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Natural Treatments for Psoriasis
Natural Treatments for Psoriasis
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, 7.5 million people suffer from psoriasis in the United States alone. Believed to be an autoimmune disorder with a strong genetic component, psoriasis is marked by red, itchy, flaking skin that inflicts serious discomfort or even pain on its sufferers. Experts are still uncertain about many aspects of the disease but believe that outbreaks can be triggered by a specific event such as a break in the skin’s barrier, a bout of streptococcal infection or a reaction to certain drugs. Regardless of what causes it, psoriasis is a noncontagious, lifelong affliction that often comes and goes without any obvious reason.
While a variety of pharmaceutical treatments are available to help heal skin lesions and improve physical comfort level, they are not effective in every case. Naturopathic physician April Abernethy, ND, who serves as the medical programs manager for the National Psoriasis Foundation, explains that in addition to drug therapy, a number of natural options can help manage this condition.
“The biggest trend we are finding—not only with psoriasis, but also with other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases—is that there are often connections to other health issues such as heart disease or diabetes, in which inflammation also plays a role,” Abernethy says. “We’re investigating how diet and nutrition impact the bigger picture of inflammation, and how omega-3 fatty acids and spices including curcumin and turmeric might help reduce inflammation. Dermatologists as well as patients are looking at more integrated therapies, and nutrition is an important piece of that puzzle.”
For instance, some patients have found that a gluten-free diet can be helpful. This doesn’t apply to everyone, however. Abernethy explains that because every individual has a unique genetic profile, treatments that are effective for one person may not have any effect on another person.
Let there be light
Vitamin D and phototherapy have shown some promise in psoriasis treatment and management. Seasonal sunlight exposure may explain why some people’s psoriasis improves in summer and worsens in winter. That’s why phototherapy can help, but since each person is different, the level and amount of exposure, as well as type of light (natural sunlight or dermatologist-controlled, in-office phototherapy), may also vary according to individual needs.
Some psoriasis sufferers benefit from supplementing with vitamin D, which is actually a hormone the body naturally produces when exposed to sunlight. In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin D plays a key role in cardiovascular health, hormone balance and skin health, including the healthy turnover of skin cells.
“There’s so much that we don't yet understand about vitamin D, but it seems to be a key component in so many of the body’s processes,” says Abernethy. “Studies have shown that anyone living north of Atlanta is usually vitamin D–deficient. Regarding its role in psoriasis, the research is ongoing. At this time, most doctors are recommending oral supplementation, rather than topical application of vitamin D, but it is definitely a big component in phototherapy.”
Abernethy cautions that very high levels of vitamin D can be toxic, so she suggests having your blood levels tested and consulting with a healthcare professional to determine an appropriate dosage.
More ways to manage psoriasis
Additionally, there are practical steps to managing psoriasis. Maintaining adequate moisture levels in the skin is important, as is using gentle, non-irritating cleansers and moisturizers that are free of chemical additives. Use products that are all-natural or contain as few chemicals as possible. Abernethy suggests applying a simple exfoliating paste made from a blend of bran flakes or oatmeal and water, rinsing thoroughly and wiping skin gently with witch hazel to cool and soothe any irritation. She also recommends creams and lotions made from calendula for extra soothing benefits.
“I’m a big proponent of moisturizing from the inside out,” says Abernethy. “So, from a natural perspective, diet is still key. Fish oil, good omega-3 fatty acids and daily probiotics can be helpful in keeping skin moist and less prone to inflammation, while spices including curcumin, turmeric and curry can also be beneficial. Certainly, it’s much more fun to eat good foods than it is to take pills.”
By: Debra Bokur
Debra, a former Contributing Editor at Fit Yoga Magazine, Travel & Wellness Editor at Healing Lifestyles & Spas, and Managing Editor at Delicious Living Magazine, has been covering health, travel and wellness for over 25 years. She currently writes for Global Traveler Magazine and serves as the poetry editor at the national literary journal Many Mountains Moving. Previously, she trained horses for the sports of dressage and combined training, and worked for a variety of equestrian magazines including Spur, Horse & Rider, HorsePlay, and Discover Horses.
August 16th, 2012