Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune skin disease, develops when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells, resulting in a faster rate of cell production. Because the body can’t get shed the excess skin cells quickly enough, they build up, resulting in patches of swollen, red skin. Most common in people between the ages of 15 and 35, psoriasis can be an unpleasant and inconvenient condition. While researchers have yet to find concrete scientific evidence in favor of one specific psoriasis diet, Dr. Paul Yamauchi of the Dermatology Institute and Skin Care Center in Santa Monica, California believes that it can be valuable for individuals with psoriasis to explore whether consuming certain foods increases or decreases flare-ups. Learn more about how making better dietary choices can be part of an overall psoriasis treatment plan.
Building a Personalized Psoriasis Diet Plan
Treating psoriasis can be a challenge. Different medications work for different patients, and sometimes, patients stop responding to previously effective treatments. Many find that complementary therapies and lifestyle changes are an important part of a comprehensive approach to minimizing psoriasis symptoms. Though studies have not shown a clear, consistent connection between diet and symptoms of psoriasis, strong anecdotal reports indicate that the foods someone eats—or doesn't eat—influence the frequency and severity of their psoriasis outbreaks.
What Scientific Evidence Shows About Psoriasis and Diet
Perhaps the most compelling data on the link between psoriasis and diet comes from a 2017 dietary behavioral study published in Dermatology Therapies. The goal of the study was to examine how dietary habits and interventions adopted by psoriasis patients impacted their skin. To do so, the authors administered a 61-question survey to members of the National Psoriasis Foundation. They received 1,206 responses.
Based on those responses, these foods commonly trigger psoriasis flare-ups:
A smaller, but still significant, number of respondents mentioned that eggs, meat, processed foods, and spicy foods caused their psoriasis symptoms to intensify.
In terms of dietary approaches that help minimize symptoms, several options appeared frequently:
Respondents also mentioned some specific food groups that they found helped to improve their psoriasis symptoms, including:
Furthermore, the survey showed that 69% percent of respondents who adopted a psoriasis diet plan experienced weight loss, which scientific evidence shows can be a key part of relieving symptoms of psoriasis for overweight patients.
6 Foods Known to Trigger Psoriasis Flare-Ups
Removing certain foods and beverages from your diet can have a positive effect on psoriasis symptoms. Because psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, many of the dietary changes that can help you avoid flare-ups fall under the the general guidelines for an anti-inflammatory diet.
Individual bodies have varying responses to different types of food, so the best way to determine which foods trigger psoriasis flare-ups will be to experiment with eliminating one food group at a time and see how that impacts your symptoms. Here are six foods you may want to avoid.
As mentioned above, psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, and research has found that dairy products—including milk and egg yolks—can increase inflammation levels in the body. Plus, anecdotal reports indicate that cutting back on dairy consumption can reduce symptoms of psoriasis.
If you do choose to include dairy in your diet, registered dietician Heather Mangieri, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommends fat-free, 1% fat, or low-fat milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
According to a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, psoriasis patients have higher levels of antibodies linked to gluten sensitivity.
Gluten, a type of protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, hangs out in breads and pasta as well as other less-expected products such as processed meats and sauces. Following a gluten-free diet requires careful label reading, though as its popularity has increased in recent years, it's become easier to find designated gluten-free products.
Keep in mind, too, that eliminating gluten doesn't have to mean giving up baked goods and other foods that contain flour. You'll simply have to seek out those made with alternative flours.
Excess sugar consumption not only promotes inflammation, but is also a major factor behind weight gain. Individuals with psoriasis should exercise extra caution when it comes to weight gain, which can worsen symptoms of their skin condition. Plus, psoriasis raises your risk of heart disease, making it important to steer clear of other additional risk factors such as being overweight.
As with avoiding gluten, staying away from added sugar will mean paying close attention to the labels of any packaged foods you eat.
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, which some individuals find trigger psoriasis outbreaks. Other members of the nightshade family include white potatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
Though researchers have not found a clear explanation for why tomatoes or other nightshade vegetables would worsen symptoms of psoriasis, it may be beneficial to try eliminating them one by one and noting the effect (if any) on your skin.
5. Red Meat
Studies show that red meat, like dairy, can elevate inflammation levels. This, in turn, can have a deleterious effect on psoriasis symptoms, and some individuals with psoriasis report that cutting out or cutting back on red meat improves their condition.
Additionally, fatty red meats can make you more likely to develop heart disease, and since individuals with psoriasis already have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, it's vital to make heart-healthy choices a priority.
If you're not ready to commit to a vegetarian diet, choose lean protein options like white-meat chicken and turkey. And if you do occasionally eat red meat, opt for less fatty cuts like flank steak or sirloin.
And if you are ready to commit to a plant-based diet, be sure to take a daily essential amino acid supplement to account for the missing animal proteins in your diet.
One of the most common psoriasis triggers, alcohol can both increase inflammation and interfere with psoriasis medications.
Some studies have found a connection between alcohol and psoriasis flare-ups. It appears that alcohol dilates the blood vessels, allowing white blood cells called T cells and other compounds found in the blood greater access to the skin, which heightens the inflammatory response that underlies psoriasis outbreaks. Alcohol also causes dehydration. Both these effects can cause psoriasis symptoms to worsen.
As if that's not reason enough to exercise great caution when it comes to alcohol, drinking can also lessen the efficacy of psoriasis medications. It can even be dangerous to combine with certain drugs, including methotrexate.
If you're struggling to control symptoms of psoriasis, you should certainly consider decreasing your alcohol consumption or ceasing to consume it altogether.
6 Foods That Can Help Control Symptoms of Psoriasis
Just as certain foods can contribute to psoriasis flare-ups, others may help control psoriasis symptoms. Studies have shown that specific nutrients can be beneficial for individuals with psoriasis, including antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium. An increased intake of the following foods can reportedly led to fewer flare-ups for psoriasis patients.
Fruits loaded with vitamin A have been shown to improve the overall health of your skin, which has clear benefits for individuals with psoriasis. Some especially rich sources of vitamin A include:
Other fruits with notable healthful properties relevant to the treatment of psoriasis include blueberries, which contain tons of vitamin C along with manganese and fiber, and strawberries and figs, which have impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
As with the preceding category, many of the benefits here come from the anti-inflammatory effects of vegetables such as:
- Sweet potatoes
Since all types of psoriasis involve inflammation, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce symptoms.
Boosting your intake of vitamin D can also be a key part of psoriasis treatment. In fact, during the 1930s, doctors prescribed high oral doses of vitamin D, though that approach has fallen out of favor due to the accompanying side effects. A better option is to focus on vitamin D-rich foods, like dark, leafy greens and mushrooms.
It's a well-known fact that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid found in some kinds of fish, can lower inflammation. Plus, according to the American Heart Association, eating fatty fish at least 2 times per week can lower your risk of heart disease.
Some good options include:
- Albacore tuna
- Lake trout
Given those dual benefits, individuals with psoriasis should aim to eat at least two servings of omega-3 fatty acid-laden fish weekly.
4. Seeds, Nuts, and Other Plant-Based Fat Sources
If you prefer to stick to a plant-based diet, it's still possible to provide your body with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are remarkably good sources of these essential fatty acids, as are walnuts. Just 1/4 of a cup of walnuts can provide more than 100% of your recommended daily allowance for omega-3s.
Other heart-healthy options for plant-based fats include olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.
Eating high-fiber foods, like legumes, has been linked with lower inflammation levels and better regulation of blood sugar. Since legumes also contain antioxidants, they're an extra-desirable source of fiber for psoriasis patients.
According to a 2015 study, adopting a diet that prioritizes the consumption of legumes can lower markers of inflammation such as CRP levels as well as decrease PASI scores (a measure of the severity of psoriasis).
6. Herbs and Spices
Some psoriasis patients find that specific herbs and spices can reduce symptoms of the skin condition. Some herbs have a long history of use as anti-inflammatory aids and immune system boosters, such as:
- Evening primrose
- Milk thistle
While some items on that list can be incorporated into your cooking, others are best taken in the form of herbal supplements. In order to take a medically significant amount, supplements may be the best option no matter what.
If you're working around dietary restrictions, or simply need more support when it comes to managing your psoriasis symptoms, you may wish to try dietary supplements that contain nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties and other helpful effects, such as:
- Fish oil
- Turmeric capsules
- Evening primrose oil
- Milk thistle capsules
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E
Because some studies have shown that psoriasis patients who are overweight or obese suffer more flare-ups, it's common for health care professionals to recommend taking steps to reach or maintain an optimal weight for your body.
When it comes to weight loss, as well as minimizing the physical and mental toll of psoriasis, it can be tempting to try a fad or extreme diet. However, doing so can rob your body of the nutrients necessary for healthy living. If you decide to make major alterations to your diet, you may wish to consult with a doctor or an expert in nutrition to ensure that you won't be causing harm while trying to heal yourself.