Psoriasis: A Functional Medicine Approach
As a person who has struggled with psoriasis most of my life, I often wonder what more I can do to get to the root of the problem. I’ve tried prescription shampoos, creams, pills, and even injection therapy. Some of these temporarily cleared my skin, only to experience a more intense flare when the medication stopped working. When I started working at the Ultrawellness Center, I learned about how to address the root causes of a problem, not just the symptoms, and have found a new way of approaching psoriasis.
If you aren’t familiar with psoriasis, you may not realize just how difficult it can be to live with. Most people assume it is just dandruff, a rash, or eczema. Yet there is much more to it than that. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition of the skin that causes inflammation. Skin cells rise faster than normal and cause buildup on the surface, which creates the appearance of dandruff and scaling. I now understand that in order to treat this condition, you need to address the root of autoimmunity—the gut. With proper diet, gut and immune-supporting nutrients, and lifestyle changes, you can start to quiet down the immune system and see lasting results. Here are some factors that can set up an environment for inflammation and increase the risk for developing immune issues, and what you can do to start the healing process:
- Poor Diet If you want to balance your immune system, start with diet! Many foods in the SAD (Standard American Diet) can cause inflammation and trigger the immune system such as refined carbohydrates (think bread, pasta, crackers, etc.), refined vegetable oils, added sugar, dairy, gluten and more. Here is what you can to do clean things up:
a. Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a gut irritant and can cause damage to the liver, both of which can affect the immune system. While there is no definitive link between alcohol and psoriasis, studies have shown people who drink alcohol have more flare ups than people who don’t.
b. Eat anti-inflammatory foods! These include fresh fruits and vegetables, wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, nuts and seeds that are raw and organic, herbs and spices such as garlic, oregano, ginger, rosemary, holy basil, and turmeric as well as green tea.
c. Try going gluten and dairy free. I know it sounds daunting, but we have seen much improvement in our patients who follow this diet. Plus, there are many tasty alternatives out there. I get my lattes with almond milk and they taste just as good! Most grocery stores have a gluten-free section and there are more options than you think.
d. Stay hydrated! We’ve all heard it, drink more water. But even mild dehydration is at the root of so many different ailments. If you have psoriasis, making sure you are well hydrated can keep moisture in your skin and prevent flare ups, as dry brittle skin is a common sign of dehydration. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces. For example, if you are 140 pounds, aim for 70 ounces of non-caffeinated fluid daily.
- Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency doesn’t cause psoriasis, but it may impair the body’s ability to keep skin healthy. In fact, researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was common in people with chronic plaque psoriasis. Vitamin D can help strengthen the immune system and slow the growth of new cells, so a topical vitamin D may help thin plaques. Taking a vitamin D supplement under the supervision of your doctor can help, along with 10-15 minute increments of sunlight throughout the day.
- Optimize liver function. Some of the many things your liver can do includes filtering and disposing toxins, manufacturing thousands of chemicals including enzymes and hormones, and keeping blood sugars at reasonable levels. Needless to say, keeping your liver clean and in good condition can be very advantageous for many reasons. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet filled with organic foods and taking supplements such as milk thistle, holy basil, dandelion root, and bupleurum can help your liver to remove toxins and process nutrients. This is yet another reason not to overdo the alcohol.
- Reduce stress. Inflammation is the body’s way to cope with stress, so when you get stressed, your body produces inflammation. This triggers the immune system which can cause psoriasis to flare. Try to maintain a stress free environment. Easier said than done, right? Don’t go it alone. Reach out to your community and connect with others. You can try meditation by carving out even just a few minutes a couple of times a day. This can be in the form of breathing exercises, guided meditation, or taking a mindful walk. Also, physical activity releases endorphins that can improve mood and energy. If you feel you might need more help coping with stress, talk to a coach or therapist.
Living with psoriasis is still an everyday struggle for me, but I have implemented many of these changes in my diet and lifestyle over the past several months and I am feeling better than I ever have. Remember, these are lifestyle changes and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you are willing and motivated to make the change to a happier, healthier you, I assure you it is worth it!