Should You Build a Personalized Psoriasis Diet Plan?

While doctors have yet to identify a clear connection between diet and psoriasis symptoms, many people with the condition find that consuming certain foods increases or decreases flare-ups. Learn more about how making better dietary choices can result in psoriasis relief with the psoriasis diet.

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:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Sugar
  • Tomatoes
  • Alcohol

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:

  • Gluten free
  • Low carbohydrate, high protein
  • Mediterranean
  • Vegetarian

Respondents also mentioned some specific food groups that they found helped to improve their psoriasis symptoms, including:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish

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.

Learn more about how making better dietary choices can result in psoriasis relief with the psoriasis diet.

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.

1. Dairy

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.

2. Gluten

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.

3. Sugar

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.

4. Tomatoes

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.

6. Alcohol

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.

1. Fruits

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:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Mango
  • Watermelon

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.

2. Vegetables

As with the preceding category, many of the benefits here come from the anti-inflammatory effects of vegetables such as:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli

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.

3. Fish

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
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • 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.

5. Legumes

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:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • 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.

What Is Psoriasis? Learn About Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Understanding what leads to psoriasis outbreaks, as well as the most effective ways to alleviate symptoms, can minimize the effect this condition can have on a person’s physical well-being and overall quality of life.

Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease, affects up to 2.2% of Americans. Still, many people know next to nothing about this debilitating illness. So, what is psoriasis, anyway?

Psoriasis accelerates the life cycle of skin cells, causing a rapid buildup that results in scaling on the skin’s surface. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 7.5 million people living in the United States, mostly between the ages of 15 and 30, must deal with this potentially uncomfortable and stigmatized condition.

Understanding what factors can lead to psoriasis outbreaks, as well as the most effective ways to alleviate symptoms, can minimize the effect this condition can have on a person’s physical well-being, self-esteem, and overall quality of life.

What Is Psoriasis?

Before delving into the specifics of psoriasis causes, symptoms, and treatments, it’s important to understand the biological mechanisms that drive this skin condition.

Psoriasis, in essence, results in a sped-up production of skin cells. Under normal circumstances, the body generates skin cells within the deepest layers of the skin. Those skin cells then slowly rise to the surface of the skin, and just as slowly, they fall away to reveal new skin cells. Typically, it takes a skin cell about one month to progress through this life cycle.

For people with psoriasis, the production process of skin cells happens much, much faster. New skin cells rise to the surface in just a few days. The pace of skin cell shedding does not match the pace of production, resulting in a buildup of skin cells that form psoriatic scales.

Psoriatic scales develop in thick, red patches. Often, the area surrounding psoriatic scales also becomes red and inflamed. Sometimes, the patches will crack and bleed. Understandably, it’s not uncommon for patients with psoriasis to experience itching and pain as a result of the condition. In some cases, however, the psoriatic scales cause little physical discomfort and the primary goal of treatment is to resolve the emotional distress associated with psoriasis flares.

Although the red skin and scaling associated with psoriasis tends to develop at the joints, such as the elbows and knees, they can be found on any part of the body, including:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Lower back
  • Neck
  • Scalp
  • Face

While it’s less common, certain types of psoriasis can affect the mouth, genitals, and even the nails.

Differentiating Between the 5 Types of Psoriasis

While all forms of psoriasis result from the overproduction of skin cells, the symptoms of psoriasis vary from type to type in terms of severity, location of psoriatic outbreaks, and more. Some types of psoriasis cause mild patches while others lead to severe lesions that cover more than 5% of the total surface of the skin. It’s also possible to have more than one form of psoriasis, and getting a correct diagnosis is a key part of finding the best treatment options for your condition.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can cause red patches and scales

1. Plaque Psoriasis

The most common type of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis typically causes dry skin and raised red lesions, often covered with scaly plaques that can be painful or itchy. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 80% of individuals with psoriasis have this type. Typically, plaque psoriasis affects the elbows, knees, and scalp, however, the plaques can occur anywhere on the body.

2. Guttate Psoriasis

Most common in children and young adults, guttate psoriasis often develops after the patient has suffered a bacterial infection. Guttate psoriasis typically presents as small, pink spots shaped like water drops. Though the spots tend not to be thick or raised, during a flare-up, hundreds of small lesions form. The arms, legs, and torso are the primary sites where lesions appear, followed by the face, ears, and scalp. Experts estimate that 10% of all people with psoriasis have this form.

3. Pustular Psoriasis

The opposite of guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis is most common in adults. This form of psoriasis presents as white pustules combined with swathes of inflamed red skin. The symptoms of pustular psoriasis tend to be cyclical: first the skin turns red, then small, pus-filled blisters appear, and finally, scales form. In most cases, pustular psoriasis develops on smaller areas of the body, like the hands and feet.

There are three forms of pustular psoriasis: von Zumbusch pustular psoriasis, characterized by its abrupt appearance and sometimes accompanied by fever, chills, and dehydration; palmoplantar pustulosis, which develops on the soles of the feet and on the hands; and acropustolosis, the rarest form and one in which outbreaks are limited to the ends of the fingers and toes.

5. Inverse Psoriasis

This type of psoriasis presents as patches of smooth, shiny, inflamed red skin in the armpits, beneath the breasts, in the skinfolds around the groin, and other areas where skin-on-skin friction occurs. Because inverse psoriasis flare-ups occur selectively in areas of the body prone to sweating and rubbing, it can be particularly uncomfortable. It can also be especially challenging to treat.

5. Erythrodermic Psoriasis

This very rare and severe psoriasis type often covers large portions of the body at the same time. Flare-ups cause skin to appear almost burned. The large, sheet-like lesions tend to be incredibly itchy and painful, and to slough off in large sections. A flare-up can lead to swelling, infections, increased heart rate, and fever. This type of psoriasis can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. In some instances, hospitalization may be necessary.

As mentioned in the preceding section, psoriasis sometimes affects the nails rather than (or in addition to) the skin. Nail psoriasis can appear on the fingernails and toenails and can result in symptoms ranging from minor discoloration to abnormal growth, pitting, nail separation, and even crumbling.

Understanding the Cause of Psoriasis

Doctors don’t know exactly why certain individuals develop psoriasis, but years of research have shown that there are two primary psoriasis causes: genetics and the immune system.

Individuals with a family history of the disease are more likely to develop psoriasis, especially if a parent suffers from the condition. People who are overweight also have an elevated risk for psoriasis and plaques that develop in skin folds.

Studies have shown that roughly 10% of the population inherits at least 1 of 25 or more genetic mutations that can cause you to develop psoriasis. However, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, only 2% to 3% of the population actually develops the disease. This has led experts to conclude psoriasis only develops when a certain combination of genes become activated after exposure to a psoriasis trigger.

Common psoriasis triggers include:

Psoriasis kicks T cell-production into overdrive, eventually causing inflammation and faster-than-usual growth of skin cells, leading to psoriasis symptoms.

When someone with a genetic predisposition to psoriasis gets exposed to a trigger, the immune system responds by producing T cells, a kind of white blood cell that defends the body against infections and diseases. In patients with psoriasis, the T-cell production goes haywire and attacks healthy skin cells rather than simply targeting foreign invaders. The body responds to this attack by generating more skin cells, as well as T cells and white blood cells. The end result is skin redness, dilated blood vessels, and lesions.

10 Common Psoriasis Symptoms

Psoriasis symptoms vary from one person to the next, depending on both the type and whether it’s mild, moderate, or severe psoriasis. Most psoriasis sufferers cycle through flare-ups, in which signs of the condition are worse, as well as remission periods, in which symptoms subside.

Some of the most common symptoms of psoriasis include:

  1. Raised, inflamed red patches of skin
  2. Thick, silvery, scaly plaques
  3. Soreness around patches
  4. Cracked or dry skin
  5. Skin itching, burning, or discomfort
  6. White pustules
  7. Shiny, smooth, red lesions
  8. Numerous small, teardrop-shaped red spots
  9. Thickened, pitted, or discolored nails
  10. Swollen and stiff joints

Depending on the type, or types, of psoriasis a person has, they may experience all these symptoms, or only a few. While some patients experience relatively mild psoriasis with just a few patches of redness, others have a more serious form of the disease that regularly interferes with quality of life. Even those with severe psoriasis may experience periods of remission in which symptoms of psoriasis disappear altogether. This doesn’t mean that their psoriasis has been cured, however, and it’s still important to avoid potential triggers.

An Overview of 8 Effective Psoriasis Treatments

Treating psoriasis is a challenge, as not all patients respond to the same medications. It’s not uncommon for psoriasis sufferers to try multiple treatments before they find one that’s effective.

At this time, it is not possible to cure psoriasis, though researchers are making strides in terms of uncovering what triggers psoriasis lesions on a cellular level and how to modulate the immune system’s response to prevent flare-ups.

The current goals of psoriasis treatments are to reduce inflammation and scaling, slow the production of skin cells, and clear away plaques from the surface of the skin. With the right medication, therapy, or combination of medications and therapies, it’s possible to dramatically reduce symptoms, and in some cases, to completely eliminate them.

Psoriasis treatment options typically fall into two categories: topical treatments and systemic medications. The outliers are light therapy and alternative and complementary therapies. Here’s a brief overview of how 8 treatment options alleviate psoriasis symptoms and reduce flare-ups.

  1. Salicylic acid: A peeling agent, salicylic acid works by causing a shedding of the outer layer of skin. This over-the-counter topical treatment, one of the first-line options for mild to moderate psoriasis, is available in ointments, liquids, gels, and even shampoos. A downside is that it can result in mild skin irritation.
  2. Coal tar: Another over-the-counter, first-line topical treatment option, coal tar can be used to alleviate the itching and discomfort associated with psoriasis. Coal tar also helps the skin shed dead cells.
  3. Steroid creams: One of the principle psoriasis treatments, topical corticosterioids can reduce itching and inflammation while blocking excess cell production.
  4. Nonsteroidal topical treatments: Doctors may prescribe cacipotriene, a form of vitamin D, and tazarotene, a retinoid, to address persistent psoriasis that does not respond to other topical treatments. In some cases, they may also recommend anthralin cream, one of the original psoriasis treatments.
  5. Light therapy: By exposing the skin to ultraviolet light, it may be possible to kill the immune cells that contribute to the development of psoriasis outbreaks. The treatment can use UVB rays, a combination of UVA and UVB rays, or UVA rays in combination with an oral or topical medication called psoralen (PUVA). Also called phototherapy, this treatment must be administered by a doctor, in a psoriasis clinic, or with a specialized phototherapy unit, which can make it cost-prohibitive.
  6. Systemic medications: For individuals with psoriasis that fails to respond to topical treatments or light therapy, or those with moderate to severe psoriasis, doctors may opt to use systemics, prescription drugs that can be taken orally or by injection. These drugs affect the entire body and can come with intense side effects. Doctors usually prescribe them for short-term use. Popular drugs in this category include: cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant that slows skin cell growth), acitretin (an oral retinoid that slows the rate of skin cell growth and shedding), and methotrexate (developed to treat cancer and able to slow the growth of skin cells).
  7. Biologic drugs: Administered by injection or IV infusion, biologics contain human or animal proteins and work by blocking immune cells implicated in the development of psoriasis. At this time, all three types of biologics used to treat psoriasis shut down immune system chemical messengers called cytokines that promote inflammation. The cytokines they block are tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin 12 (IL-12), interleukin 23(IL-23), and interleukin 17-A (IL-17A).
  8. Complementary therapies: Evidence indicates that modalities such as acupuncture, massage, and Reiki can help relieve symptoms of psoriasis such as pain, as well as control environmental factors like stress that are known to trigger psoriasis flare-ups. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi also fall into this category.

Some patients see results by treating psoriasis naturally. Herbal remedies for this skin disease include apple cider vinegar, turmeric, tea tree oil, and aloe vera, among others.

Psoriasis symptoms can also be eased with a psoriasis diet. Find out what foods you can and can’t eat on the psoriasis diet in this article.

In many cases, particularly for individuals with moderate to severe psoriasis, the best results will come from a combination of treatments. Once a person finds an effective treatment regimen, they may be able to use it for life. In some cases, symptoms may stop responding to a previously effective option. It can be highly beneficial to find a trusted health care provider with experience in treating psoriasis to work with you to create a long-term plan for managing your psoriasis.

 

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can cause red patches and scales