Diet, Nutrition & Psoriasis

Adam Jackson reveals which nutrients and foods can help alleviate this chronic skin condition

Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease characterised by red, scaly and often itchy blotches of skin. It often affects the scalp, elbows and knees although, in acute cases, it can affect virtually the whole body. It is one of the so-called chronic 'incurable' disorders all too often trivialised because it is not life threatening or physically debilitating. However, to over 2.4 million people in the UK who suffer from it, psoriasis is certainly not a trivial matter. 

No one is sure what causes psoriasis. All that is known for certain is that some people are genetically predisposed to it and that it may be triggered by an imbalanced central nervous system, inefficient pancreas, hormonal changes, excessive cholesterol, physiological and emotional stress and certain foods.

In normal skin, the time necessary for an epidermal cell to go from creation to shedding or scaling is about 28 days; psoriatic cells complete the process in 3 or 4 days. Thus there can be enormous buildup, inadequate maturation, and finally plaque formation from the cells so affected.    

Conventional medical treatment relies on a combination of lotions containing tar derivatives, controlled ultraviolet light exposure (sometimes after ingestion of sensitising chemicals called psoralens), and steroid creams. Oral steroids and even cytotoxic drugs similar to those used in cancer therapy may be needed for severe cases. All of these treatments bring with them a host of potentially dangerous side-effects ranging from advanced osteoporosis, high blood pressure (from corticosteroids) to liver and kidney abnormalities (methotrexate) and hair loss, severe gingivitis necessitating tooth extraction and fetal malformation (retinoids). For years, conventional medicine did not accept that diet and nutrition affect psoriasis, but researchers are now proving that this skin condition is most definitely affected by the food we eat.

A sugar-free diet
Psoriasis is particularly responsive to a low sugar diet or 'anti-fungal diet'. An Austrian report (1) revealed that psoriasis often improves after few days or weeks on a completely sugar-free diet.
(1) 'Dermatomycosis & an antifungal diet' Wien Med Wochenschur [Austria] 31 Aug 1989

Omega-3 fatty acids
The Omega-3 fatty acids (found in flaxseed or linseed, corn, olive and soya oils) have been shown to reduce itching and scaling of psoriasis in many people (2).
(2) Donald O Rudin MD Better Nutrition for Today's Living - June 1990.
Lactobacillus acidophilus           

A poorly functioning digestive system causes the proliferation of toxins in the intestines, some of which have been shown to contribute to the development of psoriasis (3). Lactobacillus Acidophilus, a friendly bacterium which colonises the intestines, can help correct this situation.
(3) Donald O Rudin MD. Better Nutrition for Today's Living - June 1990
Folic Acid

Folic acid
Psoriasis sufferers have been shown to have low levels of folic acid (found in green leafy vegetables and brewers yeast). (4).
(4) Donald O Rudin MD. Better Nutrition for Today's Living - June 1990
Vegetarian & Vegan diet

Many people experience an improvement in their symptoms after adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. (5)
(5) British Journal of Dermatology 1971, 84:539-44 'The Mechanism of folate Deficiency in Psoriasis'

A study in Finland revealed that men who consumed five or more units of alcohol per day suffered a worsening of their symptoms. (6)
(6) 'A fasting and vegetarian diet treatment trial on chronic inflammatory disorders' - Vessby B Acta Derm Venereol [Stockh] 1983, 63

Gluten Free Diet
Controlled studies have shown that a gluten free diet can have a remarkable effect on the skin lesions of psoriasis sufferers. (7)
(7) Dr Kari Poilolainen et al National Public Health Inst., Helsinki, Finland reported BMJ & Independent 23 March 1990.

Fats in Foods
Meat and dairy products contain arachidonic acid, a fatty acid which contributes to the inflammation experienced in psoriasis, rheumatism and arthritis because it is converted into inflammatory prostaglandin and leukotrienes. However, a low fat diet supplemented with Omega-3 essential fatty acids (see above) has produced excellent improvement in over 58% of psoriasis patients. (8)

Some studies have reported that fish oil is beneficial (9) because it is high in essential fatty acids but the results are contradictory and based upon small numbers of patients. A review of the best sources of essential fatty acids for psoriasis sufferers found that cold pressed vegetable oils are far superior to fish oils. Of 145 patients involved in the Norwegian study (10) none of those taking fish oils noticed any improvement yet those using a vegetable oil experienced ‘significant’ improvement.

(8) Psoriasis therapy - observational or rational? Krueger GG  N.Eng.J.Med. (USA) June 24 1993, 328 (25) p1845-6
(9) Collier PM, Ursell A, Zaremba K, Payne CM, Staughton RC, Sanders T. Effect of regular consumption of oily fish compared with white fish on chronic plaque psoriasis. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. (UK) Apr. 1993 47 (4) p251-4
(10) N.Eng. J. Med. 1993 Jun.24; 238 (25): 1812-6

Psoriasis is considered to be stress-related meaning that stress can trigger psoriasis as well as aggravate it. Consequently, relaxation techniques such as meditation, biofeedback, autogenics, yoga, massage, aromatherapy, herbal medicine and hypnosis can all be of help. There are many scientific studies demonstrating that all of these techniques help alleviate stress and anxiety. 

Herbal Treatment
Researchers in Germany who have demonstrated that a new herbal preparation can effectively alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis in over 80% of sufferers.

Mahonia Aquifolium ointment, a plant extract containing berberis and oxycanthin (both known to be powerful antimicrobial agents), was tested by 433 psoriasis sufferers from over 89 dermatology clinics throughout Germany. The results showed that symptoms improved or disappeared in 81.1% of patients.

After the first 12 weeks of the treatment, 4 out of 5 patients originally classified as having significant or severe symptoms, had improved sufficiently to no longer be listed in the 'significant or severe' category.

The researchers concluded that Mahonia Aquifolium ‘offers a valuable alternative to conventional treatments’ and went on to recommend that this new preparation should find a place in the available treatments for psoriasis sufferers.

Gieler U.; Von der Weth A.; Heger M. Mahonia Aquifolium - A new type of topical treatment for psoriasis. Journal of Dermatological Treatment (United Kingdom), 1995, 6/1 (31-34)

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First published 1996; updated 2010


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