Healing Psoriasis Naturally by Identifying Triggers
Last updated: October 2018
Healing psoriasis naturally has been my goal for the last 19 years. I have been self-experimenting with various strategies since the age of 17. Some of these strategies were random and misinformed (rubbing my arms with banana skin), and some were under the guidance of a professional such as my nine-month experiment with acupuncture.
There are a few strategies that really did work, and if you are interested I can write about that in the coming weeks; this article is more generally about you, because as you are probably aware by now if you have had psoriasis for more than five minutes, what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another.
Here are the most common triggers for psoriasis. You will know some of them if not all, but if you read a bit deeper, you may be surprised. I was surprised during my research for example, at the number of different prescription drugs that are linked to the worsening of psoriasis. I never thought to discuss my psoriasis when I asked for antimalarials.
So what are the most common triggers and what can we do about them?
Cold and dry weather
A lot of us experience worsening of symptoms as we move into the colder months. I experience drier patches that are more likely to crack, particularly around my ears. This is why it is so important to maintain the skin barrier. The best way to do this is with effective moisturizing. I prefer making my own body butter because argon oil for me is a savior but is incredibly expensive. I mix argon oil with mango butter, cocoa butter and a few drops of carrot seed oil and this formulation seems to work wonders for me. I find oil-based products seal in the moisture from my shower most effectively, but then I have dry skin even when it is healthy. A lot of people online have success with coconut oil and that is a simple solution too- you can use the same coconut oil you buy for cooking as long as you make sure you don't buy a blend that has been mixed with cheaper oil. If you are purchasing the moisturizer, then make sure you don't have chemicals in there that will irritate your skin, things like ‘parfum’ which is the benign-sounding name for chemicals to give the product scent. Which chemicals you ask? Well yes, it would be nice to know, wouldn't it? A humidifier might also be an option for you if you find central heating is drying you out or if it is safe to do, you can add a few jars of water above your radiators to see if that helps.
Yes, that old classic. It is self-explanatory so I will talk in more realistic terms. Mindfulness is excellent, but sometimes the thought of doing it is stressful in itself. If the thought of trying to fit in mindfulness feels overwhelming, then remember this: everyday actions can be relaxing. Taking the time to apply your face cream in the morning can be mindful if you can do it before the kids find you. Simply engaging fully, feeling the texture of the cream, taking the time to acknowledge the smell and feel the warmth of your fingers as you apply the cream to your face. It sounds a bit hippy I know but just try it. Its only 3 minutes, something you were doing anyway but just being present in that moment to just be you is incredibly relaxing. Are there other things like this you could do in your day? Could you lock yourself into the toilet cubicle at work and spend a few minutes enjoying the smell and the glorious feeling of a square of chocolate melting in your mouth (instead of eating the whole thing at your computer without realizing it). Yoga, of course, is excellent for this too- and there is an increasing number of practitioners specializing in Yoga for arthritis, just call your local class and see what they can offer you. Changing jobs might seem a bit extreme- it took me three years from initial conception to actually leaving, but I do not regret that decision at all. It is an option- even if you don't want to admit it. So is a cleaner, housekeeper, nanny and personal trainer. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way.
I do love a glass of red wine. Alcohol is not great for psoriasis because it does add inflammation to our already inflamed bodies and can contain histamine, which depending on how many other histamines containing products you consume in that day can lead to a surplus, which can be a trigger for itching. If you have taken an antihistamine because you are itching and found the itching subsides…this applies to you especially. I do drink red wine relatively frequently because it helps me to reduce stress which in my mind is worse but its a balancing ask of risks, and they are unique to you. I interviewed Joe Temple last week for The Psoriasis Podcast as he swears by abstinence to alcohol as being critical to his clearing from 40% to 1% psoriasis coverage.1
Food intolerance and allergy
This is an area that is highly individual. There are lots of diets out there that cut out the most common foods that irritate those of us with psoriasis, and they can be highly effective, but for the most part they essentially do three things; increase your nutrient intake by making you eat (or drink) more fruits and vegetables, remove foods that commonly cause intolerance reactions which are inflammatory (nightshades, dairy, and gluten) and heal the gut (consuming less meat, slippery elm powder, probiotic foods, and supplements). There is no psoriasis diet prescribed by your dermatologist because we do not all have intolerances to the same foods (or intolerance at all). Food intolerances are highly specific and for a number of them, once the gut has healed and the immune response to that food has subsided, some foods can be reintroduced (this happened to me with nuts). True food allergies are rare and can be tested for by your doctor if you think you have a food allergy several tests can be done to confirm this. My food intolerances are dairy, gluten, and nightshades although after talking to a nutritionist last week I am going to experiment more as a reaction to tomatoes and potatoes does not necessarily mean a reaction to the whole nightshade family so I may be unnecessarily restricting my diet.2
I mentioned earlier that I was surprised to read that prescription medications could trigger psoriasis, this is because in my 30 years as a psoriatic no one had ever discussed this with me. Now if you see a drug you are taking on this list, do not stop taking it. There can be severe and disastrous consequences if you suddenly stop taking your medications, make an appointment with your doctor and talk it through with them, there are usually several other medications you can transition onto, do not panic! Some of the drugs that have been linked to a worsening of psoriasis symptoms in some people; Lithium based drugs such as those used for bipolar disorder, some malarial drugs and some beta blockers such as Inderal (this drug was found to worsen psoriasis in 25-30% of patients) have been implicated, as well as the arthritis drug Indomethacin but more so if the drug is not used correctly.3 It is also essential to check the ingredients list if you have allergies because sometimes products contain egg, dairy or gluten amongst the other non-pharmaceutical ingredients needed to make the tablet or drug capsule.
Trauma to skin
This is a trigger my parents have been forever grateful for, seriously. I would have had several tattoos by now if it did not exist and my parents are vehemently against such an idea. This does not affect everyone with psoriasis, I have read a study that puts it at around 30%, but I can’t find it anywhere so I will get back to you on that one. Essentially this is something known as the Koebner effect, and you have this if you find you get psoriasis where you have skin damage. I have lots more small patches on my legs, which are more prevalent in the areas I shave for example. If I get nervous and repeatedly scratch the same area, I will eventually get psoriasis there. This is the Koebner effect in action. Do you get psoriasis in areas of your body prone to damage? If you do then look at ways to reduce the trauma. This is my excuse for wearing elastic waistbands on my shorts and latex gloves when I use cleaning products and other chemicals, for you, it may be wearing long sleeves to protect your arms when your gardening.
Reduce infections (or their impact)
This obviously is difficult, especially if you have children who inherently breed infections, but there are three things you can do to help yourself.
Eat a healthful diet that works for your body and get enough sleep. You are less likely to get an infection if you look after yourself. Giving your body the ingredients it needs to make infection-fighting products and the rest your body needs to keep itself maintained is going to improve your resilience to infection. I know this sounds droll, but consider this: If you had a machine that printed money in your garage, would you leave it on for days on end until it broke? Or would you run it every day and then at night let it cool down, make sure it has enough oil, enough paper, good quality fuel, all of the things it needs to keep working effectively? Yes, of course, you would, and yes- you are the money printing machine. Look after yourself, you are important.
If you find yourself getting ill, slow down immediately. I love Day Nurse as much as the next person, but caffeinated cold and flu medication is just ignoring the body's scream for rest. Short term it might need to happen (being alert enough to watch a toddler for example) but longer term, so you can go to work and do another 12 hour shift, is not what you should be doing. This is going to sound like tough love, but someone can cover for you, and unless someone is going to die, it is not the end of the world. Remember the money printer?
If you suspect you have tonsillitis, go to the doctor and get antibiotics. If you catch it earlier, in my experience it makes a massive difference to the severity of the subsequent flare. The worst thing that is going to happen is they say no, it could save your sanity if they say yes.
Sometimes changes do not have an obvious explanation. When I eat sandwiches, I feel tired and lethargic, and I noticed I instinctively eat them with caffeinated tea to compensate. I have no idea why, but my body is telling me that this food is not giving energy but taking away instead which is not what food should do. My recommendation to you is to listen and look for patterns, you might find that a few simple changes in your everyday life help to improve your psoriasis more than you could have imagined.
Does your psoriasis management change with the seasons?