Anne Jeffres, 41, an acupuncturist in New York, was in the midst of a stressful time at work when she noticed her scalp flaking. Her fingers became sore. 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 passed down in families, says Erin Boh, MD, PhD. She's a 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 it? Exercise can help, she says. Or try relaxation exercises or meditation. Jeffres practices yoga and meditation, and she also switched jobs.
Reach Out.About 25% of people with psoriasis have depression, the National Psoriasis Foundation reports. Let your doctor know if you're feeling down. You can also join a support group. "Support groups allow you to talk with other people who have the disease and see how they cope," Boh says.
Think Colorful.Eat healthy, such as brightly colored vegetables, and cut down on meat and fatty foods, Boh says. Though there are few data to show certain foods can make flares better or worse, if you have the disorder, you may be at greater risk of other health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
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"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 it easier to live with, she says.