Many patients can potentially have skin conditions aggravated by pharmaceutical drugs, and how annoyed they get when they realise that it was a drug causing the problem!
Avoid commercial soaps, shampoo, cosmetics. Try instead more natural forms of these items, the Health-food shop again. The skin should be kept supple by having regular baths, add one to two teaspoons of flaxseed oil, or wheat germ oil, almond oil, etc. Try a chickweed based lotion or a cream for the itch, your Health-food shop or Naturopath can help here again.
Ultra-Violet Radiation in sunlight may temporarily alleviate the symptoms. Exposure of afflicted areas of the Skin to UV-B may temporarily alleviate psoriasis. UV-B has been shown to inhibit the excessive proliferation of skin cells that occurs in psoriasis. Aromatherapy plays an important role in dealing with such a problem as psoriasis. Evening primrose oil is used as a base on the body, use wheat germ on face or scalp. The best essentials oils to use are bergamot, sandalwood and lavender. I’ve also found that it is worth trying to apply topically, direct to the affected areas, some EPA (try evening primrose oil, or fish oil if you are game!) which may cause significant improvement in the condition of psoriasis if used regularly.
Many people spend a lot of money (and some of this is wasted) on products to treat or alleviate their psoriasis. I have found that using topical (on your skin) treatments, good old fashioned oils such as wheat germ, avocado, or almond are hard to beat. Why pay a fortune for all those so called “wonder creams”. By taking the vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the minerals zinc and selenium you are supporting the healing of skin, the formation of collagen, protecting the skin against damage and enhancing the immune system.
Fish oils (Omega 3) will often decrease the redness, itching, and scaling, and diminish the areas generally affected. This can occur with a few weeks from taking it regularly. Psoriasis may occur as a result of an essential fatty acid deficiency- Psoriasis patients are often deficient, and improve significantly within weeks of supplementing with a good quality Omega 3 oil (EPA & DHA). Take every day 5 mls (or 3 capsules of 1000mg) of a good quality fish oil. Try New Zealand’s very own unique Omega 3 oil, rich in the Vitamin A & D which has a tremendous healing effect on the skin. Consult with your practitioner if you are on a blood-thinning drug before you take any Omega 3.
Folic acid: This B vitamin is required by the body anywhere the cells grow quickly, e.g.; the mouth, gums, cervix, and the skin in general. According to Dr. Jonathon Wright, of Seattle, Folic acid, 50mg or more each day is effective in many cases. Dosage may be tapered, as improvement occurs. Some need more, others less. B12 levels are at times very low, and need checking by everyone with psoriasis. Vitamins: B12 (100 to 1,000 mcg) may need to be intramuscular injections. An article in the British Medical Journal back in 1963 mentions about the curative powers of B12 with psoriasis. Always take a B vitamin with a B Complex in general, which is also good for stress and anxiety, and this is very important for the psoriasis sufferer!
St Mary’s Thistle: It makes good sense to take this herb, after all it has a very beneficial effect on your liver. This herb increases bile flow and helps to detoxify the polyamines which build up we mentioned earlier. And, cleaner blood means less aggravations, less redness, inflammation and discomfort in general. This herb is very important detoxifier for you to take, particularly if you take a pharmaceutical drug, and have psoriasis as well.
The Zinc taste test: This can be done by your practitioner, to ascertain your body’s level of zinc. Zinc levels are generally are low in patients with psoriasis. Take zinc at night, away from foods, try 50 – 100mg. And because so many people lack a significant source of Selenium in their diet, I generally recommend 400iu per day for a few weeks, tailoring the dose down to between 50 – 300mg depending on the person. Also, increasing your Vitamin C intake can have wonders on the skin, try between 4 – 6,000mg each day in divided doses for two to three months before you decide that it was of no benefit. I’ll bet that you get benefit. When you reduce the dosage, do it gradually with Vitamin C. Take a Vitamin C with bioflavonoid complex.
Propolis: from the beehive. Try to get some liquid, cream or lotion. Chinese studies say that when applied on the lesions, that many persons experience significant benefit.
This concludes my views on psoriasis, a skin condition which can be greatly ameliorated by holistic treatment. To summarise, it is important to consider stress as much as your nutritional status. Having worked with many patients in the clinic with psoriasis, I can assure you that by getting your stress levels under control and by supplying your body with the correct nutrients, you will have the best chance of reducing the incidence of this annoying complaint.