Q:I have psoriasis, and I don't want to take prescription medication. What else can I do to clear up my skin?
-Julia M., Florida
A: Psoriasis is a type of autoimmune disease in which surface skin cells turn over with excessive rapidity. Therefore, a lot of skin cells build up and create silvery scales on the elbows, knees, scalp, and groin. Psoriasis symptoms can vary from person to person: sometimes the nail bed is involved, causing yellow discoloration and thick, pitting nails; in other cases, psoriatic patches are scattered all over the body; and for some sufferers, even the joints are affected, which is known as psoriatic arthritis.
Drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and eating a lot of red meat tend to exacerbate all forms of psoriasis, as does a deficiency of vitamins A, D, and E; zinc; and selenium. Psoriasis is also typically worsened by stress, constipation, poor digestion, and several common pharmaceutical drugs, including NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen), antimalarial medicines, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and lithium.
The best diet for clear skin
In general, the first order of business with any skin complaint is to check your diet. Everything that you eat should be optimally digested and assimilated.
New research connects a high salt diet-especially from canned or fast foods-with many autoimmune diseases, including psoriasis. In a study of 100 healthy people published in the February 2013 issue of Nature, participants who visited fast food restaurants more than once a week saw a marked increase in their levels of inflammatory cells.
Beyond salt, the "Big 9" food irritants for people with psoriasis (and other conditions) are wheat, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, caffeine, tomatoes, peanuts, and shellfish. Avoiding these foods completely for 2-6 weeks will often clear up your skin beautifully. If that doesn't work, you may want to try a short liquid diet (I like The Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs)-3-10 days of fresh juice fasting-to see if your skin starts to clear. Sometimes, this is miraculously helpful. (Consult an experienced practitioner before doing a fast.)
Think Fish Oil for inflammed skin
Fish oil is one of the most important nutrients for the skin. I especially like cold-pressed wild Alaskan salmon oil because it's minimally refined, which I believe makes it easier for the body to absorb than other fish oils. Most itchy, flaky skin complaints are due, at least in part, to irritated, inflamed skin cells. Fish oil can help with this since it's a potent anti-inflammatory, thanks to its high omega-3 fatty acid content.
Another easy way to promote a natural anti-inflammatory effect is with tasty kitchen herbs, especially turmeric, ginger, cumin, anise, fennel, basil, rosemary, garlic, and thyme. All of these seasonings help block the inflammatory white blood cells responsible for psoriasis and other skin afflictions.
B vitamins and other essentials
Many patients with psoriasis show a deficiency of one or more B vitamins, including folic acid. High homocysteine levels (measured by a blood test) can indicate folic acid deficiency or malabsorption. And high methylmalonic acid levels suggest a B12 deficiency.
Get your vitamin D levels checked also. Oral doses of up to 5,000 IUs daily are safe, which may be required to raise your levels to normal. Typically, skin problems improve with optimal amounts of vitamin D3. But don't take vitamin D2-it's more expensive and doesn't work as well for most people.
Finally, be aware that some natural products-including echinacea, inula, burdock, biotin, ginseng, and doses of vitamin C higher than 500 mg daily-can aggravate psoriasis, so you should avoid them, as well.
Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc, has a private practice in Juneau, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She is the author of two books on health, including Managing Menopause Naturally. Visit her online at dremilykane.com.