Psoriasis: Causes, Symptoms & Natural Support Strategies
Having smooth and glowing skin can be a real confidence booster. However, having dry, scaly patches from psoriasis may have the opposite effect along with uncomfortable symptoms.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin condition characterized by rapid skin cells build up on the surface of the skin leading to thick, red, scaly skin patches, itching, and sometimes pain. While conventional treatment for psoriasis may include topical corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory medication, and moisturizers to treat the symptoms, there may be a better way to go about it. Once you understand the underlying causes of psoriasis, you may improve your psoriasis naturally and say good-bye to flares and patchy skin (1).
In this article, I will discuss what psoriasis is and what are its symptoms. You will learn more about the gut-skin connection and the most common causes of psoriasis. I will share some powerful yet simple natural support strategies to create healthy skin and improve your overall health.
What Is Psoriasis
Psoriasis (suh-rye-ah-sis) is a common skin condition that 8 million Americans and 125 million people experience worldwide. Psoriasis speeds up the life cycle on skin cells causing the body to create new skin cells within days instead of weeks.
This results in rapid skin cells build up on the surface of the skin leading to thick, red, scaly patches of skin, dryness, itching, and sometimes pain. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition. In most cases, it comes and goes. People with psoriasis may experience periods of flares and periods of remission (2, 3, 4, 5).
Before discussing the symptoms of psoriasis, you have to understand that there are a variety of forms of psoriasis that differ in symptoms and characteristics.
- Plaque psoriasis: This is the most common form of psoriasis characterized by red, raised inflamed skin with white scales and plaques that may become itchy or burning. This form may occur anywhere on the body.
- Nail psoriasis: This form of psoriasis affects the finger- and toenails causing pitting, discoloration, abnormal nail growth, separation, crumbling, or looseness of nails.
- Guttate psoriasis: This form of psoriasis mainly affects children and young adults, often triggered by strep throat, leading to small, water-drop shaped, scaling lesions that may appear on the arms, legs, trunk, or scalp. It may appear as a single outbreak or may reoccur.
- Inverse psoriasis: This form of psoriasis occurs around the armpits, groin region, under the breast, and around the genitals, and is characterized by red, inflamed skin and worsen by sweating or friction.
- Pustular psoriasis: This form of psoriasis is rather uncommon. It’s characterized by widespread patches and blisters on the hands, fingertips, and feet.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis: This is the least common type of psoriasis characterized by red, peeling, itchy, and burning rash covering the entire body.
- Psoriatic arthritis: In addition to inflamed, scaly skin, many people with arthritis develop psoriatic arthritis characterized by swollen and painful joints.
The symptoms of psoriasis may depend on person to person and based on the type of psoriasis they have. The most common type of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis.
Symptoms of Plaque Psoriasis Include:
- Red, raised, inflamed, scaly patches of skin
- Dry skin that may also crack and bleed
- Whitish-silver dry plaques of scales on the red inflamed patches
- Itching around the patches
- Burning around the patches
- Soreness or pain around the patches
- Thick and pitted nails
- Painful and swollen joints
People with psoriasis may not experience all these symptoms or all at ones. Considering that psoriasis may go through cycles of flares and remission, there may be times that all symptoms clear up and other times when symptoms are severe (1, 2, 3).
Before understanding the main causes and possible solutions of psoriasis, you need to understand how the gut-skin connection plays a role. Your skin is a barrier that helps to prevent toxins and pathogens from entering and harming your body. Your gut allows your skin to function properly by creating a healthy environment for your entire body. When your gut and skin are both healthy and balanced, your body can also experience a more anti-inflammatory environment that is better at preventing and reducing various skin conditions (6).
According to research, there is a clear connection between gut problems and skin disorders, including psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, and acne. A 2008 study has found that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) was 10 times more prevalent in those with skin disorders. Another study found that adolescents with skin problems were more likely to also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as constipation, acid reflux, and bloating (7, 8).
Main Causes of Psoriasis
The exact causes of psoriasis are not fully clear. In some cases, genetics may play a role. However, lifestyle and dietary factors often trigger flares and may cause psoriasis.
Let’s look at the main causes of psoriasis, including chronic inflammation, gut infections, food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, and a high toxic load. Within these 5 things there are many factors at play that must be considered.
Since psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, your immune system may play a very important role in its development. Research has found a link between inflammatory gastrointestinal tract disorders and a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis, and acne.
Eating a diet high in inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar, refined oils, and processed foods may increase inflammation in your body and may trigger psoriasis (9).
As you’ve learned earlier, gastrointestinal issues have been linked to skin health issues. SIBO is one of the root causes of many gut health issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and leaky gut syndrome.
Such inflammatory conditions of the gut may further increase inflammation in the body leading to further health and skin issues, such as psoriasis. Research has also found that probiotic supplementation may improve skin conditions and reduce flakiness (9, 10, 11, 12).
Food Sensitivities and Psoriasis
Food sensitivities may increase the risk of inflammation, immune system issues, and skin disorders. Eating foods that your body is sensitive to may trigger psoriasis flare-ups.
To reduce your risk of psoriasis and flare-ups, it is important that you identify your food sensitivities and triggers, and eliminate them from your diet. The most common food triggers and sensitivities include gluten, sugar, spicy foods, cheese, dairy, nightshades, red meat, citrus, and junk food (13, 14, 15).
Eating a diet low in nutrients may lead to nutrient deficiencies. Nutrient deficiencies may lead to inflammation and a variety of health issues in the body, including skin conditions, such as psoriasis. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for healthy skin function.
They may reduce inflammation, dry skin, and skin issues. Research has also connected zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin A deficiency to psoriasis in particular (16, 17, 18). Zinc and copper have a close relationship where raising levels of one of these will lower the levels of the other. There is a correlation between high serum copper and low zinc in individuals with psoriasis (19).
High Toxin Load
Your skin is your largest detoxification organ. However, experiencing a high toxic load can overload and overwhelm your skin. Under a high toxin load, your skin may start to struggle to eliminate toxins effectively.
When other detoxifying organs, such as your liver and kidneys, struggle, it may put an extra burden on your skin as well. High toxicity may lead to inflammation and a compromised immune system that can trigger the development of psoriasis and flare-ups.
Natural Skin & Immune Support Strategies
Now that you understand the causes of psoriasis, it’s time to look at some natural things you can do. While these aren’t FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure Psoriasis they can be very helpful for your skin and immune health.
Each individual with psoriasis has their own unique triggers and one of these strategies may seem to make a bigger difference than another. The key is to put together a healing plan and follow it for a long enough period of time for the body to reduce inflammation, heal and regenerate new healthier skin cells.
Anti-Inflammatory Autoimmune Diet
Eating an inflammatory diet is one of the main contributing factors to inflammation, including skin inflammation, and autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is extremely inflammatory and has high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), or glycotoxins that may lead to inflammation, oxidative stress, and tissue damage (20).
If you have psoriasis, it is critical that you follow an anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet. An anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet is an eating plan that’s free from foods that cause inflammation in your body and loaded with inflammation-fighting foods.
Remove all refined sugar and grains, gluten, refined oils, deep-fried and processed foods, grain-fed meat and eggs, conventional dairy, soda and sugary drinks, and foods that you are sensitive to. Eat a whole foods diet plan with lots of greens, veggies, low glycemic index foods, herbs, grass-fed meat, and wild-caught fish.
I recommend anti-inflammatory foods, such as avocados, lemon, turmeric, green tea, bone broth, herbs, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar among other anti-inflammatory autoimmune-friendly foods that you can learn about in this article.
Reduce Stress & Sleep Better
Up to 80 percent of people with psoriasis have reported high stress in their lives. We know that stress can overwhelm our bodies, and lead to inflammation and health issues. Research has found that chronic stress and high stress may be one of the main triggers and contributing factors for psoriasis. This is why it is so important that you reduce your stress levels to reduce your current symptoms and prevent flare-ups (21).
To reduce your stress levels, try meditation, breathwork, daily gratitude, prayer, journaling, yoga, regular exercise, relaxation tapes, and nature walks. Learn to shift your thoughts through positive self-talk, reframing your thoughts, and mindset shifts.
Poor sleep is another contributing factor to inflammation, skin problems, and psoriasis flare-ups. Your body needs regular good-quality sleep to rest and repair. Develop a regular relaxing nighttime routine that works for you. Turn off electronics and avoid sugar or caffeine close to bedtime. Engage in relaxing activities and sip on an herbal tea before turning off the lights.
Improve Gut Health & Digestion
As you’ve learned, your gut is connected to your entire body, including your skin. Poor gut health may lead to skin problems and inflammatory or autoimmune skin conditions, such as psoriasis. Eating an anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet is one of the main steps for improving your gut health and digestion, however, there is more you can do.
Identify your food sensitivities and eliminate foods that you are sensitive to or trigger your psoriasis symptoms from your diet. To learn about food sensitivity testing, read this article.
Get tested for and eliminate gut infections. To test for gut infections, I recommend the GI Map Stool Test. If you have any infections, you can use anti-microbial formulas that use herbs such as tribulus extract, berberine root, black walnut powder, barberry extract, and artemisinin from sweet wormwood, as well as magnesium caprylate to handle any bacterial, yeast, or parasitic overgrowth and support a healthy gastrointestinal microbial balance.
Support the Digestive System
Support your digestion with the help of some digestive enzymes which work to support the proper digestion of protein, carbohydrates and fat. These also enhance nutrient absorption, support the breakdown of polysaccharides, support pancreatic and brush border enzyme function, and help the breakdown of lactose.
Help your body to rebuild your microbiome with the help of gastric mucosa-supporting supplements. A great combination to soothe an irritated gut lining and reduce inflammation include the amino acid l-glutamine, along with aloe vera, arabinogalactan, quercetin, curcumin and licorice. This powerful combination helps to support gut and immune function and to reduce inflammation in the gut.
Lastly, make sure to take high-quality probiotics to support your healthy gut flora. There are four types of probiotics you may use:
- Food-based probiotics, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species
- Probiotic yeast, such as saccharomyces boulardii
- Soil-based (SBO) probiotics, bacillus spore forming strains
- Combination probiotics, lacto, bifido, S boulardii and bacillus strains
Not everyone deals with each of these probiotics the same. Depending on your body and health issues, one works better than others. If you have SIBO, for example, soil-based probiotics are the safest choice as certain other probiotics may trigger your symptoms.
Reduce Toxin Exposure
Since high toxicity may trigger psoriasis, reducing toxin exposure is essential for prevention and recovery. Make sure to eat organic foods as part of your anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet. Drink clean, purified water instead of regular tap or bottled water. Read this article about toxins in your water, potential solutions, and filtration systems I recommend and use myself.
Ditch conventional cleaning, body, and beauty products. Opt for organic and natural alternatives or make your own. Avoid air toxicity as much as possible. Spend time in nature, keep plants in your house, and make sure to have a good air filtration system at home. Avoid smoking, including second-hand smoke. Reduce emotional toxicity through gratitude, prayer, meditation, and positive mindset strategies.
Most of your body is made up of water, no wonder that hydration is essential for your overall health. Water is essential for detoxication and low inflammation levels. Remember, toxicity and inflammation are both contributing factors for psoriasis, hence good hydration may help to reduce your symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Start your day with a big glass of water. Add some lemon or apple cider vinegar for extra digestion and cleansing support. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of purified water a day, or more if you exercise a lot sick, or it’s hot outside. Additionally, drink green juices, smoothies, and herbal tea, and eat hydrating veggies and fruits.
Optimize Vitamin D Levels
As you’ve learned earlier, nutrient deficiencies may lead to psoriasis. Vitamin D is one of these nutrients. Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps to support your immune system, nervous system, brain, bones, teeth, lungs, and cardiovascular system. Even conventional dermatologists who are treating psoriasis understand the benefits of vitamin D and often prescribe vitamin D analogues (1, 18).
One of the best ways to improve your vitamin D levels is by spending time on the sun. However, since most of us spend most of our days indoors, a short 15 to 30-minute stint is not enough. In colder climates, the sun may not be out much for many months. To increase your vitamin D levels, I recommend eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as fatty fish, beef liver, and eggs, and supplementation with vitamin D.
This makes daily vitamin D3 supplementation essential for optimal vitamin D levels for many individuals. Pairing vitamin D3 with vitamin K2 helps improve calcium absorption and inflammation control. I recommend taking a vitamin D3 supplement with at least 3,000-5,000 IU’s of vitamin D3 and at least 90 mcg of vitamin K2.
Typically taking 1,000 IU per 25 lbs. of body weight will help you get your levels into a healthy range. You want to test your vitamin D levels at least 1-2 times each year and get your levels between 50-100 ng/ml. It has been hypothesized that a therapeutic level for serious health conditions is going to be between 70-100 ng/ml.
Use Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for reducing inflammation in your body and improving your overall health. Research has discovered that omega-3 fatty acids may help to improve psoriasis (17).
To reduce inflammation and improve skin health, I recommend that you eat lots of omega-3-rich foods, such as wild-caught fish, including sardines, salmon, anchovies, herring, and oysters, as well as hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts (22).
However, if your health is compromised, meeting your omega-3 needs may be difficult via diet alone, and you may benefit from supplementation. Plant based omega 3’s such as flax oil only contain the small chain omega 3 called ALA and do not have any DHA. It is very hard for our body to convert ALA into DHA so it is best to get a high quality fish or krill oil that is rich in EPA and DHA. You want to find a brand that is molecularly distilled to take out any heavy metals and other unwanted contaminants.
Optimize Zinc & Vitamin A Levels
When it comes to nutrient deficiencies and psoriasis, low zinc and vitamin A levels may contribute to your symptoms as well. Zinc is essential for your immune functions and metabolism. Vitamin A is important for your immune functions, skin and eye health, and bone health. Conventional psoriasis treatments may involved vitamin A derivatives (1, 19).
To improve your zinc levels, I recommend grass-fed meats, organ meats, such as liver, ghee, wild-caught fish and seafood, vegetables, and if tolerated, egg yolk. Additionally, to improve your vitamin A levels, I also recommend organ meats, such as liver, and certain vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and sweet red pepper. If needed, you may also supplement with 15-20 mg of a high quality form of zinc such as zinc glycinate (23, 24).
Use Resveratrol For Psoriasis
To further reduce inflammation and improve skin health taking resveratrol may be a fantastic idea. Resveratrol is a powerful polyphenol found in the skin of grapes, red wine and berries.
It is interesting that it is found in the skin of these berries and helps to protect them from sun exposure, radiation induced oxidative stress and pathogens. Unsurprisingly, research has also found that resveratrol may reduce skin inflammation, hence may be beneficial for those with psoriasis (25).
While not FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure psoriasis, I would still recommend supplementing with it. I will often put my psoriasis clients on a combination of resveratrol and quercetin. Quercetin is another powerful compound that according to research may also lower skin inflammation. This combination helps to reduce inflammation, supports mitochondrial function, and supports your overall health (26).
Consider Using Red Light and Near Infrared Therapy
To improve your skin health, consider using red light and near-infrared therapy. Research has shown promise for phototherapy in psoriasis treatment. Phototherapy is convenient and simple to use without the risk of major complications, however, results may depend on the type of laser or light therapy used.
According to a clinical review, due to the strong penetration and encouraging photobiomodulation, near-infrared (NIR) and visible red light with low energy show great potential for psoriasis treatment (27). It is important to note that red light and near infrared therapy are not currently FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure psoriasis and should not be confused as such.
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of red light and near infrared light therapy then read this article.
Consider Working with a Functional Health Coach
The functional nutrition and functional medicine approach looks at the body as a summation of systems rather than overly specific mechanisms. Hence a functional health coach is able to offer a truly holistic approach and support for your health. They can help to run and analyze specific labs, guide you with an anti-inflammatory autoimmune dietary plan, suggest beneficial supplements, and coach you along the way. Your coach is your guide, support, and personal cheerleader that helps to empower you to create the healthiest version of yourself.
If you want to work with a functional health coach, I recommend this article with tips on how to find a great coach. At my clinic, we offer long-distance functional health coaching programs. For further support with your skin health and other goals, just reach out and our fantastic coaches are here to support your journey.