What Is It?
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease which produces thickened, inflamed skin covered with silvery scales. This occurs because the cells of the epidermis, or the outer skin layer, are shed at a much faster rate than normal skin. Normally, skin is regenerated once a month. In people with psoriasis, the skin regenerates every three to four days. This increase occurs along with inflammation, resulting in the formation of thick, scaly, inflamed skin.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease. This means that the body attacks its own cells in an overactive immune response. In psoriasis, an excess amount of T cells are found in affected skin. T cells are white blood cells which travel throughout the body in search of foreign invaders like bacteria or viruses. In psoriasis, however, the T cells attack healthy skin cells. This activates other related immune responses which trigger the rapid regeneration of skin seen in psoriasis.
Psoriasis is now considered to be more than just a skin disorder. The fact that it shares similar characteristics with other inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes, depression and cancer highlights the importance of looking at the underlying factors, and not just what is happening to the skin.
There are many types of psoriasis. These include:
• Plaque psoriasis (psoriasis vulgaris) – the most common form
• Nail psoriasis – affects fingernails and toenails
• Scalp psoriasis – affects the scalp
• Guttate psoriasis – triggered by a bacterial infection
• Inverse psoriasis – affects armpits, groin, skin folds and genitals
• Pustular psoriasis – involved pus-filled blisters
• Erythrodermic psoriasis – covers entire body
• Psoriatic arthritis – psoriasis that occurs in conjunction with painful joints
What Causes It?
The precise cause of psoriasis is unknown, but some factors which play a role in the development or progression of psoriasis include: (read more)
• Gluten sensitivity
• Poor digestion
• Bowel toxins
• Leaky gut
• Liver dysfunction
• Heavy alcohol consumption
• Certain medications
• Family history (genetics)
A bacterial or viral infection may trigger a psoriasis flare up, especially in children. In people with guttate psoriasis, a strep infection usually precedes the onset. Interestingly, certain pathogenic bacteria are found on the skin of psoriasis patients, and when treated with antibiotics, the psoriasis has been shown to subside in most of these patients.
Pathogenic organisms that have been associated with psoriasis include:
• Candida albicans
• Malassezia ovalis (also found in seborrheic eczema)
• Bacillus cereus
Gluten sensitivity may also play a role in the development of psoriasis. A high prevalence of gluten sensitivity has been found in people with psoriasis. In these individuals, a gluten-free diet was found to decrease psoriasis flare ups. Gluten sensitivity has been associated with many other diseases, which illustrates the far-reaching negative effects of a condition that begins in the gut.
Poor digestion or, specifically, poor protein digestion, may contribute to the development of psoriasis. When proteins are not broken down and absorbed properly, they remain in the digestive tract and are, instead, broken down by bacteria in the bowel. The breakdown products, or polyamines, have been found to be increased in psoriasis patients. Psoriasis has also been shown to improve when polyamine levels are decreased.
In addition to polyamine toxins, other gut toxins, such as bacterial toxins and Candida toxins, can influence the rapid regeneration of skin cells that is seen in psoriasis. This is yet one more gut-skin connection. A low-fiber diet contributes to the buildup of these toxins. Fiber binds toxins, and helps move them out of the bowel before they have a chance to cause harm. Toxins can also contribute to gut inflammation, which has been found in people with psoriatic arthritis.
The bowel toxins mentioned above create a toxic environment in the bowel which can create a condition called leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability. Leaky gut is due to inflammation of the intestinal lining which allows for the passage of larger than normal particles through the intestine. When this occurs, toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to the liver where they are then detoxified. The toxins are easily absorbed through a leaky gut. Leaky gut has been found to be more prevalent in people with psoriasis than in healthy individuals. If the liver is overburdened, many of these toxins will go directly into the body’s circulation and cause exaggerated immune responses, particularly in genetically susceptible people.
Optimal liver detoxification is increasingly difficult in today’s world where chemicals are virtually impossible to avoid. Some naturopathic doctors view psoriasis as the result of the body releasing toxins through the skin because of this overexposure to toxins and the inability of the liver to detoxify them.
It is interesting that heavy alcohol consumption, which imposes a large burden on the liver, is known to be associated with psoriasis. This further illustrates the important role that liver detoxification plays in maintaining health. Similarly, smoking is also linked to psoriasis. This may be due to the increased toxic burden placed on the body by the many chemicals in cigarette smoke.
Stress also contributes to psoriasis. Not only does stress increase itching and worsening of psoriasis, but the psoriasis itself increases stress because of how it affects appearance and one’s self-perception. This can create a vicious cycle that makes healing difficult.
Some medications can trigger a psoriasis reaction. Beta blockers, lithium, antimalarial drugs, ACE inhibitors and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can all activate or worsen psoriasis.
Genetics also plays a role in psoriasis in combination with the environmental factors. About 40 percent of people with psoriasis have a family member with the disorder.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Psoriasis most commonly develops on the scalp, elbows, knees, the small of the back and the lower legs, but it may develop anywhere on the skin. Symptoms vary and usually occur in cycles of flare ups, which subside and may even be eliminated for a period of time. In most people, it affects a limited area of skin, but in some it affects large areas of the skin of the trunk and extremities. (read more)
Symptoms of psoriasis include:
• Red, inflamed skin covered by silvery scales
• Dry, cracked skin
• Thickened, crumbling nails
• Swollen and stiffened joints
Brenda’s Better Way
In my experience, I have found that people with psoriasis are dealing with a toxic liver. The liver becomes overburdened when it receives more toxins that it can process. This may occur from an increased exposure to toxins, gut imbalance, or often, both.
For people with psoriasis, I recommend a long-term detoxification program, cleaning up the diet (which includes avoiding alcohol), and reducing toxin exposure.
Gluten sensitivity may be an underlying factor in people with psoriasis. This is because gluten sensitivity can lead to increased autoimmunity in other areas of the body, which is precisely what psoriasis is—an autoimmune response. Gluten sensitivity should definitely be ruled out if you have psoriasis.
This condition involves a comprehensive healing approach that will require a high level of commitment. How far the person is willing to go to change their health will determine how well their psoriasis is managed. The following recommendations encompass a whole-body approach for people with psoriasis.
• Candida overgrowth
• Gluten sensitivity
• Intestinal permeability test
• If Candida overgrowth or gluten sensitivity are issues, follow the Get Lean Phase of the Skinny Gut Diet Eating Plan until the skin clears up. Then follow the Stay Lean Phase for maintaining skin health.
• If none of these are an issue, still follow the Stay Lean Phase of the Skinny Gut Diet Eating Plan, which will help to minimize gut irritants and promote a healthy internal environment.
• Other foods that may need to be avoided include citrus, saturated fats, trans fats and refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, white rice).
• Alcohol should be avoided.
• Avoid cosmetics that contain harsh ingredients that may irritate the skin.
Complementary Mind/Body Therapies
• Colon hydrotherapy is helpful for to aid detoxification.
• Stress can be a major component of this disease, so find ways to reduce it with therapies such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, massage, biofeedback, or music therapy.
• Acupuncture and hypnosis may be helpful for people with psoriasis.