Psoriasis is a chronic condition that can be extremely uncomfortable, so many who suffer with are turning to diet and lifestyle factors to help. But what is really effective, and what foods make it better or worse?
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic, multisystem autoimmune skin and joint disease that can cause inflammation, as well as skin rashes and lesions. Psoriasis affects roughly 2.5 percent of Americans.
Psoriasis begins in the immune system, which is influenced by factors such as:
- Sleeping habits
- Stress levels
- Gut health
- Levels of inflammation throughout the body
When psoriasis is present, the T-cells, which are a part of the immune system response team, become overactive. This can lead to increased turnover of skin cells, swelling, and inflamed skin. (1)
Psoriasis can cause the skin to become scaly because the skin cells harden and multiply too fast. In healthy skin, skin cells multiply and shed within four weeks. In psoriasis, however, the skin cells go through this cycle much quicker, sometimes in as little as four days. This results in dead skin cells not being shed quickly enough to keep up with the growth of the new cells being produced, which causes the skin to become thicker and flaky. (2)
What Causes Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a disease of systemic inflammation, meaning that inflammation is often the root cause of the development and worsening of psoriasis symptoms. A quick skin biopsy is often the main way that psoriasis is diagnosed.
Chronic plaque psoriasis affects 80-90 percent of patients. Depending on the severity of the disease, different treatment options may be more fitting for each individual. For mild to moderate cases, first line treatment involves topical therapies such as essential oils, herbs, and sometimes corticosteroids, but long term remission of the disease requires addressing all lifestyle factors like diet, immune, gut, digestion, hormones, and more. A complete lifestyle approach should be the main focus and healing protocol. (3,4)
Risk factors for developing psoriasis include:
- Having an overactive immune system
- Poor diet
- Intestinal permeability or leaky gut
- Poor digestion
- Emotional stress
- Hormonal imbalances
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Poor liver function
7 Ways to Customize Diet for Psoriasis
Surveys for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, show that more than 36 percent of Americans use complementary and alternative therapies to deal with psoriasis. These can include supplements, herbs, yoga, meditation, exercise, light therapy, and even acupuncture, but at the heart of a lifestyle of healing for psoriasis is diet. (5)
1. Eat Omega 3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in prostaglandin production, which are hormone-like molecules that modulate inflammation throughout the body. This is especially essential for helping to reduce the inflammatory response in psoriasis. Most people don’t get enough daily intake of omega-3 fats.
Foods rich in omega-3s include:
- Olive oil
- Pumpkin seeds
Fatty fish like salmon also contain dietary sources of vitamin D, which has also been shown to help promote healthy skin and reduce the effects of psoriasis. (7) Eat at least one to two servings daily of omega-3 rich foods.
2. Choose Fermented Foods
Eating foods that naturally are rich in probiotics—such as coconut kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha—can improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and support immune system function, all factors that are associated with psoriasis flare ups.
The largest density of immune cells (roughly 70 to 80 percent) is found in the small intestine, making gut health a priority when trying to address healing an autoimmune disorder. (8) Optimizing gut health with probiotic rich and fermented foods can support the production of endogenous B vitamins, which are required for skin health and dealing with the body’s stress response, a culprit of autoimmune and inflammatory flare ups.
In addition to eating fermented foods, it’s also beneficial to take a probiotic supplement. The microbiome is the bacterial landscape of the body, and in people dealing with inflammatory or autoimmune problems, there is typically a colonization imbalance between bad and good bacteria. Taking a high quality probiotic supplement can help to restore this balance faster.
3. Eat Detox-Friendly Veggies
Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and onions all contain plant compounds such as sulfur and quercetin which have been shown to not only recycle important antioxidants such as glutathione and Vitamin C, but also reduce inflammation.
Quercetin, which is found in onions and garlic, plays a role in regulating the immune system’s response to outside stressors through cell signaling pathways called kinases and phosphatases, two types of enzyme membrane proteins needed for proper cellular function. (9)
Organic produce in general can be beneficial for healing psoriasis, as the antioxidants found in organic vegetables and fruit can combat free radical damage and provide ample amounts of skin building nutrients such as vitamin C, which is an integral part of collagen and skin proteins, as well as beta carotene, and vitamins E and B. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are also rich in compounds that support the liver in removing harmful substances from the body, which is essential for supporting a body battling an autoimmune condition.
4. Choose Grass-Fed Meat
Grass-fed meat, which can include beef, bison, venison, or elk, have higher levels of omega-3s, as well as increased levels of antioxidants such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Grass-fed meat also has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed animals.
Grass-fed meats also have higher levels of CLA, an essential fatty acid that helps down-regulate inflammatory pathways and cytokines in the body and supports healthy immunity. It is also rich in vitamin A, which is critical for skin health and healing. (10)
5. Skip Nightshades
Nightshade plants include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. This class of vegetables and fruits contain solanine, a chemical compound that has been shown to trigger inflammation in some people. Some other problematic nightshade foods can include cayenne pepper and paprika, which might aggregate or worsen psoriasis symptoms. (11)
Most Paleo dietary protocols addressing autoimmunity will recommend avoiding nightshades and following the stricter version known as the AIP. While not everyone will have to be that strict, avoiding or limiting nightshades in the diet is a good place to start.
6. Avoid Gluten
No surprise here, gluten is a major dietary offender when it comes to psoriasis. Gluten, as many are familiar with now, is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye which can aggravate the intestinal linings of certain people. But it can have farther reaching effects than that.
Many studies have shown the benefits of adhering to a gluten-free diet for psoriasis and other skin conditions. More recent research has even found a link between psoriasis and gluten, estimating that up to 25 percent of people who have psoriasis may also be sensitive to gluten. (12)
A Paleo diet naturally excludes all grains, which means that gluten is avoided, too. Instead of turning to grains for fiber and carbohydrates, Paleo eaters get these and even better nutrients from vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
7. Quit Sugar
Refined and processed sugar is devoid of any nutritional factors, not to mention that excessive sugar can feed the bad bacteria in the gut, which can cause inflammatory flare ups and hormonal changes, which can both affect skin health. (13)
Even if you only eat Paleo forms of sweeteners, like maple syrup or honey, it’s best to strictly limit sweeteners in your psoriasis diet until the autoimmune element is well controlled and gut health is balanced. Even good kinds of sugar can still feed the bad bacteria in the gut.
Psoriasis is a chronic and autoimmune condition that can be unpleasant to deal with, but dietary and lifestyle factors can offer major improvement. Because everyone is genetically unique, some things may work better for others, but overall, a dietary change of pace is step one in eating your way to better health—and skin.