I've recently developed psoriasis on my elbows and knees, and it's incredibly itchy. I'd rather not use topical steroids, which were recommended by my doctor. Can you suggest any effective natural solutions? I don't drink or smoke and eat a reasonably healthy diet. (A.M., via email)
Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin. The result is thickened, red or silvery, scaly patches on the body that are often itchy and painful.
Conventional treatments focus on easing symptoms, but many of them make things worse. Topical steroids, for example, can cause wrinkling and thinning of the skin, delayed wound healing, stretch marks, acne, spider veins and ulcerations,1 while methotrexate, the drug often taken for this condition, can damage the liver, lungs and bone marrow.2You're in luck when it comes to alternatives, though. Check out the following science-backed natural solutions.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Psoriasis is an inflammatory disorder, so eating an anti-inflammatory diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables (especially leafy greens), oily fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and healthy oils may help. Focus on getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from sources such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts, and try to limit your intake of omega-6 fatty acids, found in high amounts in vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower and sunflower. Cook with anti-inflammatory herbs and spices (see box, page 67) and avoid pro-inflammatory foods like refined carbohydrates and processed and fried foods.3
Try fish oil
Several studies suggest that fish oil supplements—rich in the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA)—can be helpful for psoriasis sufferers, reducing itching, redness and scaling.6 It may take three months or more to see results, so don't be discouraged if you don't notice changes right away.
Suggested daily dosage: 2-3 g EPA and DHA combined (see WDDTY August 2018 for our favorite omega-3 brands)
Psoriasis patients are more likely to also have celiac disease, the autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten, as well as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.4 In these sufferers, switching to a gluten-free diet appears to improve psoriasis symptoms.5
For a vegan alternative to fish oil supplements, try those made from algae and echium seed oils
Top up your vitamin D
Low vitamin D levels are linked to psoriasis,7 so a daily dose of D via supplements is worth a try. In one US trial, almost 90 percent of psoriasis patients experienced improvements in their disease after taking vitamin D supplements, with more than a quarter seeing their symptoms completely disappear.8
Suggested dosage: 5,000 IU daily (ideally, see a nutritionist who can test for a deficiency in vitamin D and other vitamins and recommend individualized dosages)
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Several herbs and spices used as seasonings have been found to block inflammation in the body.1 Here are some you can add to your diet daily.
- Red pepper
A number of herbal creams and ointments can relieve psoriasis when regularly applied to the skin. Look for natural topical remedies that contain the following—all have been proven effective in clinical trials.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Although it can cause an initial burning sensation, capsaicin-containing cream can reduce the severity of psoriasis in six weeks.9
Aloe vera, the popular plant with skin-soothing properties. Applying aloe cream to the skin three times a day for a month cured 25 out of 30 psoriasis patients in one trial.10
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