“I have a terrible case of psoriasis,” writes this week’s House Call.
“My doctor is recommending these horrible immune-suppressing drugs and steroids that cause cancer and other problems. What can I do other than to take these drugs?”
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease of the skin that affects over three percent of the U.S. population (that’s about five million adults), and typically involves scaling and inflammation.
In this article we’ll take a look what causes psoriasis and go over 8 ways to heal yourself…
Most often, psoriasis results in patches of thick, red (inflamed) skin covered with silvery scales. These patches, sometimes called plaques, usually itch or feel sore. They most often occur on the elbows, legs, scalp, lower back, face, palms and soles of the feet, but they can occur anywhere on the body.
The disease may also affect the fingernails, toenails, soft tissues of the genitals and inside the mouth. Often the skin around affected joints starts to crack. Some people with psoriasis experience joint inflammation that produces symptoms of arthritis, called psoriatic arthritis.
Altogether, it makes for an absolutely miserable experience.
I’ve been a doctor for 30 years and have practiced Functional Medicine for 20 of those years. I’ve witnessed the heartbreak of psoriasis with its scaly, itchy, inflamed, peeling skin that leads to arthritis and joint pain for some people.
During the first 10 years of my practice, before I incorporated Functional Medicine, I struggled with how to treat this devastating condition. Everything I attempted felt invasive or didn’t work. I gave steroids and other creams. Today, conventional medicine’s approach to psoriasis is even worse. Doctors use alpha blockers that cause cancer, suppress the immune system and trigger infections. Oh, and they cost about $30,000 a year.
The problem with current medical thinking is that it treats diseases individually, requiring specific diagnoses and labels like “you have psoriasis.” And then you get the cream, the steroids and other short-term solutions. But what if you didn’t have to treat diseases specifically or even need to know their names? What if we could take a bigger-picture approach to psoriasis and other problems?
Fortunately, Functional Medicine provides this exact approach. I quickly learned that once I cleaned up a patient’s diet and addressed gut, hormonal and other imbalances, their skin problems would clear up. Functional Medicine is a hidden movement sweeping across the globe, based on a different method of diagnosing and treating disease. It focuses on causes not symptoms, based on an understanding of the dynamic way our genes interact with our environment, rather than simply treating diseases based on their labels.
This approach becomes a fundamentally different way of solving medical problems, one that allows us to decipher the origins of illness and identify the disturbances in biology that lead to symptoms.
So how does that apply to psoriasis?
Well, let me tell you about two patients.
I’ll never forget a four-year-old girl who once arrived in my office with psoriasis from head to toe. She had been suffering since the age of six months. She looked like a red, swollen, inflamed mess.
This poor girl was on immune-suppressing drugs to address her numerous symptoms and ended up in the hospital from a MRSA (staph) infection. Doctors had kept her on antibiotics for a month. While in my office, this little girl had to use the bathroom. You can imagine my horror when I heard her scream when she urinated because her genitals were inflamed with psoriasis, as well. Just when I thought her suffering couldn’t be any worse…my heart broke for her.
Rather than utilize invasive, potentially harmful creams and other drugs (which clearly weren’t working anyway), I applied the Functional Medicine approach with this girl. I looked at her brief but exhaustive health history. She was born by C-section. She had leaky gut and abnormal gut flora because of a long history of taking antibiotics and steroids that created a yeast overgrowth.
My solution was simple but powerfully effective:
Remove the bad and add the good.
We eliminated trigger foods like gluten. We cleaned up the bad yeast with an antifungal. We incorporated anti-inflammatories, healthy fats and supplements like probiotics, vitamin D, vitamin A and zinc to heal her skin. I trusted she would get better even though she was the worst case I had ever seen.
Two weeks later, this little girl’s father called. “Dr. Hyman,” he said, “my daughter’s skin has completely cleared.” My broken heart healed a little bit that day.
Now, let’s look at a patient on the other end of the spectrum. I took this same approach with a 56-year-old doctor who came to see me with psoriatic arthritis. Despite loving his work, he was about to quit his job as a surgeon in a Massachusetts hospital because he was tired, overweight and could no longer operate due to the joint pain . I told him we needed to fix his gut with an elimination diet, get rid of the parasites, and introduce the right nutrients.
Six weeks later, my patient was off his immune suppressive drugs and a long list of other drugs. He had no symptoms. His digestive symptoms went away, his skin cleared up, he lost weight, and he could return to work.
While tempting to label these two patients’ transformations as miracles, they weren’t. Rather, they highlighted the power of Functional Medicine.
Heal Psoriasis with these Strategies
While psoriasis often becomes linked with gluten intolerances, that isn’t always the case. The three biggest culprits are:
- Gluten sensitivities
- Yeast overgrowth in the gut
- Heavy metals exposure
To address psoriasis, I remove these obstacles while restoring the body’s natural balance. It really becomes that simple. Take away the things that cause the problem and add those that ameliorate it.
Eight strategies to heal
With that approach, I’ve found these eight strategies can naturally heal psoriasis without steroids, creams and other invasive procedures.
- Eat a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods including wild fish and other sources of omega-3 fats, red and purple berries (rich in polyphenols), dark green leafy vegetables, orange sweet potatoes and nuts. Add anti-inflammatory herbs, including turmeric (a source of anti-inflammatory curcumin), ginger and rosemary to your daily diet. Eliminate inflammatory foods such as refined, omega-6 and inflammatory oils – including: corn, soy and safflower oils.
- Remove food sensitivities. These include gluten and dairy.
- Test for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals trigger or exacerbate psoriasis.
- Fix your gut. Your gut plays a significant role in skin health. One study found intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) can contribute to psoriasis. Yeast overgrowth, abnormal gut flora and other gut issues can also trigger or exacerbate psoriasis. If you suspect these or other issues, work with an integrative practitioner to optimize your gut health. I often use prescription or herbal antifungals to treat the yeast.
- Use the right supplements. Nutrients like fish oil, vitamin D and probiotics can help eliminate psoriasis. Also consider anti-inflammatory nutrients like quercetin, grape seed extract and rutin.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. One study found increased physical exercise along with dietary intervention reduced psoriasis severity in systemically treated overweight or obese patients with active psoriasis. You don’t have to go to the gym, run on a treadmill and pump iron to stay in shape. Just start moving around more. Go for walks with your friends or family. Go out and do some gardening. Play Frisbee in the park with your kids. Pick up a tennis racket and just knock a tennis ball around. Anything you can do to get out and move your body can be considered exercise. So don’t think that you absolutely have to go to the gym to get fit. Just use your body more.
- Practice deep relaxation. Studies show chronic stress can influence the development and exacerbation of psoriasis. The proportion of psoriasis patients who believe stress affects their skin condition ranges from 37 to 78 percent, and researchers believe stress may worsen psoriasis severity and may even lengthen the time to disease clearance. Calming techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, massage can reduce stress and anxiety to promote relaxation.
- Sleep for 8 hours every night. Studies show patients with psoriasis suffer from more sleep disturbances.