Understanding Psoriasis -- Treatment
Oral Drugs for Psoriasis
When other treatments fail, some doctors prescribe oral drugs to treat psoriasis. Some of these medications affect the immune system. One such medication, methotrexate (also used as a chemotherapy drug for cancer and for various forms of arthritis), can produce dramatic clearing of the psoriasis lesions. However, it can cause side effects, so the prescribing doctor should perform regular blood tests. Another medication of this type is cyclosporine.
Oral retinoids, compounds with vitamin-A-like properties, can be mildly helpful to people with severe psoriasis. Women of childbearing age need to use birth control with this medication and for three years afterwards, because it is associated with increased risk for birth defects.
Newer treatments for people with severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are now available. Several "biologic" drugs, which are made from human or animal proteins, focus on controlling the body's immune response. These drugs are quite effective but are extremely expensive and include etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira) and ustekinumab (Stelara).
Natural Psoriasis Treatments
If medications fail to relieve the symptoms of psoriasis or cause unwanted side effects, people may try natural remedies, such as herbs and vitamins, for relief. Some people with psoriasis find natural sunlight and ocean water helpful. Some seaside resorts offer special programs for people with psoriasis.
If you are considering natural remedies for psoriasis, here's what you should know about some of the more commonly used remedies:
Aloe vera. Preliminary research suggests that topical cream from the aloe vera plant may improve symptoms of psoriasis. One study showed that topical aloe vera was more effective than placebo. This product is of only minimal benefit, at best.
Fish oil. Fish oil may be helpful for psoriasis when taken orally. Research has suggested that taking daily oral fish oil supplements containing 1.8 to 3.6 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) may bring some improvement.
Dead Sea salts. Bath solutions, such as Dead Sea salts, oil, oilated oatmeal, or Epsom salts can help psoriasis by removing scales and easing itching. To try Dead Sea salts and other bath solutions, mix them in the bath as directed, then soak in the tub for about 15 minutes. As soon as you get out of the tub, apply a moisturizer to the skin. Don't expect a lot of improvement, however.
Cayenne. Cayenne peppers have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Capsaicin, the ingredient in peppers that gives them their heat, is also the active ingredient in many pain-relieving gels and creams. In one study, applying capsaicin cream to the skin relieved itching and skin lesions in people with psoriasis. Capsaicin can cause a burning sensation to the skin, which improves the longer you use it. It's important to wash your hands immediately after rubbing in capsaicin and not touch your eyes or mouth while you have capsaicin on your hands.