Although not life-threatening, psoriasis can be very painful and disfiguring. It’s a persistent skin disease that flares up and subsides in cycles. Psoriasis can’t be prevented and there’s no known cure, but taking nutritional and herbal supplements may help to control it.
What is it?
Characterised by raised, inflamed, red patches that are usually covered with whitish or silvery scales, psoriasis is a noncontagious chronic skin condition. It typically emerges between the ages of 10 and 30, although it can occur at any time. In most people, the rash is confined to the scalp, elbows, knees, lower back or buttocks. Fingernails and toenails can become yellow or pitted. Though flare-ups are unsightly, most cases are not itchy or particularly painful. However, about 15% of people with psoriasis have such a severe, widespread rash that they suffer great discomfort and may be unable to perform daily activities. In about 5% of cases, joint pain and swelling rather like the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis develop.
What causes it?
The rash itself occurs because skin cells replicate must faster than normal. Skin cells originate in the deep layers of the skin and usually take about 28 days to come to the surface, where they are sloughed off. In areas affected by psoriasis, however, this process takes only eight days. Because these new cells accumulate so quickly, they never have a chance to mature and cannot be shed. As a result, the skin becomes red and inflamed and developes overlapping, white, scaly patches.
No one knows why skin growth is accelerated in areas where psoriasis lesions form. Because one in three psoriasis sufferers has a family history of the disorder and nearly all sufferers have a family history of autoimmunity, some experts think there is a genetic link. Certain stimuli – alcohol, stress, sunburn, cold temperatures, dry air, skin injury, throat infection and some medications – may also trigger the onset of psoriasis or worsen existing lesions.
What are the symptoms?
- Patches of raised, inflamed red skin with white, flaking scales.
- Loosened, pitted or discoloured fingernails or toenails.
- Cracked or blistered skin, with pain in severe cases.
- Joint pain and stiffness.
Are there any natural supplements?
Found in fish oils and flaxseed oil, the omega-3 essential fatty acids block the action of arachidonic acid, a substance made by the body that causes inflammation. (Indeed, low levels of omega-3s are common in people with psorasis.) The nutritional supplements grape seed extract and alpha-lipoic acid are powerful antioxidants that may prevent damage to skin cells. Both contain flavonoids, which reduce inflammation.
Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining healhy skin ad nails and zinc promotes healing. (The extra copper is important because long-term zinc use interferes with copper absorption.) Milk thistle, a herb with anti-inflammatory properties, may control the rash and slow the proliferation of abnormal skin cells. For outbreaks, apply a topical cream to skin lesions three times a day to reduce their size and provide relief from pain and itching.
What else can I do?
- Get some sun. Just 15-30 minutes of sunlight a day may improve psoriasis lesions in three to six weeks. (But stay out of the sun between 10 am and 3 pm to avoid the risk of sunburn.)
- Use a humidifier in the winter. Dry indoor air may cause lesions.
- Apply moisturiser all over your body – and especially to lesions – to prevent dry skin and reduce itching. Aloe vera gel is a good choice.
- Eat oily fish often. (Good choices include fresh mackeral, sardines, tuna, salmon and herring.) Or take fish oil in capsule form.
Specific Diet Advice
- Eliminate gluten containing foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks and caffeine from the diet.
- Minimise tomatoes, citrus, pineapple, vinegars, and excess red meat.
- Increase cold water, wild caught fish and alkalising vegetables and fruits.
- Minimise your exposure to chlorine; drink filtered water and avoid long showers, baths, swimming pools or install a shower filter if possible.
Did you know?
People who smoke 20 cigarettes or more a day (especially women) are twice as likely to develop psoriasis as non-smokers. A quarter of all psoriasis cases may be related to smoking.