Adopting these healthy habits can go a long way in reducing your risk for psoriasis complications and feeling better overall.
The keys to successful psoriasis management are working with your doctor to find a treatment plan that’s right for you and then sticking to that plan. But your role in treatment doesn’t stop with medication. Making certain lifestyle changes is important, too.
From the foods you eat to the support you seek, making healthy choices every day can help you ease the discomfort of flaky, red itchy skin, avoid flares, and start living life to the fullest. Follow these 10 steps.
1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Despite extensive research, there’s no evidence supporting a specific “psoriasis diet,” says Caitríona Ryan, MD, a dermatologist at Texas Dermatology Associates in Dallas and vice chair of the dermatology residency program at Baylor University Medical Center. However, many people with psoriasis report feeling better when they avoid foods that have been shown to cause or increase inflammation (such as fatty red meats, processed foods, refined sugar, and nightshade vegetables) and embrace foods that are known to reduce inflammation. Inflammation-fighting foods include those rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, albacore tuna, flaxseeds, and walnuts, and colorful fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, and blueberries, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).
2. Maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight tend to have more severe psoriasis, according to a study published in November 2012 in Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research. “We know that adipose tissue (fat) produces inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor (TNF),” Dr. Ryan says. Overproduction of TNF, a cell signaling protein, can trigger psoriasis. In addition, systemic and biologic agents for treating psoriasis tend to work better in patients who aren’t overweight, she says.
3. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days. Physical activity goes along when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and lowering your risk for comorbid conditions — such as your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which increase when you have psoriasis. Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week, and add in some strength training. Although a study published in 2012 in the Archives of Dermatology showed that women who exercised vigorously lowered their risk of developing psoriasis, any level of exercise is better than none, says the NPF. That may mean simply taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator or parking farther away in parking lots.
4. Quit smoking and drinking too much. Neither of these habits is good for anyone, says Mark Lebwohl, MD, a professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. But they may be even worse for people with psoriasis, he says. The chemicals in tobacco may trigger inflammation that can both cause psoriasis and make flares more severe, according to the NPF. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption may interfere with your response to psoriasis treatment and make it less effective. If you need help quitting smoking or drinking excessively, talk to your doctor.
5. Arm yourself with moisturizer to fight dry skin. “The skin of people with psoriasis is very dry,” Dr. Lebwohl says. “Moisturizing makes it feel better.” Apply moisturizer after showering and after washing your hands. The thicker the moisturizer the better — creams and ointments lock more moisture in your skin.
6. Avoid illness. “Infections worsen psoriasis — even mild colds or urinary tract infections,” Ryan says. “So keeping healthy is rather important.” To stay healthy, eat well, wash your hands frequently, get quality sleep, and be sure your immunizations are up to date. Also be sure to get a flu shot before the start of the flu season.
7. Avoid injuries, too. Some people can develop lesions in new areas if their skin is cut, bruised, or burned, according to The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAPAA). Try not to scratch, Ryan says. Be sure to protect your hands and skin when doing activities that could lead to injury such as household chores in the kitchen or pruning bushes in the garden.
8. Cut back on stress. Stressed out? Like most inflammatory conditions, too much tension can cause psoriasis to flare or can exacerbate lesions, according to the NPF. If you’re feeling overextended, look for ways to reduce stress in your life — be it meditation, exercise, or talking to a therapist.
9. Reach out for support. “There are a lot of benefits to support groups,” Lebwohl says. Whether the groups meet online or in person, people with psoriasis often share tips that work well for them and that can help others in their group, Lebwohl says. And sometimes, it helps just having someone listen to you who understands what you’re going through.
10. Stick to your treatment plan—even when you feel good. “Many patients think they’re better off minimizing treatment,” Lebwohl says. They stop taking their medication or go longer than they should between injections. But if you want to avoid flares, you need to stick to the plan. Says the NPF: Using your treatments as prescribed makes a big difference in how well they work.