Anne Jeffres, 41, an acupuncturist in New York, was in the midst of a stressful time at work when she noticed her scalp was flaking. Her fingers became inflamed; her nails were brittle and pitted. The mild psoriasis she once had as a child had returned in full force. "The flare-up was bad enough that I lost patches of hair on my head," Jeffres says.
"Psoriasis is a lifelong disease" that's mainly inherited, explains Erin Boh, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the dermatology department at Tulane University Health Sciences Center. "You can't change having psoriasis, but you can certainly change the things that can [worsen] it." Here's how:
Short-circuit stress. "Stress does not cause psoriasis," Boh says. "But stress can certainly make it worse." How to defuse stress? Exercise can help, she says. Or try relaxation exercises or meditation. Jeffres practices yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction, and she also switched jobs to ease her stress.
Reach out. About 25% of people with psoriasis have depression, the National Psoriasis Foundation says. Let your doctor know if you're feeling down. You can also join a psoriasis support group. "Support groups allow you to talk with other people who have the disease and see how they cope," says Boh.
Think colorful. Eat healthy foods, such as brightly colored vegetables, and cut down on meat and fatty food, Boh advises. Though there's little data to show certain foods can make psoriasis better or worse, if you have the disease, you may be at greater risk of other health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
"A healthy diet will certainly improve your overall well-being and probably improve your psoriasis to a degree," Boh says.
Note triggers. For some, psoriasis flares up after an infection, such as strep throat. For others, prescription or over-the-counter medications can trigger it. "If you have allergies, that can activate your immune system and cause psoriasis to be worse," Boh says. "It's important to recognize what makes your psoriasis worse, so obviously you can then try to avoid it."
But don't blame yourself if you follow these tips and you still have flare-ups, she says. "Psoriasis is a very frustrating disease," she adds. "I don't ever tell people that if you change what you eat, exercise, [and] reduce all stress, your psoriasis goes away. It's just not true."
But healthy lifestyle changes may make a difference, or at least make psoriasis easier to live with, she says.
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