Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that does not have a cure. Persistent and unpredictable, this skin condition affects more than 6 million people in the US. The conventional treatment involves taking retinoids or immunosuppressant drugs, which can lead to side effects. You can also opt for natural treatments and remedies that can help ease the symptoms of psoriasis. Read on to know more.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition in which the immune system triggers the overproduction of skin cells. It causes red, scaly skin patches to develop, often on the elbows, knees, or scalp.
The skin cells usually grow deep in the skin and slowly rise to the top and then fall off. This process usually takes one month. In people with psoriasis, the cell production process occurs in just a few days. The skin cells do not have the time to fall off, which causes a build-up of skin cells.
There are several different types of psoriasis –
1. Plaque psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis. It is characterized by periodic flares of well-defined red patches on the skin that are covered with silvery, flaky scales.
2. Nail psoriasis
This type of psoriasis affects the fingernails and the toenails. It causes pitting, crumbling, or oil-drop patches on the nails.
3. Inverse psoriasis
It occurs in skin folds of the armpits, beneath the breasts and below the buttocks. These lesions are red and smooth rather than dry and scaly.
4. Guttate psoriasis
It is triggered by a viral or bacterial infection and is characterized by teardrop-shaped bumps.
5. Pustular psoriasis
It is confined to small areas of the body and is characterized by lesions filled with the non-contagious fluid made up of lymph fluid and white blood cells.
6. Erythrodermic psoriasis
The entire body turns red and scaly and is accompanied by severe itching and pain.
Symptoms of psoriasis
The symptoms of psoriasis differ from person to person and also depend on the type of psoriasis you may have. Most people go through cycles of symptoms. The symptoms may appear for a few days and then clear out after a few days. The common symptoms of psoriasis include:
- Red, raised and inflamed patches of skin
- Whitish scales on the red patches
- Dry and discolored skin that may crack up or bleed
- Soreness around the patch
- Itching and burning around the patches
- Painful and swollen joints
- Thick, pitted nails, which are painful and bloody
- Emotional problems due to the skin condition
What causes psoriasis?
The doctors are not sure about what exactly causes psoriasis, but it is thought to be related to an issue with the immune system linked to T cells and other white blood cells called neutrophils. Typically, T cells travel through the body to defend against viruses and bacteria. In the case of psoriasis, the T cells attack healthy skin cells by mistake as if to fight infection.
The overactive T cells also increase the production of healthy skin cells. These travel into the skin, causing red patches and pus. The skin cells also build up on the outer layer of the skin, causing thick, scaly patches. According to research, both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the T cell malfunction. The common triggers of psoriasis include:
- Infections like strep throat or skin infection
- Injury to the skin like a cut, bite, scrape or severe sunburn
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Medications like lithium (prescribed for bipolar disorder), iodides, antimalarial drugs, and blood pressure medication like beta-blockers.
Conventional treatment for psoriasis
Traditional treatment can not cure psoriasis. It can, however, control the symptoms and prevent complications. The treatment depends on the severity of the condition and falls into three categories.
1. Topical treatment
In addition to moisturizers, several creams and ointments can be used to treat mild to moderate psoriasis. These include topical corticosteroids, topical retinoids, anthralin, and vitamin D analogs.
People with moderate to severe psoriasis, who do not respond to topical treatment, are prescribed oral or injectable medications. These include methotrexate, cyclosporine, biologics, and retinoids. These medications can lead to some side effects.
3. Light therapy
Ultraviolet lights or natural light can also be used to treat psoriasis. Sunlight helps to kill the overactive white blood cells that are attacking the healthy skin cells. UVA and UVB can also help to reduce the symptoms in moderate psoriasis.
Natural treatment for psoriasis
Conventional treatment for psoriasis can be challenging to follow as it comes with serious side effects. Home remedies are more comfortable to follow and do not cause any side effects. You can also use these remedies along with medical treatment, which can help in improving the symptoms.
1. Exposure to sunlight
Exposure to sunlight can improve the symptoms of psoriasis. The UVB rays of the sun are highly beneficial. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, you should start with 5 to 10 minutes of midday sun exposure. You can gradually increase the time limit to 30 minutes a day. Make sure you cover the healthy skin and apply sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
Stress can lead to psoriasis flare-ups. Several activities like prayer, meditation, and hypnosis can help lower stress and naturally reduce psoriasis symptoms. According to a study, brief mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention during UV light therapy can help reduce the psoriatic lesions faster (1).
3. Salt bath
Warm baths (not hot) with Epsom salt, colloidal oatmeal, mineral oil, or olive oil is soothing and helps relieve the symptoms of psoriasis. You can also use dead sea salts in your bathwater. During one study, participants bathed in warm water with dead sea salt or common salt for 20 minutes each day for three weeks.
The people who took dead sea salt baths showed considerable improvement in their symptoms as compared to those who took standard salt baths (2). Always moisturize your skin as soon as you get out of the bath to prevent moisture loss. Oatmeal baths and wet dressings can also relieve itching (3).
4. Aloe vera
Applying creams or ointments made from aloe vera extracts can help reduce redness, itching, scaling, and inflammation linked to psoriasis. You may have to use the aloe creams several times a day for at least a month before you see any improvement.
The studies on the effect of aloe vera for treating psoriasis have shown mixed results. According to one study, the impact of commercial aloe vera gel on stable plaque psoriasis was modest and not better than the placebo (4). Another study tested a topical aloe vera (.5 percent) extract on people with psoriasis. The results showed that aloe vera cream leads to significant clearing of psoriatic plaques as compared to the placebo (5).
Turmeric contains curcumin, which helps to lessen inflammation and reduce symptoms of psoriasis. Several studies have shown that curcumin is safe and effective in treating psoriasis. A 2016 study from China showed that curcumin has an excellent therapeutic effect on psoriasis (6). Another study showed that applying turmeric gel twice daily for nine weeks can improve redness, thickness, and scaling of psoriasis lesions (7).
6. Oregon grape
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is an antimicrobial herb that can calm the immune response in psoriasis. Mahonia aquifolium ointment is used as a homeopathic preparation. During one study, 433 people with psoriasis were treated with Mahonia aquifolium ointment for 12 weeks. The results showed that the symptoms improved or disappeared in over 80 percent of the participants (8).
During another study, 200 people with psoriasis participated in a study using either the topical cream Relieva (a homeopathic product containing a proprietary M. aquifolium extract) or a placebo twice a day for 12 weeks. The results showed significant improvements in the M. aquifolium group as compared to the control group (9).
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and improve autoimmune diseases. According to a meta-analysis of 15 trials, omega-3 fatty acids show moderate evidence of improvement in the symptoms of psoriasis (10). Flaxseeds, nuts, soy, and fatty fish contain mega-3 fatty acids. You can also take fish oil supplements.
Capsaicin, a component of red peppers, can improve psoriasis symptoms. Studies have shown that topical application of capsaicin cream can significantly reduce the symptoms of psoriasis (11). During another study, patients applied capsaicin cream (.025%) four times a day for six weeks. The results of the study showed a significant improvement in skin thickness, redness, scaling, and itching (12).
9. Essential oils
Essential oils can reduce the symptoms of psoriasis by lowering inflammation and supporting the healing process. Some of the essential oils that help reduce psoriasis symptoms are tea tree oil, frankincense oil, lavender oil, myrrh oil, and geranium oil. Though coconut oil is not technically an essential oil, it is very gentle and has anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties.
Exercising is essential for overall health, especially so if you have psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. Exercise helps you to maintain a healthy weight and helps to lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
11. Follow a healthy diet
If you have psoriasis, you should watch what’s on your plate. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory food can help reduce the symptoms. You should also avoid foods that can trigger flare-ups.
Foods to eat
- Probiotic foods: Kefir, yogurt, and cultured vegetables
- High-fiber foods: Fruits, vegetables, beans, and seeds
- Foods rich in antioxidants: Fruits, herbs, beans, and nuts
- Foods rich in zinc: Grass-fed beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, and kefir
- Vitamin A-rich foods: Carrots, mango, cantaloupe, tomato, kale, collard greens, and watermelon
- Fatty fish: Salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, trout, cod
- Heart-healthy oils: Olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, safflower oil
Foods to avoid
- Red meat
- Processed foods
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease in which the immune system triggers the overproduction of skin cells. It causes red, scaly skin patches to develop, often on the elbows, knees, or scalp. Conventional treatments like topical ointments, medications, and light therapy are used to lower the symptoms of psoriasis.
These can, however, lead to side effects. Natural remedies like exposure to sunlight, saltwater baths, aloe vera, turmeric, and a healthy diet also help in lowering the symptoms of psoriasis. While these remedies are not a replacement for the doctor’s prescription, you can certainly use them along with conventional treatment. You must always check with your doctor before you start with any of these treatments.