By Elizabeth Hartland

Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious skin condition affecting around 2% of the UK population. This condition may develop at any time although the average age of onset is 28 with slightly more women than men being affected.

It appears that some people are born with the potential to develop psoriasis, however, whether they suffer or not depends on trigger factors such as an infection (measles, strep throat etc), skin injury, vaccinations or certain medication.

Once this tendency has been triggered, patients suffer symptoms at intervals throughout their lives with times when their skin will be clear and times when it may flare up.

Its most common form, affecting at least 90% of sufferers, is plaque psoriasis. The areas most likely to be affected are the scalp, knees, and elbows; however, the condition can also appear on the backs or the palms of the hands, arms and legs, chest, abdomen, groin, beneath the breast and the soles of the feet. The sharply bordered red patches, covered with overlapping scales can sometimes be painful or itchy, but for many sufferers the main problem, though nonetheless significant, is cosmetic.

What are the causes?

Whilst the exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, it is thought that it may be an auto-immune disorder. The condition is, also, thought to be connected to a liver overload caused by anything from an unhealthy diet or overgrowth of candida to exposure to environmental pollutants. Such an overload could force the body to expel its toxins via the skin, leading to psoriasis plaques.

The condition is caused by a pile-up of skin cells that replicate too quickly. In normal skin, the outermost layer of dead cells is constantly being rubbed off. New cells are constantly being formed in the deeper layers of skin and they slowly work their way to the surface, all the time developing into fully formed skin cells. This usually takes around three to four weeks.

Normal skin can also replicate itself more quickly, for example, when healing a cut or graze. In this situation the cells are produced at a much faster rate and there is an increased blood supply to the affected area.

In psoriasis, normal cell growth is speeded up, almost as if the cells act to heal a wound when there isn’t one. The whole process can take as little as two to four days and, as a result, the cells which come to the surface are not formed properly, hence the scaly appearance.

Around one in 10 people with psoriasis will also suffer from joint problems, a condition known as psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms include discomfort, stiffness, pain and swelling in one or more joints.

Orthodox treatment options

Orthodox medicine uses steroid creams and lotions. Coal tar preparations and ointments to remove the scales are also widely used.

Complementary measures

Preferentially, it is best to treat the condition holistically. There are a number of factors that appear to be responsible for psoriasis: poor protein digestion, excessive consumption of animal fats, alcohol consumption, impaired liver function, bowel toxaemia, candida albicans overgrowth, sub optimum nutrition and stress. Consulting with a nutritionist is often the best way to identify and address these factors.

Dietary and lifestyle recommendations

• A mainly vegetarian diet, with the exception of cold-water fish, consisting of organic, fresh fruits and vegetables (especially those high in vitamin C such as carrots, tomatoes and green vegetables), beans, lentils, seeds and nuts (high in vitamin E) and whole grains is a useful aid in overcoming psoriasis.

• Oily cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut) is an excellent source of protein for psoriasis sufferers. These fish are rich in essential fatty acids that have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on psoriasis. These essential fats also contribute to healthy skin, hair and nails.

• Explore the relationship between your psoriasis and food or/and environmental sensitivities. Avoidance of the gluten-containing grains (oats, rye, barley and wheat) and dairy products are of particular significance. Consulting a qualified nutritionist would be the most appropriate way to proceed through a dietary elimination programme.

• Relax and chew food well.

• Drink plenty of filtered or bottled water.

• Avoidance of refined carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol, animal fats, salt, processed and convenience foods is also a priority.

• Stress is often a trigger for the onset of psoriasis. Because stress has to do with our own internalisation of an event, even a mild stressful situation can trigger psoriasis. Learning stress modification techniques can change your attitudes about stressful situations, allowing you to be less affected by them when they occur. Yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing exercises and meditation are all useful relaxation techniques.

• Relax in a warm bath, adding essential oils such as lavender and camomile, which have been shown to have antiseptic properties. Adding Dead Sea Salts to the bath water, rich in magnesium, potassium and bromine, have also been found to be very effective in reducing symptoms.

• Stop smoking.

• Sunlight is often helpful. Sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, which has been shown to be an effective treatment for psoriasis. Some forms of psoriasis, however, can be exacerbated by exposure to sun, so go gently. One of the most popular sites for this type of treatment is the Dead Sea in Israel where the combination of sunshine, mudpacks and bathing in the mineral-rich waters helps many sufferers. Doctors often take this treatment one step further by using regulated exposure to ultra violet (UV) lamps.

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Elizabeth Hartland has a Bachelor of Science Degree in nutrition, together with a Diploma from the Institute of Nutritional Therapy. She is married with two young children and has a passion for good nutrition and helping others to find better health. 282 427 652