Understanding How to Deal With Psoriasis
Chronic skin conditions can impact the quality of life and self-esteem, especially if the person feels like they can't get relief from symptoms. One fairly common skin condition is the autoimmune disorder psoriasis.
According to this 2021 study, psoriasis impacts roughly 3% of Americans or 7.5 million people over the age of 20. While there is no cure for this condition, it can be managed through medications and specific lifestyle factors, such as avoiding psoriasis triggers that can cause flare-ups.
This article outlines psoriasis, common risk factors for developing psoriasis, triggers that can cause symptomatic flare-ups and some foods to avoid if you have this condition.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is classified as an autoimmune disease that can cause a rapid build-up of skin cells. The most common psoriasis is plaque psoriasis, which is found in about 80 to 90% of those with the condition.
Typically, skin cells grow slowly deep within the skin and rise to the outermost layer, the epidermis, where they eventually fall off. Due to the rapid growth of skin cells, plaque psoriasis causes rough, dry, scaly patches on the skin.
It's common to develop these patches on the elbows and knees, though they can also develop on the face, hands, lower back, scalp, feet, and neck. These patches can become itchy and painful, making it an incredibly uncomfortable condition that can impact the quality of life and mental health.
Common Psoriasis Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:
- Rough, dry patches with silvery white scales on fair skin or light-colored/grayish scales on darker skin.
- Patches can vary in size from dandruff-like spots to whole-body rashes.
- Cracked or bleeding skin.
- Burning, itchiness, or soreness.
These symptoms may appear cyclically, meaning that if you have plaque psoriasis, you may experience flare-ups for a few weeks or months that subside and then return.
What are Common Psoriasis Risk Factors?
While researchers don't entirely understand what causes plaque psoriasis, they believe it is a combination of factors, which includes genetics and environment. It is considered an immune-system-mediated condition where the immune system attacks healthy skin cells, leading to symptoms. Some functional medicine practitioners associate chronic autoimmune conditions with the microbiome and digestive tract health. Supporting your digestive health may help with symptom management.
Other risk factors for plaque psoriasis include smoking and family history. As mentioned above, there is a genetic component, so if someone in your close family has plaque psoriasis, it may be worth avoiding the triggers and foods mentioned below to prevent the onset of this condition.
Common Psoriasis Triggers
Not everyone who is genetically predisposed to psoriasis will develop the condition. However, some environmental factors can trigger psoriasis. Common environmental factors that can cause psoriasis flare-ups include:
- Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Skin injuries: cuts, severe sunburns, scrapes, or bug bites.
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Chronic high stress.
- Cold and dry weather conditions.
- Certain infections including strep throat or skin infections trigger an immune response.
- Certain medications: blood pressure medication, lithium, and anti-malarial drugs.
- Other autoimmune conditions.
- Low estrogen levels.
- Certain foods- see below for more information.
Remember that not everyone with psoriasis will react to all of these triggers. If you have a genetic predisposition to plaque psoriasis or currently have the condition, it is worth tracking which of these triggers may cause or contribute to your flare-ups.
Foods to Avoid With Psoriasis
As mentioned above, certain foods can trigger a flare-up of psoriasis or worsen symptoms. It's worth noting that not everyone with psoriasis will react to every food on this list. If you have psoriasis, you might want to work with a nutritionist or dietitian to undertake an elimination diet and reintroduction to see which foods may worsen your symptoms.
According to this 2017 national survey, people with psoriasis saw either an improvement or resolution of symptoms after eliminating some of the following foods from their diets:
- Gluten: All gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley, kamut, triticale and non-certified GF oats.
- Nightshades: Fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
- Dairy: Cheese, milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cream.
- Red meat.
- High-sugar foods.
The results of the study mentioned above found that those who eliminated gluten and nightshades saw the most improvement in their symptoms. If foods cause flare-ups for you, it may be worth working with a functional medicine or naturopathic doctor to support gut health and the microbiome.
How to Prevent Psoriasis Flare-Ups
While there are no guarantees when it comes to avoiding triggers and preventing psoriasis flare-ups, these tips can lower your risk of an outbreak:
- Figure out which foods could be causing psoriasis flare-ups and remove them from the diet.
- Wear sunscreen and practice safe sun exposure to prevent burns.
- Support the health of your skin barrier with moisturizers and adequate hydration.
- Find help to quit smoking.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Avoid extreme hot or cold temperatures, especially low humidity.
- Support stress management through relaxation exercises, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and asking for help.
Hopefully, this information empowers you with some practical tips and steps to support your skin's health, avoid triggers and prevent psoriasis flare-ups.