Though it’s one of the most common skin diseases, affecting more than one million Canadians, psoriasis can make one feel like a social outcast. Its disfiguring red, scaly patches most often affect the scalp but can also appear all over the body–knees, buttocks, elbows and even on the face. In about 30 to 50 percent of people, it may also involve the nails. Psoriasis affects both males and females equally, often showing up between 10 and 40 years of age.

This recurring condition of itchy, dry, flaky skin lesions can go into remission and give some relief for a while but flares up again without any apparent reason.

Typical conventional treatments include prescription drugs such as methotrexate, which can cause liver damage with long-term use, and cortisone creams that can cause the skin to become thin and delicate. The natural alternative is to make diet modifications to improve the elimination of wastes and toxins from the system. While the true cause of psoriasis isn’t known, one of the more popular theories is that it is related to the digestive system.

Improve Digestion

The ratio of good versus bad flora (or bacteria) in our gut indicates the state of our digestive health. When we eat a diet high in refined sugar, white flour products and processed foods, our digestive system can get out of balance and the bad bacteria can overtake the good. One of the latest tests that naturopathic doctors use to determine this bacterial overgrowth is a breath test that determines the degree of fermentation in our gut and the presence of large colonies of bad bacteria.

Another problem is constipation, which causes toxins to be more readily absorbed into our system. This can snowball and lead to the development of more serious illnesses. To prevent this from happening, our bodies are ingeniously designed with several failsafe features. One of the escape routes for toxins is our skin, which excretes them through sweating. Unfortunately, though, psoriasis can manifest from an overly toxic system.

We can avoid digestive problems with a diet high in fibre and low in refined carbohydrates. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre, which binds to bowel toxins and excretes them. To balance intestinal flora, take a probiotic supplement such as acidophilus. Look for this supplement in the refrigerated section of your health food store.

Identify Food Sensitivities

Identifying any food sensitivities is an integral part of recovering from psoriasis. Food sensitivities not only cause increased inflammation, but they also place an additional burden on our digestive system. In my clinical experience, most psoriasis patients are reactive to all cow’s milk products, eggs and wheat.

I use the Vega machine to test for food sensitivities. This technique has been employed widely in Europe and particularly in Germany, where many medical doctors use it to diagnose and treat allergies.

Manage Stress

Stress is a common trigger for people with psoriasis, and many can link their first flare-up with a traumatic event in their lives. But there are simple things you can do to help ease the stress of everyday life. An important one, especially for women trained to be "people pleasers," is to set up appropriate boundaries. When someone wants you to do something you’d rather not, summon the courage to decline rather than agree and bear the resentment–and added stress.

Learn techniques to help your body release stress rather than keeping it pent up inside. Gentle stretching is a wonderful stress reliever, as are deep breathing techniques and getting out in nature for a walk and some fresh air. Decrease your caffeine intake so that your nervous system isn’t always overstimulated and you can sleep better at night. With more complex emotional issues, talk with a trained counsellor or psychologist who will be able to help you sort through your feelings.

Add Dietary Supplements

By increasing our intake of fish and including fish oil supplementation and/or flax seed oil, we can decrease the production of inflammatory substances called leukotrienes. Avoid high animal-fat foods such as red meat–these can increase leukotriene production.

Homeopathic Sulphur is also healing for skin problems that are red and itchy. Water, fibre and milk thistle can enhance liver function. So can B vitamins–with the added benefit that they soothe stress. Vitamins A and D, and selenium and zinc are also healing for psoriasis. Low-heat saunas and hot baths can enhance our natural sweat production.

If you have psoriasis and are making your first attempt at detoxification, keep in mind that it does take time, patience and rest–but it’s worth it. And do see your naturopath or natural health practitioner to safely guide you in your journey back to clear skin and better health.

Topical Relief

  • Chamomile and licorice creams, available at health food stores, can provide relief.

  • Apply sea-water compresses to affected areas until scales fall off, then expose skin to the sun for five to 10 minutes. Moderate sun exposure in early morning sun can be beneficial, but too much can worsen the condition.

  • Apply herbal compresses of stinging nettle or comfrey to soften and loosen scales.
Psoriasis Stats
  • Possibly the most important factor in who develops psoriasis is heredity. Often, the person with psoriasis has a parent or grandparent who also has the condition. In terms of probability, it has been estimated that a person with one affected parent has about a 10 per cent chance of also being affected. Having two parents with psoriasis increases the chances to about 30 percent. (Psoriasis Society of Canada, psoriasissociety.org)

  • (the National Psoriasis Foundation) Psoriasis reduces quality of life for millions of people in the US. According to a survey, there are 4.5 million US psoriasis sufferers, and serious problems are most acute among the 1.5 million with moderate to severe psoriasis.

  • 78% don’t use aggressive therapies because of the side-effects and lack of effectiveness.

  • 33% are very unsatisfied with current treatments.

  • 26% altered or stopped their normal daily activities.

  • 40% psoriasis affects their clothing choices, forcing them to cover up their condition.

  • 36% psoriasis interferes with their sleep.

About the Author

Norlinda Ghazali is a naturopathic physician in Tsawwassen (Delta), BC. She maintains a general practice that treats everyone from children to the elderly. Phone: 604-973-5861.