Psoriasis is a common condition that causes skin cells to multiply rapidly, up to 10 times faster than normal. The skin can become thick, red, dry and cracked, causing itching, burning and pain. Affected areas typically include the scalp, elbows and knees. About 10-30 percent of people who have this disorder also have arthritis, a condition called psoriatic arthritis.
People of all ages can be affected, but it most commonly begins in those between the ages of 15 and 35. Symptoms occur in cycles of flare-ups and remissions over a lifetime. Triggers that can cause flare-ups include dry air, injury to the skin, infections, too much or too little sunlight, stress, alcohol, smoking and some medicines. People with weak immune systems, such as those with an autoimmune disorder, AIDS or going through chemotherapy, normally have a more severe case. Psoriasis is not contagious, and most outbreaks are relatively harmless.
The cause is not fully known, but it is believed to be related to an abnormality in the immune system. The immune system mistakes healthy cells as being dangerous, which causes T cells to attack them as if healing a wound or fighting an infection. About 40 percent of people with psoriasis have one or more family members with the disease.
Two compounds that control the rate at which cells divide are cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and cyclic guanidine monophosphate (cGMP). An imbalance between the two, a decrease in cAMP and an increase in cGMP, can cause excessive cell replication.
There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are conventional and alternative treatments that can help relieve symptoms and help reduce the number of outbreaks. The following are natural remedies:
When the breakdown products of protein are not properly absorbed from the intestine, increased levels of amino acids and polypeptides remain in the bowel. These products are then metabolized by bacteria in the bowel into several toxic compounds. Increased levels of polyamines, metabolites of the amino acids arginine and ornithine, are linked to psoriasis. They inhibit the formation of cAMP, contributing to the excessive rate of cell proliferation. The alkaloids, like berberine, in goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) inhibit the enzyme that converts the amino acids into polyamines.
One of the following preparations, taken three times a day, is recommended by the authors of Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (ENM):
- 2-4 grams of dried root or as an infusion (tea)
- 250-500 milligrams of solid extract (powdered dry – 4:1 or 8-12 percent alkaloid content)
- 1/2-1 teaspoon of fluid extract (1:1)
A diet low in fiber is associated with increased levels of toxins in the bowel, including byproducts of bacteria, endotoxins and Candida albicans. These and other toxins lead to an increase in cGMP levels within skin cells, increasing the rate of proliferation dramatically. Fiber binds bowel toxins and promotes their excretion in the feces.
Eat a diet rich in fiber. Start out slowly and gradually increase the intake to prevent problems like bloating, gas and cramping. Foods high in fiber include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, wheat and oat bran, nuts, seeds and beans.
Sarsaparilla (Smilax sarsaparilla) can also help bind toxins in the intestine, prevent their absorption and promote their elimination. According to a 1942 controlled study involving 92 patients, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 80 percent of the participants experienced significant benefits after taking a liquid extract of sarsaparilla – 62 percent had great relief and 18 percent had complete relief.
One of the following preparations, taken three times a day, is recommended by ENM:
- 1-4 grams of dried root or by decoction
- 250-500 milligrams of a solid extract (4:1)
- 2-4 teaspoons of a liquid extract (1:1)
One function of the liver is filtering and detoxifying the blood. If the liver is overwhelmed by toxins, or if the liver is not functioning properly to detoxify toxins, toxin levels will increase in the blood, causing the psoriasis to worsen. Silymarin (Silybum marianum) can help improve liver function, inhibit inflammation and reduce excessive cellular proliferation. ENM recommends 70-210 milligrams of silymarin three times a day.
Leukotrienes, inflammatory compounds and promoters of increased cGMP levels, are many times greater than normal in the skin of people who have psoriasis. They are toxic compounds produced from arachidonic acid, a fat found solely in animal food sources. Animal products, mostly meat and dairy products, should be limited.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have been shown by several studies to help psoriatic patients. EPA competes with arachidonic acid for arachidonic-acid binding sites, resulting in the inhibition of the production of leukotrienes. Cold water fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to including these fish in the diet, ENM recommends taking 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil a day, which is also a good source of omega-3.
The following herbs are alternatives to topical hydrocortisone for symptomatic relief:
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – Glycyrrhetinic acid, a component of licorice, has a similar action to that of hydrocortisone. In fact, it has been shown by several studies to have better effects than hydrocortisone in the treatment of psoriasis.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – The flavonoid and essential oil components of this herb have anti-inflammatory properties, and is widely used in Europe to treat a number of skin problems, including psoriasis.
Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens) – The active component, capsaicin, in cayenne can block pain and decrease inflammation.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) – According to a review, published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, several clinical trials found that using a Mahonia aquifolium 10% topical cream was a safe and effective treatment for people with mild to moderate psoriasis.
Aloe Vera – Aloe, from the leaves of the plant or from using a cream, may help reduce redness, inflammation and itching.
Over-the-counter preparations are available online or at most drug stores and health food stores. Use as directed.
Eat a well-balanced diet containing healthy foods. A multivitamin/mineral supplement may be beneficial.
Keep a food diary to rule out any foods that may trigger outbreaks.
Avoid alcohol and smoking.
Take lukewarm baths every day. To help relieve inflammation and remove scales, add colloidal oatmeal, Epsom salt or bath oil to the water and soak for 15 minutes. Avoid harsh soaps.
Use a moisturizer after bathing, and several times a day as needed.
Expose your skin to small amounts of sunlight. Talk to your doctor about what amount is right for you.
Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga, to relieve stress.
Before using any of the above alternative medicine for psoriasis, consult your health care provider first.
Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/psoriasis/DS00193
Pub Med Health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001470/
Web MD – https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/psoriasis/understanding-psoriasis-basics
Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine" Prima Publishing 1998
Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (NLM)
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