Psoriasis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in the body. This reaction leads to swelling and a quicker turnover of skin cells. With too many cells rising to the surface of skin, the body can’t slough them off fast enough. They pile up, forming itchy, red patches.
It can develop at any age, but usually occurs in people between 15 and 35 years old. The main symptoms include itchy, red patches of thick skin with silvery scales on the elbows, knees, scalp, back, face, palms, and feet.
Psoriasis can be irritating and stressful. Creams, ointments, medications, and light therapy may help. However, some research suggests diet might also alleviate symptoms.
Current treatments focus on taming the symptoms of psoriasis, which tend to come and go.
Creams and ointments help reduce inflammation and skin cell turnover, reducing the appearance of patches. Light therapy has been found to help reduce flare-ups in some people. For more severe cases, doctors may use medications that dampen the immune system, or block the action of specific immune cells.
However, medications can have side effects. If you’re looking for alternative treatments, some studies show promising results with certain types of diets.
Can diet help?
So far, research on diet and psoriasis is limited. Still, some small studies have provided clues into how food may affect the disease.
As far back as 1969, scientists looked into a potential connection. Researchers published a study in the journal Archives of Dermatology that showed no link between a low-protein diet and psoriasis flare-ups. More recent studies, however, have found different results.
Some recent research shows that a low-fat, low-calorie diet may reduce the severity of psoriasis. In a 2013 study published in JAMA Dermatology, researchers gave participants a low-energy diet of 800 to 1,000 calories a day for eight weeks. They then increased it to 1,200 calories a day for another eight weeks.
Participants not only lost weight, but experienced a trend in decreased severity of psoriasis. Researchers speculated that obesity increases inflammation in the body, making psoriasis worse. Therefore, a diet that results in weight loss may be helpful.
What about a gluten-free diet? Could it help? According to some studies, it depends on the person’s sensitivities. Those with celiac disease or wheat allergies may find relief by avoiding gluten.
A 2000 study found that people with gluten sensitivities on gluten-free diets experienced improvement in psoriasis symptoms. When they returned to their regular diet, the psoriasis worsened. A 2005 study also found some people with psoriasis had an elevated sensitivity to gluten.
Though fruits and vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet, it may be especially important for patients with psoriasis. A 1996 study, for instance, found an inverse relationship between an intake of carrots, tomatoes, and fresh fruit and psoriasis. All of these foods are high in healthy antioxidants.
Another study published a year later found that patients with psoriasis had lower blood levels of glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant found in garlic, onions, broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, and cauliflower. Scientists speculated that a diet rich in antioxidants may help.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a number of studies have shown that fish oil may improve symptoms of psoriasis. In a 1989 study, participants were put on a low-fat diet supplemented with fish oil for four months. Over half experienced moderate or excellent improvement in symptoms.
A 1993 study showed that men who abused alcohol experienced little to no benefit from psoriasis treatments. A 1990 study compared men with psoriasis to those without the disease. Men who drank about 43 grams of alcohol a day were more likely to have psoriasis, compared to men who drank only 21 grams a day.
Though we need more research on moderate alcohol consumption, cutting back may help ease psoriasis symptoms.
Dermatologists have long recommended that a healthy diet is best for those with psoriasis. That means lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight may provide significant relief.
A 2007 study found a strong connection between weight gain and psoriasis. Having a higher waist circumference, hip circumference, and waist-hip ratio were also associated with an increased risk for the disease.
So eat clean and stay lean to reduce psoriasis flare-ups.