The jury’s still out on whether your diet can ease symptoms of psoriasis, but it’s certainly worth a second look. Food can’t cause or cure this common skin condition, but research shows it may calm inflammation and even clear up outbreaks.
The Obesity Connection
A growing number of studies show that losing weight may relieve your symptoms. In one, 10 people with psoriasis had weight-loss surgery. Six months later, seven people’s skin troubles had gone away.
Your fat cells churn out a protein called TNF-alpha, which is "a driving force of psoriasis," says Meagen McCusker, MD, a University of Connecticut dermatologist. "When people lose weight, they have less TNF-alpha."
This protein causes inflammation. Some psoriasis drugs, like Enbrel and Humira, work by blocking the effect of TNF-alpha.
A Gluten-Free Diet
When it comes to psoriasis and what you eat, "the most common thing people ask about is a gluten-free diet. There's been some anecdotal evidence about [these] diets being helpful," says Joel M. Gelfand, MD, a psoriasis expert at the University of Pennsylvania. But the research is still scarce, and "absent strong evidence, I don't recommend it."
Still, McCusker says, people with both psoriasis and celiac disease may improve if they avoid gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat and rye. With celiac disease, your immune system kicks into overdrive when you eat gluten. And for some, an overactive immune system may lead to psoriasis.
In a few studies, people with psoriasis and signs of gluten-related immune problems saw their skin improve with this diet.
Consider talking about gluten sensitivity with your doctor, who can do a blood test to check for celiac disease.
Your drinking habits may also be a factor. Research shows that alcohol may:
- Make you more likely to get the condition
- Worsen your symptoms
- Keep your treatments from working as well as they could
In many cases, people who drink heavily don't eat well, either. This, too, can make psoriasis worse. It’s a good idea to at least cut back.
Nutrients and Psoriasis
McCusker says these nutrients might help your skin:
Vitamin D: A study from Spain found that people with psoriasis had lower levels of vitamin D. This vitamin helps keep your immune system working correctly. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels, McCusker says. You may need a prescription-strength supplement.
Fish oil: This can help your body create more anti-inflammatory chemicals. "I don't think fish oil can turn off psoriasis," she says, but "people who take it tend to be a little less itchy, and their plaques tend to be a little less red."
Small studies also found that fish oil may reduce some side effects of medicines, such as:
- High triglycerides from a type of drug known as retinoids, such as Soriatane, Acitretin, Aceret, Acetec, and Zoratame
- Kidney problems from cyclosporine, such as Neoral, Sandimmune, Restasis, Gengraf Capsules, and Gengraf Oral Solution