Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to overproduce skin cells. Exactly why it happens is unclear, but some factors can trigger a flare. Alcohol can be one of these triggers.
Genetic factors appear to make a person more likely to have psoriasis, but environmental factors often trigger a first appearance or a worsening of symptoms. Alcohol appears to be one of these factors.
In 2013, researchers published a systematic review of 23 studies, 18 of which found a link between alcohol consumption and psoriasis.
Read on to find out why scientists believe alcohol makes psoriasis worse, and what might cause this reaction.
A person with psoriasis can find that their condition varies. Psoriasis tends to flare up in response to certain triggers.
One factor that may trigger a first episode, a flare, or an aggravation of symptoms is excessive alcohol consumption.
A study published in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews notes that alcohol can have a “detrimental effect” on psoriasis, especially among males.
Research has not confirmed a link between alcohol and psoriasis. Evidence suggests, however, that people who consume alcohol have a greater chance of having psoriasis than the general population.
A study of 82,869 women over a period of 14 years showed that women who consume more than 2 to 3 alcoholic beverages in a week are more likely to experience the onset of psoriasis.
Consuming “non-light beer” also appeared to aggravate the risk in females.
Men who consume more than 100 grams per day of alcohol were more likely to have a new case of psoriasis or to experience a worsening of the symptoms.
Studies have noted that when psoriasis emerges in people who drink large amounts of alcohol, it tends to affect the backs of the hands and the fingers. This is similar to the symptoms experienced by people with HIV.
For this reason, experts believe there may be a link between alcohol, immune dysfunction, and psoriasis.
A number of factors may cause alcohol to aggravate psoriasis.
Inflammatory and immune reactions
One theory is that alcohol might trigger the immune problems that lead to immunosuppression, making the body less able to react effectively to an attack by pathogens or other problems.
People who consume a lot of alcohol are also more likely to develop skin infections resulting from streptococcal infections and wounds. This may affect other aspects of skin health.
Another is that when a person consumes alcohol, this increases the production of inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle activators. This could then cause the skin cells to regenerate excessively.
Following a treatment plan
People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol may also be less likely to follow their treatment plan, and this, too, can lead to a more severe progression of the disease.
Alcohol consumption may also decrease the body’s ability to process medications effectively.
In women of child-bearing age, the medications used for psoriasis may have hazardous side effects when consumed with alcohol.
Effects on nutrition
Good hydration and a sufficient supply of vitamins are needed for healthy skin, regardless of whether a person has psoriasis or not. For someone with psoriasis, a lack of hydration and essential vitamins further reduces the chance of healthy skin.
Impact on the liver
Finally, apart from potentially reducing the body’s immune function, regular alcohol consumption can have a negative effect on other organs, such as the liver. This, too, can impact the immune system, weakening its ability to cope with further problems.
There is no evidence that any type of alcohol is better for people with psoriasis.
Alcohol consumption affects individuals differently. Factors such as body mass, weight, gender, eating habits, and drinking habits will influence how alcohol affects the body.
Some people with psoriasis experience an “outbreak” after drinking, while for others, there is no change.
Links between alcohol and other skin conditions
A number of skin problems can occur with high alcohol consumption, because alcohol can cause damage to various organ systems.
Other skin problems that can worsen with alcohol consumption include:
- spider angiomata, in which small, dilated blood vessels cluster near to the skin
- palmar erythema, which is a reddening of the skin on the palms of the hands
- pruritis, which causes the skin to feel itchy
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, the following have been linked to a first case or a worsening of psoriasis:
- injury to the skin, due, for example, to sunburn, scratches or a vaccination
- certain medications, including lithium and inderal
- infections, and especially strep throat in children
- smoking cigarettes
Some people find that dietary factors, the weather, and allergies can make their condition worse.
Research suggests that alcohol consumption can trigger a new diagnosis of psoriasis or make symptoms worse in a person who already has the condition.
The National Psoriasis Foundation warn that drinking alcohol can:
- increase the chances of getting psoriasis
- considerably worsen the symptoms
- stop treatment from working
- prevent psoriasis from going into remission
For people with psoriasis, the best advice appears to be to go easy on the alcohol.
Should a person with psoriasis avoid alcohol altogether, or is moderate drinking safe?
This will be on a case-by-case basis. Of course avoiding it entirely would prevent any sort of skin-related issues, but this isn’t the case for everyone.
It might take a few days for symptoms to show after consuming alcohol, so starting with a small amount and measuring the effects over the next few days or even week will help determine the effects of alcohol on your body.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol is never advisable as it will have more significant effects on your body besides psoriasis.Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.