Discover how a healthy, balanced diet can help prevent psoriasis flare-ups.
If you wanted to improve the air quality in your home, you wouldn’t use an air filter without vacuuming and dusting first. In the same way, psoriasis sufferers might consider cleaning up their diet in addition to other available skin care treatments.
Psoriasis is an immune reaction targeted in specific areas, often over joints and pressure points, says Alan Dattner, MD, a holistic dermatologist in New Rochelle, NY. But just why and how this immune reaction works is a mystery to doctors. Dattner believes that diet can play a big role in keeping outbreaks in check, and he integrates nutrition and holistic medicine into his skin care practice. So if food is an important aspect to controlling psoriasis, you might ask: What’s on the menu? The answer is simple. Much of the same stuff doctors recommend for preventing heart disease, diabetes, and a bulging waistline: a diet low in saturated fat and sugar and packed with fruits and veggies.
Here’s what you need to know when stocking your kitchen cupboards and fridge for skin care:
1. Know the essentials. The key to good health, says Dattner, is an appropriate balance of omega-3 fatty acids (found in flaxseed and fish oil) and omega-6 fatty acids (found in polyunsaturated fats, like corn oil, often used to fry foods). Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, while most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.
The ideal ratio is a diet that contains roughly two to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. But the typical American diet tends to lean heavily toward the omega-6s—in fact, it generally contains 14 to 25 times more omega-6s. This imbalance is not ideal for fighting off psoriatic flare-ups, says Dattner. Too many omega-6s increases the body’s production of certain prostaglandins and leukotrienes that can lead to skin inflammation.
A healthy choice: Reach for coldwater fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. A British study found that those with psoriasis who ate 6 ounces of salmon daily had a 15% improvement in psoriasis symptoms such as itching and scaling in just 6 weeks.
Another good source of omega-3 fats is flaxseed (sprinkle the ground version over cereal and salads). In addition, try to limit your intake of pro-inflammatory fried and fatty foods.
2. Pile your plate with antioxidant-rich produce. An Italian study compared psoriasis sufferers to a control group that had other skin diseases. Those who followed a diet rich in carrots, fresh fruits, and green vegetables were less likely to get psoriasis (or experience flare-ups, if they already had the disease) than those whose diets were lacking in these antioxidant-rich foods.
3. Limit your intake of alcohol (and cigarettes). Research has found a significantly higher incidence of psoriasis in alcoholics, and smoking nearly doubles a person’s risk of getting psoriasis (and perhaps worsening an existing condition). What’s more, if you turn to alcohol to cope with the emotional distress that can arise from this skin disease, you may worsen your condition and prevent a remission.
Stephen M. Purcell, DO, a professor of dermatology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, advises his patients to drink only in moderation: A daily glass of wine is generally okay. (Note: Drinking any alcohol can have dangerous side effects if it is combined with certain psoriasis medications like methotrexate or acitretin.)
4. Don’t overeat. “There seems to be a connection between psoriasis and obesity,” says Kelly Coates, former patient education manager for the National Psoriasis Foundation. So maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent flare-ups. In addition, “people who are obese have more skin rubbing against skin, and that can exacerbate psoriasis,” says Jeffrey M. Weinberg, MD, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City.
5. Think bigger than food. Following a healthy diet is not enough unless you’re watching what you put in your body and what you expose your body to, says Dattner. “You need to be in the right ‘state,’ ” he says. Aggravators like cigarette smoke, sunburn, and even some medications may cause your skin to react.