Psoriasis physically, socially, emotionally, and financially affects millions of people around the globe each and every day. This is, in part, why October 28th is dedicated to highlighting what it’s like to live with and treat psoriasis. In this honour, we felt it was important to share with you all that we know about this skin condition, giving you the tools you need to properly understand psoriasis and reduce its outbreaks with the proper treatments.
WHAT IS PSORIASIS?
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that manifests itself as red and flaky patches of dry skin. These patches commonly cover elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back. Most people experience occasional psoriasis in small localized patches, but it can appear all over the body in severe cases.
The NHS explains that the severity of psoriasis varies greatly from person to person. Some people may only experience minor irritation, but for others, it can majorly affect their quality of life by impacting their self-esteem and increasing their physical discomfort when wearing certain fabrics.
Although psoriasis can affect anyone, it is most common in adults––both men and women––under 35 years old, and especially those with a family history of psoriasis.
A combination of hereditary and environmental factors, such as stress or anxiety, injury to the skin, or even hormonal changes, are believed to trigger psoriasis outbreaks. Symptoms can be more severe depending on climate, seasonal changes, and the amount of cortisol flowing through your body (AKA, your stress levels). It is not contagious in any way.
WHY IT HAPPENS
People who experience psoriasis outbreaks have an excess production of skin cells, which turn over every 3 to 7 days instead of the average 3 to 4. This happens when your immune system takes your body’s defence too seriously––over-defending itself against diseases and infections, your immune system accidentally attacks healthy skin cells. The rapid growth of skin cells causes the psoriatic plaques to form.
According to the Psoriasis Association, recent research has found that the psoriasis-causing changes in the skin begin in the immune system when certain immune cells (T cells) are triggered and become overactive. It is not yet clear what initially triggers the immune system to act in this way.
This also explains why you may have heard of psoriasis being labelled as an “auto-immune disease” or “immune-mediated condition”.
There is no specific cure for psoriasis. However, many of its triggers and symptoms can be manageable, and the appearance of red patches can be reduced.
Topical treatments are beneficial in reducing psoriasis outbreaks, such as the following:
- A salicylic acid ointment helps smooth the skin and reduce flakiness by promoting the shedding of psoriasis scales
- Steroid-based creams decrease inflammation, relieve itching, and block the production of cells that are at the root cause of psoriasis in the first place
- Vitamin D derivatives are also shown to be helpful in the management of psoriasis and come in gel, ointment, lotion, and scalp solution applications. According to the Psoriasis Association, treatments act by encouraging normal skin cell growth and preventing the excessive growth rate that we see in psoriasis. Because these are not considered steroids, they are oftentimes more appropriate for long-term use
Each ingredient has a list of potential side-effects, so be especially careful to follow your doctor's instructions for their use. Steroid treatments should not be used for an extended period of time, as they can cause unwanted side effects such as skin thinning or even worsen outbreaks.
In extreme situations where the recommendations listed above aren’t effective, oral medication or prescription retinoids from your general practitioner or dermatologist may yield better results.
CAN DIET HELP PSORIASIS?
Dietary choices can definitely help in reducing psoriasis flare-ups. Research is limited, but opting for foods that fight inflammation has been shown to reduce the severity of skin patches. This means fruits and veggies (especially berries, cherries, and leafy greens) as well as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (think salmon and avocado), antioxidants, and heart-healthy sources of fat will support and yield much better treatment results than alcohol, caffeine, dairy, processed foods, and refined sugars.
As always, we suggest you consult with an M.D or registered dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.
CAN BOOSTING MY IMMUNE SYSTEM REDUCE PSORIASIS OUTBREAKS?
In theory, yes! Eating well, supporting your adrenals, exercising regularly, and proper hygiene all play a role in your immunity, so it is likely for you to notice an improvement in symptoms when you keep your body and mind at their healthiest. Please note that if you find sweating makes your psoriasis flare up, you may want to consider stress-reducing alternatives such as gentle yoga or pilates.
Psoriasis, like all skin conditions, can affect people both physically and psychologically. Although there is no cure for psoriasis, it is important to remember that it can be managed with diligent care and attention. With the right treatment and advice, many people live well with psoriasis and learn to love the skin they are in.
Until next time,