No one knows exactly what psoriasis is. It isn’t an infection or an allergic reaction, nor is it contagious. But somehow it disrupts the growth-replacement cycle of skin cells.
Cells develop in the inner layers of skin and migrate to the outer layer, where they flake off. Normally, this entire process lasts about a month. But in psoriasis, it lasts only a few days. The cells can’t shed fast enough, so they start to build up on the surface of the skin. Eventually, they form gray, white, or silvery lesions—creating the scaly-looking skin characteristic of psoriasis. The affected skin thickens, and it may turn red and develop cracks.
Psoriasis can erupt just about anywhere on the body, but it most often occurs on the scalp, chest, back, elbows, knuckles, and knees. If you have a mild case, the patches may hardly be noticeable. The worst cases produce unsightly patches almost everywhere.
Psoriasis can also affect fingernails and toenails, making them appear pitted and discolored. It can even cause significant joint pain, a condition known as psoriatic arthritis.
Most people who develop psoriasis are initially diagnosed in their teens, twenties, or thirties. The disease follows a very unpredictable course. That first flare-up may also be the last. Or it may signal the start of a lifetime of flare-ups that come and go for no apparent reason. Fortunately, when the lesions disappear, they leave no scars.
How to beat psoriasis. While the experts continue to debate what triggers psoriasis, you’re probably more interested in how to beat psoriasis. That’s understandable, since at its worst, psoriasis can be as embarrassing as it is frustrating. By combining mainstream and alternative therapies in a blended approach to treatment, you stand the best chance of experiencing significant relief. Here are natural ways to beat psoriasis:
Send protein packing. Eating fewer protein-rich foods—primarily meats and dairy products—may help alleviate flare-ups, several studies show. Switching from a high-protein diet to a low-protein, largely vegetarian diet has another advantage. Grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are packed with fiber, and fiber escorts psoriasis-triggering chemicals out of the intestines.
Favor fishy fare. If you cut back on meats, don’t stop eating fish, specifically cold-water species such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. These contain an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, whose potent anti-inflammatory properties can help ease a psoriasis flare-up. Joseph Pizzorno Jr., ND, advises people with psoriasis to eat a serving of cold-water fish every day.
Get fish oil in a pill. Researchers around the world have tested fish-oil supplements as a treatment for psoriasis, often with excellent results. Look for fish-oil supplements that supply both eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. (On labels, these compounds may be listed as EPA and DHA.) Take four to six capsules every day.
Heal with beta-carotene. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin. But in too-large doses, the vitamin can have serious side effects. A safer alternative is beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. Take 25,000 international units (IU) once a day.
Stop stress from affecting your skin. “There’s no question in my mind that many cases of psoriasis are stress-related,” says Alan P. Brauer, MD. “But it’s not as though psoriasis patches show up the day after some stressful event. Rather, they tend to develop after an extended period of stress, which is why people don’t necessarily make the connection.”
Psoriasis can also contribute to stress. If lesions occur in highly visible places, people become concerned about their appearance, which contributes to tension and anxiety. To short-circuit stress and prevent psoriasis flare-ups, try practicing meditation. In one study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, people with psoriasis who combined meditation and light therapy saw their skin heal about twice as fast as people who used light therapy alone.
Seek out others with psoriasis. Discussing your psoriasis experience with people who know exactly what you’re going through can help ease the distress and embarrassment associated with the condition. The National Psoriasis Foundation offers support group meetings from coast to coast.
Eliminate lesions with licorice. Licorice root contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds. Check at your local health food store for licorice tincture or some other licorice extract. Using a cotton ball or a clean cloth, apply the liquid directly to your psoriasis lesions, suggests James A. Duke, PhD.
Soothe sore skin with chamomile. Like licorice, chamomile contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help relieve psoriasis flare-ups. To make a chamomile compress, add 1 heaping teaspoon of chamomile flowers (sold in health food stores) to 1 cup of boiled water. Allow to steep for 10 minutes, then strain out the herb. Soak a clean cloth in the liquid, then apply the cloth to the affected skin.
Assuage psoriasis with aloe. In a study, Swedish researchers found that 83% of people using aloe cream reported significant relief. Some health food stores carry aloe cream. If you’re able to buy the cream over the counter, use it according to package directions. Otherwise, consult an herbalist or naturopath.
Remember to moisturize. Applying a moisturizing lotion can help relieve a mild case of psoriasis, especially one that’s associated with dry skin or low humidity.
Soak up sunshine. Sunbathing has become unfashionable in recent years, largely because people fear developing skin cancer. But for those with psoriasis, exposure to sunlight can have significant therapeutic benefits. Psoriasis patches tend to go away in summer, when the sun’s rays are strongest. For treatment indoors, use a sun lamp. Either way, ask your doctor how long you can safely stay in the sun or under a sun lamp unprotected.
Shun spirits. At the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, researchers evaluated the drinking habits of 144 men with psoriasis and 285 men without the condition. The researchers determined that the men with psoriasis consumed twice as much alcohol on a daily basis as the men who were psoriasis-free—1.5 ounces compared with 0.75 ounce.
Other studies have shown unusually high rates of psoriasis among people who abuse alcohol. So if you have psoriasis, your best bet is to avoid alcoholic beverages, says Melvyn Werback, MD, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine.
Discover calendula. For psoriasis, calendula is often the homeopathic medicine of choice, according to homeopath Dana Ullman. But before trying calendula on your own, consult a homeopath. Another medicine may work better for your individual symptoms.
Let your Blood flow. In Chinese medicine, psoriasis is viewed as a condition brought on by the stagnation of Blood, explains Efrem Korngold, OMD, LAc. Among the herbs a Chinese medicine doctor may prescribe are zedoria (similar to ginger), turmeric, red peony, dang gui (Chinese angelica), and sarsaparilla. Other herbs—including dittany, sophora, and tribulus—may be prescribed to relieve any psoriasis-related itching.
Needle it. In his practice, Korngold also uses acupuncture as a psoriasis treatment. If you prefer to use acupressure, apply steady, penetrating pressure to each of the following points for 3 minutes.
- Large Intestine 11, located on the outer end of your elbow crease on the thumb side
- Large Intestine 4, located on the back of your hand where the bones of your thumb and index finger meet
- Spleen 10, located on your inner thigh, four finger-widths above your kneecap and just under your thighbone
- Liver 3, situated on top of your foot in the webbing between your big toe and second toe
Put a lid on Pitta. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that most inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis, result from excess Pitta dosha, according to David Frawley, OMD. To treat psoriasis, Ayurvedic practitioners often prescribe applying emollients such as sesame oil, aloe vera gel, and an Ayurvedic herb called bakuchi. The herb contains psoralens, the compounds that slow skin cell division and inhibit the scaling characteristic of psoriasis.