What Are Complementary and Alternative Medicines and Therapies?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes dry, itchy, irritated, and scaly skin. Psoriasis symptoms can have a big impact on quality of life. Some people may consider complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) options along with traditional treatments for psoriasis.1,2

What are complementary and alternative medicine treatments?

CAM treatments are medical approaches that are not part of traditional Western medicine. But they often are used alongside traditional medicine. CAM is sometimes called complementary and integrative health (CIH).1,3

For some people, CAM approaches can increase quality of life, reduce stress, and reduce some types of pain. Many people are interested in trying these methods because they are easy to access and low cost.1,3

There are many different types of CAM treatments. Examples include:1,2

  • Yoga or meditation
  • Acupuncture and cupping
  • Herbal supplements
  • Dietary supplements

Acupuncture and cupping

Acupuncture began in ancient China. It involves inserting small needles at key parts of the body. Research has not yet proven that it is effective for psoriasis. However, some people experience relief when using acupuncture for psoriasis. If you want to try acupuncture, make sure to only go to a licensed provider.2,3

Cupping is similar to acupuncture. But instead of using needles, it uses glass suction cups at key places. This increases blood flow to that area. Research is divided on whether cupping can help psoriasis. Some studies suggest it might be helpful. But other studies show it can cause complications for the skin. More research is needed to investigate cupping as a psoriasis treatment.3

Yoga and meditation

Yoga and meditation both work to calm the body and mind. Meditation by itself is generally done while sitting still. Yoga combines meditation with movement, which gives the benefits of exercise.2-4

Both yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce stress, which is linked to psoriasis flares. Also, some studies have shown targeted meditation can make some treatments more effective.2-4

Herbal remedies

Some herbal remedies may help reduce psoriasis symptoms. But they can cause side effects. Do not take herbal supplements in larger doses than recommended. Some herbal remedies can interact with psoriasis medicines. Always talk with your healthcare provider before starting to use them.2-4

Herbal remedies for psoriasis include:2-4

  • Aloe vera – You can use gel from the aloe plant or creams that contain aloe on your skin. Aloe may help reduce redness and scaling.
  • Mahonia aquifolium – This is also called Oregon grape extract. It is an herb that may impact immune response. Topical mahonia products have been shown to help treat mild psoriasis. Look for products with 10 percent mahonia.
  • Capsaicin – This is the ingredient in peppers that makes them spicy. Capsaicin in creams can block nerve endings, which reduces pain transmission. It may also reduce redness and swelling. Capsaicin ointments may cause skin discomfort for some people.
  • Turmeric – Turmeric is a spice that is often studied for its effect on inflammation. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to help minimize psoriasis flares.

Dietary supplements or diet changes

For some people, there may be a link between diet and psoriasis symptoms. Dietary supplements help you get more of certain substances than you can get from diet alone. Substances that may help with psoriasis include:2-4

  • Fish oil – Some studies show fish oil can help with psoriasis symptoms. But note that it interacts with some blood-thinner medications.
  • Certain vitamins – Some vitamins, like A and D, have been shown to possibly help relieve psoriasis symptoms. Talk with your doctor before adding any vitamins to your health regimen.

Also, research suggests psoriasis may have similarities to celiac disease. In celiac disease, the immune system reacts to gluten. So, a gluten-free diet may help psoriasis symptoms. Although more research is needed.4

Things to know about complementary and alternative medicine

Research into CAM approaches is often in the early stages. This means that there needs to be more scientific evidence to determine effectiveness. Also, interactions between CAM methods and prescription and over-the-counter drugs are not always clear.1-3

Keep in mind, too, that supplements are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way other drugs are. This means that no outside agency confirms the ingredients or suggested dose.5

Supplements may contain more or less of an ingredient than is listed on the label. A supplement may also contain ingredients that are not labeled correctly or at all. This can be dangerous. It can lead to taking too much or taking unwanted ingredients.5

Before beginning treatment for psoriasis, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs. Some CAM treatments may not be safe for you, especially if you are pregnant, are breastfeeding, or have other health conditions.1-3

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