Psoriasis is a disease of the skin, right? Well, yes and no. Psoriasis is a disease that manifests with skin problems but the root of the disease is internal. The true cause of psoriasis is not yet well understood but research shows it involves genetic, immunologic, metabolic and endocrine factors (and energetic imbalances, too, according to TCM). So if you want to take action to improve the health of your skin, you must do things to improve the health of your body as a whole. Here is a list of things you can do to help your body and your skin, as well as things you should avoid to prevent your psoriasis from getting worse. These tips have been compiled from multiple sources, including The National Psoriasis Foundation, dermatology text books, my TCM dermatology teachers, and my clinical experience as an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist.
Helpful Things To DO:
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, sardines, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, papaya). Essential fatty acids help reduce inflammation which helps skin stay healthy and reduces auto-immune responses.
- Take a supplement for essential fatty acids (EFAs): fish oil concentrate (3 to 10g daily) or flaxseed oil (1 to 3 tblsp daily) plus Vitamin E (400 IU to 800 IU daily). For more information on living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle check out these tips to reduce inflammation in your body.
- Take a Vitamin D supplement (2,000 to 4,000 IU daily). Vit D reduces cell overgrowth and helps prevent viral respiratory infections (illnesses can cause psoriasis to flare up).
- Take a zinc supplement (30mg daily) and copper. (Zinc will deplete your levels of copper so you must replace it. Take WITH food). A few studies have found that people with psoriasis are deficient in zinc.
- Take folic acid (folate) supplement (400 mcg daily). Clinical studies have shown this to be helpful.
- Stay hydrated - drink plenty of water every day.
- Keep skin moisturized. Use lotions with no added fragrances. All lotions will have preservatives, but find a lotion with limited ingredients.
- Exercise daily – yoga, walking, running – whatever you enjoy that keeps you moving. Exercise helps reduce stress (a trigger for psoriasis flare ups) and does much to regulate your immune system and cardiovascular health.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is so essential to keeping our immune system functioning correctly.
- Oatmeal baths. Add 2 – 4 cups of rolled oats under warm running bath water. Soothes the skin and is relaxing.
- Try an elimination diet. This can help you determine which foods are aggravating your psoriasis. Don’t worry, you don’t have to avoid all foods forever, just long enough to figure out which ones cause your symptoms to flare.
- Try sticking to an anti-inflammation diet. This is one anti inflammation diet but there are many other resources in books and on the internet.
- Chinese herbal medicine. Find a licensed practitioner near you to help formulate a custom herbal formula for you.
- Try topical ointments to soothe and moisturize skin. Creams, ointments and shampoos that contain salicylic acid seem to be helpful (and minimally harmful) for many people with common psoriasis. Herbal ointments can be very helpful too.
Things To AVOID:
- Avoid Prednisone use. The common type of psoriasis can transform into the erythrodermic type (potentially life-threatening form) if triggered by certain factors. The use of internal (systemic) corticosteroids (such as Prednisone) has been identified as one possible trigger. Other possible triggers include sunburn, strongly irritant topical medications, and allergic reactions to medications (including to drugs not used in the treatment of psoriasis). Certain medications can also trigger a form of psoriasis called guttate psoriasis.
- Be careful about use of topical cortisone cream. Talk to your dermatologist before using cortisone creams. Sudden withdrawal of internal or topical steroids (including cortisone creams) can exacerbate common psoriasis or trigger it to transform into another life-threatening form of psoriasis known as Von Zumbusch (a pustular type of psoriasis). It is rare, but you should be aware of it. Other triggers of Von Zumbusch psoriasis include pregnancy, blood pressure medications, iodides and Indomethacin (an NSAID).
- Avoid getting the common cold or other infections. Common psoriasis can get worse during and after infections. A form of psoriasis called guttate psoriasis can appear abruptly after respiratory infections or strep throat.
- Avoid injury and trauma to your skin. This includes sunburns as well as surgical scars, abrasions, cuts, and other wounds.
- Avoid alcohol, spicy or greasy foods, sugary foods/sweets, and shellfish (esp. shrimp). Some sources say to avoid fish but this is debatable since the omega-3 fatty acids contained in some fish are helpful. Some sources also advise avoiding coffee.
- Stop smoking.
Have you found something that was helpful to ease your psoriasis symptoms that didn’t make this list? What makes it worse? Please share with us by leaving a comment below.