How can diet affect psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a life-long condition, and its severity can fluctuate. Medical treatment often aims to reduce skin cell production in order to minimize flares, or the periodic worsening of symptoms. Some lifestyle changes may also help.
The research into the effect of dietary changes on psoriasis is not conclusive, but there is growing evidence that some choices may help to improve symptoms.
Eliminating gluten, swapping calorie-rich foods for low-calorie options, and choosing anti-inflammatory foods where possible could improve the symptoms of psoriasis for some people.
In combination with medicine, nutrition may be a potent player in the fight against psoriasis.
The effect of diet on psoriasis
Making healthful dietary choices may help to improve the symptoms of psoriasis.
There is little scientific data confirming that a particular diet can benefit people with psoriasis, but there is some evidence that changing the diet may help.
Here we look at seven ways in which diet may help ease the symptoms of psoriasis.
1. Weight loss
Researchers have linked psoriasis with metabolic disorder, features of which include obesity and inflammation.
Scientists are not sure why, but studies have found that for every unit increase in body mass index (BMI), there is a 9 percent higher chance of developing the symptoms of psoriasis.
Losing excess weight through dieting, for example, may help to reduce the severity of psoriasis, according to one study.
Click here for some tips on how to lose weight.
2. Gluten and celiac disease
Gluten-free options may help to reduce symptoms in those with both celiac disease and psoriasis.
People with psoriasis may be more likely to have celiac disease as well as psoriasis. The body of a person with celiac disease is not able to tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
In a study that involved 218 people with psoriasis and 264 people without psoriasis, 4.1 percent of those with psoriasis had celiac disease, compared with only 1 percent among those without psoriasis. The findings were published in 2015.
For people with celiac disease, cutting out gluten-containing foods — including many baked goods and other products that contain flour — may help to ease symptoms of psoriasis as well as those of celiac disease.
Foods to avoid include:
- wheat and wheat products, including semolina and many pastas
- brewer's yeast
- breads and baked goods
- cornflakes and other cereals
- many processed foods
- some beers
- some cosmetics, such as lipstick and lip balm
Many stores now sell a range of gluten-free options, and gluten-free products are also available for purchase online.
Learn more about celiac disease and which foods to avoid here.
3. Anti-inflammatory foods
When a person has metabolic syndrome, including obesity, they are likely to experience inflammation, too. This may worsen the symptoms of psoriasis, according to a study published in 2014.
Findings published in the journal Clinical Nutrition have indicated that following a calorie-controlled diet that also contains omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can help reduce inflammatory markers and may improve the symptoms of psoriasis.
Forty-six people with psoriasis and obesity who followed this diet for 3 and 6 months saw a "clinically significant improvement" in their psoriasis score.
Examples of foods that may have an anti-inflammatory effect include:
- oily and cold-water fish
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
Get some useful tips here about the anti-inflammatory diet and what to eat.
4. Antioxidants and inflammation
Some researchers believe that certain nutrients in food have antioxidant properties. This means they reduce oxidative stress and prevent the body from producing "free radicals," or reactive oxygen species.
These free radicals may play a role in reducing inflammation.
These are present in various degrees across a variety of plant-based foods.
Good sources may be:
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- spices, such as cloves, peppermint, and cinnamon
- herbs, including oregano, thyme, and sage
Learn more here about antioxidants and which foods to find them in.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D comes from two sources:
- food, such as fortified dairy products
- exposure to sunlight, as the body creates vitamin D in response to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays
Research suggests that exposing the skin to small amounts of sun every day may benefit people with psoriasis.
Getting enough vitamin D from dietary sources may help.
- oily fish
- milk, yogurt, and Swiss cheese
Are you getting enough vitamin D? Click here to find out more.
6. A healthful lifestyle
Many individuals who improve their diet also feel more motivated to exercise. Physical activity may help to reduce the severity of symptoms.
Results published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that a 20-week program of dietary intervention, as well as increased physical exercise, led to an improvement in psoriasis symptoms.
This benefit may be because exercise enables a person to lose weight, to minimize inflammation, or both.
Stress can also be a trigger for a psoriasis flare. Eating healthfully and exercising regularly may contribute to better overall health and lower levels of stress.
7. Mental wellbeing
People with psoriasis may also experience a psychological benefit by taking control of their dietary choices as a way to manage their symptoms.
Stress reduction, for example, can help to prevent a psoriatic flare.
If a person knows that they are choosing healthier foods, and that these foods may alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis, this may provide a mental and emotional relief that could help reduce stress and, with it, the risk of a flare.
People with psoriasis should aim to maintain a balanced diet, including all the foods they enjoy on a moderate basis.
Click here to learn how stress and other triggers increase the risk of a psoriasis flare.
Drinking water may have additional benefits for people with psoriasis.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving psoriasis.
However, some diet tips may help to lower inflammation and enhance weight loss efforts, if necessary.
These tips include:
Avoiding sugar: Excess sugar in the diet can worsen inflammation, so reducing or eliminating added sugars may be an important first step.
Drinking plenty of water: Water provides hydration to every part of the body, including the skin. Consuming enough water throughout the day may help improve the texture, look, and feel of the skin.
Avoiding trigger foods: Some people may find that keeping a food diary and cutting out one food at a time helps to identify a trigger that makes their symptoms worse. For people with celiac disease, gluten is a trigger food.
Eliminating trans fats: Hydrogenated oils, sources of trans fats, are common in today's packaged and fried foods. It is best to cut out all types of trans fats, as these can lead to inflammation. Extra-virgin olive oil is a healthful alternative.
Including cold-water fish in the diet: Salmon, trout, herring, and other cold-water fish contain vitamin D and healthful omega-3 fats. Flaxseed is also a good source of omega-3.
Choosing anti-inflammatory foods: Vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds, and spices are all anti-inflammatory. There is a lack of research to show whether or not these can improve psoriasis, but they may be a helpful addition for any person seeking to reduce inflammation.
Avoiding saturated fats: Studies have shown that avoiding red meats and full-fat dairy products may reduce scaling and produce milder outbreaks.
Other items to avoid may include alcohol, caffeine, and peppers.
Everyone can benefit from a healthful diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, but for people with psoriasis, this may have the added benefit of relieving some symptoms.
Incorporating more nutrient-dense foods into the diet and reducing avoiding junk foods may help to reduce excess weight and inflammation, and it may also improve mood and an overall sense of wellbeing.