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Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Choices for Psoriasis

by
author image Cynthia Price, M.D.
Board-certified in dermatology and pediatrics, and fellowship-trained in pediatric dermatology, Cynthia Price, M.D., is dedicated to providing excellent, innovative and compassionate patient care. She specializes in adult, pediatric, and cosmetic dermatology. She is in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Price trained at the University of Arizona, UCLA and the University of Miami – one of the top dermatology training programs in the country – where she was honored to serve as chief resident.
Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Choices for Psoriasis
Managing psoriasis symptoms starts with a healthy diet. Photo Credit GeorgeRudy/iStock/Getty Images

For many psoriasis sufferers, certain foods may seem to trigger flares. Keeping a journal and attempting to link dietary foods with psoriasis outbreaks may help in reducing future inflammation and aid in prevention of one’s disease.

Stress reduction, physical activity and eating an organic, healthy diet are also important for psoriasis prevention. In a study of low-calorie diets that contain lots of organic fruits, vegetables and lean protein, such as chicken and fish, and avoid fatty red meat, patients saw a positive change in psoriasis plaques.

Healthy Diet for Psoriasis

A diet that is low in sugar and saturated fat and loaded with fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the best diet for psoriasis. The popular Paleo diet with lean meat additions, including grass-fed beef (due to its healthier fatty-acid profile), is also a good diet to follow for psoriasis patients. Likewise, the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing fresh produce, fish, whole grains and healthy fats, is also very helpful for psoriasis.

Extreme dieting is not encouraged. This type of dieting could eliminate the essential nutrients a patient needs in order for the inflammation to subside. A physician can assist in determining what diet a psoriasis patient can safely follow. In addition, nutritionists may be of use as well as functional medicine doctors to test for how the body processes stress and what vital nutrients may be missing in one’s system.

Dairy and Inflammation

As patients with psoriasis suffer from increased levels of inflammation, avoiding foods that can cause inflammation is understandable. Because dairy may increase inflammation, cutting down is a good idea. Even if it does not improve your psoriasis, eating foods that are lower in fat are better for your heart.

When eating full-fat varieties, look for “grass fed” and “organic” on the labels, which contain different fatty-acid profiles. More specifically, they have an elevated omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and are thus more anti-inflammatory.

One beneficial dairy product is yogurt, due to the natural occurring probiotics. Probiotics play an important role in our microbiome, which affects our immune system and response to inflammation. It is thought that having high levels of good bacteria and diversity among them decreases inflammation and optimizes one’s immune system.

Questions About Gluten

Although gluten-free diets are popular with many who have inflammatory diseases, there is not sufficient evidence to reject gluten simply because you have psoriasis. However, recent research estimates that approximately 25 percent of psoriasis sufferers may also have gluten intolerance. And a few studies link celiac disease (a gastrointestinal allergy to gluten) to higher rates of psoriasis genetically.

For patients with celiac disease and psoriasis, a gluten-free diet is highly recommended. Aside from physical stress, gluten has also been theorized to contribute to a “leaky gut,” which physically degrades the intestinal walls and increases the risk of autoimmune diseases like psoriasis.

Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The anti-inflammatory effects of fish oils, primarily omega-3s (essential fatty acids found in cold-water fish like salmon) rich in DHA and EPA, have been shown to help patients with psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases.

However, doses that are too high can cause side effects of nausea, intestinal cramps, diarrhea and gas. Omega-3 supplements can also increase bleeding risks in people who take blood thinners. For good heart health, it is recommended to have two servings of fresh fish, such as salmon, per week.

Red Meat and Heart Health

Fatty red meats are thought to increase inflammation, and some people with psoriasis find adopting an anti-inflammatory diet helps control their symptoms. In addition, avoiding fatty red meat can decrease heart disease in patients with psoriasis, who have increased risk of cardiac complications.

Choose lean cuts of red meat whenever possible. If you choose to consume red meat, opt for organic and grass-fed varieties, which many people believe have fewer negative health effects.

Limiting Alcohol Intake

Anecdotally, patients report that if they overindulge in alcohol, their psoriasis flares. This may be especially true for women.

In a recent study from the journal Archives of Dermatology, researchers from Harvard Medical School as well as Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined data from 82,869 women between the ages of 27 and 44. This study examined beer consumption by women, and there was a higher flare rate in those who regularly consumed nonlight beer when compared to patients who consumed the light varieties. This link could be due to an increase in gluten consumption or an increase in calorie consumption. While no studies actually prove the link, a trial limiting alcohol consumption is encouraged. It is theorized that alcohol can be inflammatory.

Vitamins A and D and Your Skin

Vitamin A promotes healthy skin by increasing cell turnover. Many fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin A, especially the orange and red varieties. Good sources of vitamin A are watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, carrots and tomatoes. In general, eating a diet high in antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts protect against cancer and heart disease, and psoriasis patients have a higher risk of these two conditions.

Vitamin D promotes healthy skin by regulating the overgrowth of skin cells in psoriasis. It is obtained through sunlight exposure and from foods, including egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified orange juice. Aim for systemic levels of 50 to 70 of the activated form of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D.

However, because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, high levels can remain in your blood and cause side effects like high blood pressure, kidney disease and bone loss. Typically, the RDA of vitamin D can be achieved from 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine daily.

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

A number of psoriasis patients find that specific herbs reduce inflammation and flares by stimulating the immune system. Some of the more anti-inflammatory herbs that have proven to be beneficial to psoriasis patients are oregano oil, evening primrose oil, milk thistle and turmeric.

A research group discovered that curcumin (found in turmeric) inhibits PhK, which is an enzyme associated with overactive cell growth in psoriasis. Curcumin demonstrates immune suppressing activity by specifically suppressing the activity of T cells, and this makes it a valid drug for immunotherapy. This spice is best absorbed with black pepper, so look for supplements that contain “bioperine,” which is basically a branded form of piperine, a molecule found in black pepper.

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