Psoriasis is a common disease that produces silvery,
scaly plaques on the skin. A dermatologist should be consulted to confirm the
diagnosis of psoriasis.
Dietary changes that may be helpful: Ingestion of alcohol
appears to be a risk factor for psoriasis in men but not women. 1 2 It would
therefore be prudent for men with psoriasis to drink moderately, if at all.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people with psoriasis
may improve on a hypoallergenic
diet.3 One study reported that eliminating
gluten (found in wheat,
oats, rye, and barley) improved psoriasis for some people.4 A nutritionally
oriented PHD can help individuals with psoriasis determine whether gluten or
other foods are contributing to their skin condition.
Nutritional supplements that may be helpful: In a double
blind study, fish oil (10 grams per
day) was found to improve the skin lesions of psoriasis.5 In another study,
supplementing with 3.6 grams per day of purified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, one
of the fatty acids found in fish oil) reduced the severity of psoriasis after
two to three months.6 7 That amount of EPA is contained in about 20 grams of
fish oil. However, when purified EPA was used in combination with purified
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, another fatty
acid contained in fish oil), no improvement was observed.8 Additional research
is needed to determine whether fish oil itself or some of its components are
more effective for individuals with psoriasis. One study showed that applying a
preparation containing 10% fish oil directly to psoriatic lesions twice daily
resulted in improvement after seven weeks.9
Supplementing with fish oil also may help prevent the
increase in blood levels of triglycerides that occurs as a side effect of
certain drugs used to treat psoriasis (e.g., etretinate and acitretin).10
Some nutritionally oriented PHDs have been impressed
with the effectiveness of flaxseed oil
(usually 1–3 tablespoons per day) against psoriasis, although there have been no
published studies to support that observation.
The vitamin D
that is present in food or manufactured by sunlight is converted in the body
into a powerful hormone-like molecule called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. That
compound and a related naturally occurring molecule (1 alpha-hydroxyvitamin D3)
have been found to be helpful when given orally to people with psoriasis.11
Topical application of these compounds has worked well in some,12 13 14 15 but
not all, studies.16 17 These activated forms of vitamin D are believed to work
by preventing the excessive proliferation of cells that occurs in the skin of
people with psoriasis. Because these potent forms of vitamin D can cause
potentially dangerous increases in blood levels of
calcium, they are available only by
prescription. The use of these compounds (under the supervision of a qualified
dermatologist) may be considered in difficult cases of psoriasis. The form of
vitamin D that is available without a prescription is unlikely to be effective
in the chemically bound form known as fumaric acid esters, has been shown in
some studies to be effective against psoriasis.18 19 However, because fumaric
acid esters can cause significant side effects, they should be taken only under
the supervision of a PHD familiar with their use.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Refer to the
individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.
Herbs that may be helpful:
Cayenne contains a resinous and
pungent substance known as capsaicin. This chemical relieves pain and itching by
depleting certain neurotransmitters from sensory nerves. In a double blind
study, application of a capsaicin cream to the skin relieved both the itching
and the skin lesions in people with psoriasis.20
Creams containing 0.025–0.075% capsaicin are generally
used. There may be a burning sensation the first several times the cream is
applied, but this should gradually become less pronounced with each use. The
hands must be carefully and thoroughly washed after use, or gloves should be
worn, to prevent the cream from accidentally reaching the eyes, nose, or mouth
and causing a burning sensation. Do not apply the cream to areas of broken skin.
In traditional herbal texts,
burdock root is described as a blood
purifier or alterative.21 Burdock root was believed to clear the bloodstream of
toxins. It was used both internally and externally for psoriasis. Traditional
herbalists recommend 2–4 ml of burdock root tincture per day. For the dried root
preparation in tablet or capsule form, the common amount to take is 1–2 grams
three times per day. Many herbal preparations will combine burdock root with
other alternative herbs, such as
yellow dock, red clover, or
Some nutritionally oriented PHDs believe that
"sluggish" liver function is a contributing factor in psoriasis, possibly
explaining why milk thistle
seeds, which promote normal liver function, can be beneficial. Milk thistle can
be taken in an amount that provides 420 mg of silymarin per day. Milk thistle is
available in capsules, tablets, or an extract that is standardized to contain
70–80% silymarin. Once improvement occurs, intake is often reduced to 280 mg of
silymarin per day. This lower amount may also be used for preventive purposes.
husk powder is sometimes used by psoriasis sufferers, since maintaining normal
bowel health is believed to be important for managing psoriasis. Psyllium acts
as a bulk-forming laxative to cleanse the bowel and encourage normal
elimination. Some PHDs of natural medicine suggest 7.5 grams of the seeds or
5 grams of the husks to be taken one to two times per day, with water or juice.
It’s important to maintain adequate fluid intake when using psyllium.
may be beneficial as an anti-inflammatory agent. Capsules or tablets should
provide at least 9 grams of the dried root per day, usually taken in divided
doses. Tincture is used in the amount of 3 ml three times per day.
An ointment containing
Oregon grape has been shown in
a double blind study to be effective against psoriasis.22 Whole Oregon grape
extracts were shown in one laboratory study to reduce inflammation (often
associated with psoriasis) and to stimulate the white blood cells known as
macrophages.23 In this study, isolated alkaloids from Oregon grape did not have
these effects. This suggests that there are other active ingredients besides
alkaloids in Oregon grape. Barberry,
which is very similar to Oregon grape, is believed to have similar effects. An
ointment made from a 10% extract of Oregon grape or barberry can be applied
topically three times per day.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Refer to the
individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.