This August is Psoriasis Action Month, a month dedicated to discussing psoriasis and supporting and empowering those affected by it. It’s estimated that 7.4 million people in the United States are living with psoriasis, yet treatment options are so limited compared to all the various types and symptoms of psoriasis out there.
Psoriasis takes shape in many different ways, but the most common type is plaque psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin and can lead to arthritis in the joints. Broadly speaking, autoimmune conditions are tricky to identify and diagnose because the symptoms vary so much and can lay dormant for long periods before showing themselves in unexpected flare-ups. Autoimmune disease flare-ups are the result of the immune system mistakenly attacking itself rather than protecting your body from infections. In the case of plaque psoriasis, white blood cells, AKA “T” cells, attack healthy skin cells in the body rather than attacking bacteria as they should. This causes the skin production process to speed up much faster than in those without psoriasis. Instead of new skin cells being produced within the skin tissue and being pushed to the surface over the course of weeks or months, psoriasis speeds up this process and causes excess skin to develop and build-up on the surface of the skin in a matter of days. This leaves patients with painful, scaly, red, or silverish patches of skin typically on the knees, scalp, face, and hands.
Chances are, you decided to read this article because you or someone you know is suffering from psoriasis or an autoimmune disease. For those who are personally unaffected by psoriasis, it’s important to know what your risk factors of developing it may be as it can develop even as late as your 60s. Symptoms tend to develop in men and women ages 15-35, but 75 percent of psoriasis cases are diagnosed before age 46, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Psoriasis disproportionately affects white people, but it is evenly spread between men and women. It is also speculated that you can be genetically predisposed to psoriasis, and having an immediate family member with the condition may increase your risk of developing it too (though not from contagion). Obesity and psoriasis are also linked due to higher levels of inflammation.
There is no known cure for psoriasis, but treatment options are available. Topical ointments, creams, and phototherapy have been found to reduce inflammation, improve the appearance of patches, and reduce skin turnover. However, if you’re looking to treat the condition from within, your diet can play a huge role in helping to deter flare-ups and alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis.
Your Diet and Its Link to Psoriasis
There are so many “miracle diets” out there but the truth is, there is no one “right” diet for everyone with psoriasis and in fact, you may have to form your own diet. A 2017 study found multiple promising diets, from paleo to Mediterranean, and everything in between, but the main benefit was that they all led to weight loss. The link between psoriasis and obesity is drawn because psoriasis is an inflammatory disease at its core and fat cells make certain proteins that can trigger inflammation in autoimmune diseases and worsen the condition.
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Protein-rich foods like meat can lead to inflammation and cause flare-ups. Instead of red meats, try incorporating fish to take advantage of all the omega-3 fatty acid goodness. Foods that trigger inflammation and can make psoriasis flare-ups worse include:
- Red meat
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Dairy products
- Gluten (for those who are intolerant)
A national survey conducted on more than 1,200 members of the National Psoriasis Foundation found that avoiding the following foods helped to alleviate their symptoms:
- Reducing alcohol
- Peppers (and other members of the “nightshade” family of vegetables)
Take Advantage of Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant-rich Foods
The good news is that a psoriasis-friendly diet still allows you to eat so many varied and delicious foods! Not only are they rich in antioxidants, these foods are high in fiber which helps to keep your natural detoxification flowing. Try these anti-inflammatory fruits, veggies and more:
- Vegetables (excluding nightshades)
- Leafy greens
- Fruits (especially berries)
- Wild blueberries
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
Having a healthy gut can help alleviate a wide range of conditions, both physical and mental. If your gut is not in balance and teeming with healthy bacteria, you may experience more inflammation and digestive issues. To get a probiotic-rich diet, try adding these foods to your diet:
Trial and Error
With that said, everyone’s diet should be customized to their medical history and nutrition needs. Keeping a daily food journal will help you on your trial-and-error journey to finding your perfect buffet of psoriasis-friendly foods while avoiding all the ones that cause flare-ups. Once you’ve undergone some trials, you can meet with a nutritionist who will help to fill in all the cracks of your diet and adjust it to your preferences and medical history.
The National Psoriasis Foundation is a great resource and community for psoriasis sufferers where you can hear others’ testimonies, stay up to date on new clinical trials, and learn more about the condition to help you find your perfect road to managing psoriasis. You can even request this free food guide made by other people living with psoriasis that’s filled with recipes to help you along with your psoriasis management plan. This month is as great as any to start a log of the foods you eat to kick off your journey to living your best life free from psoriasis flare-ups.