Television advertising can be so effective on an impressionable child. I still remember graphic ads for skin treatments from the 1960s and 1970s that promised to ease “the heartbreak of psoriasis.” Too young to truly understand what the ads were talking about, I was told repeatedly that dry, red, itchy, flaking skin is cause for embarrassment and a major health concern requiring immediate attention and swift action.
Psoriasis is a common medical condition where the metabolism of skin cells speeds up and die off faster. The sloughed, dead skin cells build up quickly on the skin’s surface and left unchecked, form scales and red patches (called plaques) that are itchy and sometimes painful.
Plaques on the elbows, knees, and scalp are typical, but no part of the body is immune from this uncomfortable skin condition.
Psoriasis is a “heartbreak” because, after it develops, it lasts a lifetime. The root of the condition is an immune system that weakened to the point of compromise and failure to ward off the disease.
People are at higher risk for developing psoriasis if they:
- Have genetic markers / family history of psoriasis
- Have/had HIV, viral, or bacterial infection (such strep throat)
- Experience stress
- Are obese
There is no cure for psoriasis. Treatment revolves around slowing skin cell growth and emolliating the skin.
- Use moisturizers
- Stop smoking
- Reduce stress and stressors
There are known triggers (stressors) for psoriasis:
- Infections (such as strep throat or skin infections)
- Injury to the skin (such as a cut or scrape, a bug bite, or a severe sunburn)
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Certain medications — including lithium, which is prescribed for bipolar disorder, high blood pressure medications such as beta blockers, antimalarial drugs, and iodides
Psoriasis shows up with different symptoms in different people, among them:
- Red patches of skin covered with thick, silvery scales
- Small scaling spots (commonly seen in children)
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed
- Itching, burning or soreness
- Thickened, pitted or ridged nails
- Swollen and stiff joints
An outbreak of psoriasis may be as little as a bit of dandruff-like scaling to full-blown eruptions in large patchy areas.
Psoriasis flares up and dies down, cycling by weeks or months. In some cases, it goes away completely and never returns. Others are not so fortunate.
Studies have linked psoriasis to gluten sensitivity. (Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley, and rye.)
Your doctor can prescribe medication for moderate to severe outbreaks of psoriasis. These often work well in tandem with home remedies, many of which are easy to do.
Since psoriasis is an inflammatory condition that weakens the body’s ability to fight off disease – the immune system – then adjusting your diet away from menu items that irritate your gut (deep-fried foods, for example) can reduce the severity of this unpleasant skin condition.
Antioxidants fight the free radicals that break down cells prematurely and cause advanced aging and certain diseases. Include the following nutrients to bolster your immune system:
- Vitamins C (the top three foods are guava, bell pepper, and kiwifruit) and E (the top three foods are sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts)
- Beta-carotene (the top three foods are sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark leafy greens such as spinach)
- Selenium (the top three foods are Brazil nuts, mushrooms, and seafood, especially oysters and tuna)
- Fatty (Omega-3) acids from fish oil
Anti-inflammatory foods help reduce the redness and persistent itch so eat as many of these as possible regularly:
- Fruits and veggies (especially berries, cherries, and leafy greens)
- Salmon, sardines, and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Antioxidant-rich herbs and spices (such as thyme, sage, cumin, and ginger)
- Heart-healthy fats (including olive oil, seeds, and nuts)
There are also foods that aggravate psoriasis and increase the inflammation – and we don’t want that. Avoid:
- Processed foods and refined sugars
- Fatty cuts of red meat
For mild cases of psoriasis – severe, dry skin – apply plenty of moisturizers and heavy-duty emollients such as sheep’s lanolin. Look for body lotions that get some extra kick from lanolin, vitamin E, cocoa butter, or other ultra-smoothing topical skin products.
Other over-the-counter (OTC, meaning non-prescription) treatments include hydrocortisone creams or ointments, scale softeners such as salicylic acid, lactic acid or urea, and anti-itch products such as cortisone.
When home DIY (do it yourself) and OTC remedies fail, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. The sooner you treat psoriasis, the better.
Don’t the let heartbreak of psoriasis ruin your day. Or your life.