Psoriasis Awareness Month: Triggers & Tips for Managing
Posted on August 10 2021
Psoriasis is a sometimes painful and itchy inflammatory condition that is known to affect the skin. It can also spread to the joints, eyes, and oral cavity. Psoriasis is characterized by thick, scaly plaques that cover body regions like the trunk, scalp, and limbs.
Psoriasis and Gastrointestinal Diseases
Because psoriasis results from chronic inflammation, many studies have shown its connection to disorders in the gastrointestinal system. The GI tract is a crucial component of inflammatory conditions as it houses around sixty percent of the immune system.
Intestinal permeability occurs when breaches in the tight gap junctions between cells of the small intestine occur, allowing for foodstuffs and bacteria to make their way into the bloodstream. This weakness inherently stimulates the immune system and triggers systemic inflammation. Intestinal permeability can result from antibiotic overuse, eating inflammatory foods, nutrient deficiency, taking in too many environmental toxins, an imbalance of pathogenic bacteria in proportion to healthy intestinal flora, and mental and emotional stress. Often it is not one factor that brings on disease alone, but a combination of the factors listed above. When these imbalances become chronic, we can see the onset of immune disorders like psoriasis.
From a genetic perspective, there are also many similarities between psoriasis and diseases like Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A large percentage of those diagnosed with psoriasis have IBS or IBD, too. All these conditions have some abnormality in a gene known as the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) gene, which allows the body to discern between itself and antigens. As a result, those with this gene may have a predisposition to autoimmune and inflammatory conditions when under stress.
Psoriasis Management Tips
While psoriasis is a complex and bio-individual condition, the beginning stage recommendations to managing it are universal. Here are some tips to get you started:
For starters, it can be helpful to shy away from a processed, standard American diet (SAD) and eat a diet richer in whole foods. Try shopping on the exterior aisles of the grocery store as much as possible—where things are refrigerated. Avoid foods with a long shelf life containing ingredients you would not eat alone (ex: titanium dioxide). Even if a blood test is not showing antibodies for Celiac disease, it may be helpful to eliminate gluten products for sixty days and observe any differences. Avoiding other common allergens like soy, corn, and conventional dairy may also yield significant changes, as can the elimination of alcohol and cigarettes.
It may also be helpful to adopt an elimination diet like the Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP). This diet eliminates foods known to trigger inflammation and to let the tight junctions of the gastrointestinal tract heal and regenerate. In time, many of these foods should be able to be reintroduced. The time it takes may vary depending on the individual.
Increasing the amounts of nutrient-dense foods is equally as important as decreasing processed or reactive ones. Deficiencies in nutrients like vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc, selenium, and omega-3s have been found in people living with psoriasis, as many are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Protein is also essential for systemic repair. Look to incorporate seafood rich in omega-3s, zinc, and selenium. Vitamin A is found readily in liver, egg yolks, and ghee and is extremely important for immune function and skin regeneration. Vitamin C is an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables. It’s also a major precursor for collagen synthesis.
Incorporating a tested, quality probiotic can help reduce inflammation and intestinal permeability. Consuming foods rich in probiotics like kombucha, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut also can help.
Modern society has pushed us inside and in front of desks. As a result, we are a population with decreasing vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to the onset of psoriasis. As vitamin D can be challenging to get from food, it can be helpful to aim for thirty to forty-five minutes of sunlight per day. Try and expose your skin as much as you can to get the most out of your time! Using a D supplement during the wintertime when sunlight is sparse may also help symptoms.
Environmental toxins are out of control in modern society. Common toxins like heavy metals (cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, and aluminum) are found readily in tuna, cigarette smoke, makeup, dental amalgams, deodorant, cookware, food wrapping, and fertilizers. Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides also contribute to toxicity and can lead to microbiome imbalance. In addition, phthalates, bisphenols, and dioxins are present in plastics, skincare, and beauty care products. All these substances can ignite inflammation and contribute to psoriasis.
Look to minimize these substances by eating organic when possible. Shopping at the farmers’ market can yield locally grown and affordable produce. Swapping conventional home and beauty products with more simple ones can also minimize toxin intake—the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep webpage is a great resource.
Finally, getting a handle on mental and emotional stress with deep breathing, walks in nature, or listening to your favorite music is crucial for the management of psoriasis. When we experience stress, the hormones that are released often trigger inflammation. This is why the claim that stress causes disease is valid! And it absolutely applies to psoriasis.