What Are Complementary and Alternative Medicines and Therapies?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2022. | Last updated: March 2023
Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune condition, causes symptoms to develop on the skin as a result of inflammation in the body. The inflammation triggers the production of new skin cells at too quick of a rate, which pushes the older skin cells to the surface layer of the skin before they are ready to be shed. The skin cells build up on the surface of the skin in the form of plaques. Plaques are patches of red, raised, scaly skin that can be itchy and painful.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is the Federal Government's lead agency for scientific research on complementary and integrative health approaches and is part of the National Institutes of Health. According to the NCCIH, complementary approaches include mind-and-body approaches (meditation, yoga) and the range of “natural products” which include herbal medicines, botanicals, and probiotics. Complementary medicines are used along with traditional treatments. Alternative medicines are used in place of traditional treatments.
The range of complementary and alternative (CAM) approaches has been increasing in the U.S., and some research suggests that some of these therapies and practices can help people with chronic health conditions enhance their quality of life, reduce stress, and reduce certain types of pain. In many cases, research into these approaches is in early stages. This means that current scientific evidence is not usually sufficient to determine effectiveness, and their interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medications are not always clear.
What are some complementary approaches for Psoriasis?
The primary ways that people with psoriasis control their symptoms and manage their condition is through treatment with topical medicines, systemic medicines, and phototherapy. People with more severe psoriasis may need to use a combination of these types of treatments.
However, more people living with chronic conditions such as psoriasis are trying CAM therapies. CAM therapies are often used in addition to normally prescribed or over-the-counter psoriasis treatments, and most will not be effective in reducing symptoms of psoriasis in the long term.
Just like any medications you are taking, it is important to talk to your healthcare providers about any complementary or alternative health practices you are using or considering. This full picture of what you do to manage your health is important to ensure coordinated and safe care. Research has shown that the majority of patients do not discuss CAM with their healthcare providers8.
CAM therapies that are used by some people with psoriasis include:
- using acupuncture therapy
- yoga and guided biofeedback therapy
- using herbal remedies
- using dietary supplements
Before starting treatment with any type of CAM therapy, it is extremely important to talk with your healthcare provider. While most CAM therapies are safe, some of them can interact in dangerous ways with your topical or systemic psoriasis treatments. Most CAM therapies are not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and require more clinical studies to examine the effect that they have on psoriasis symptoms.
How can acupuncture therapy be used to treat psoriasis?
Acupuncture is a key part of traditional Chinese medicine, that is practiced increasingly around the world. During an acupuncture session, small thin needles are inserted into strategic places in the body. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate muscles, tissues, and nerves in a way that improves the flow of blood in the body and triggers the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals that are produced by the body. Some people with psoriasis find that acupuncture therapy provides them with pain relief, makes them feel relaxed, and a positive effect on their symptoms.
For more information about acupuncture and psoriasis, see here.
Yoga and guided biofeedback therapy
Biofeedback involves learning how to "train" your mind to be aware of certain bodily processes--like breathing, heart rate, muscle tension--and learn techniques to help you mindfully control these processes. Slowing breathing, heart rate, and releasing muscle tension are all things that will help you better deal with stress. A biofeedback therapist can assist you in identifying these responses and learning how to relax or slow down these body functions. While researchers are currently not sure if biofeedback is effective in reducing stress or how that may affect your overall health or course of treatment, many people who practice these techniques report feeling better and more in control of their health4.
Relaxation techniques can include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle tensing and relaxation, guided imagery and mindful meditation techniques to help free your mind of negative and stressful thoughts and emotions.
Yoga has been associated with a variety of health outcomes such as decreased pain, improved mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression5. Stress reduction and anxiety management may be important ways to help manage chronic inflammation. Despite the widespread popularity of yoga; however, there are few comparative effectiveness trials that have studied therapeutic benefits of yoga.
Which types of herbal remedies are used by people with psoriasis?
Some people with psoriasis use herbal remedies or supplements to help with their psoriasis symptoms. Common ones include:
- tea tree oil
- Aloe Vera
Be sure not to take herbal supplements in larger doses than recommended, because they can cause unpleasant side effects. Some herbal remedies can interact with psoriasis medicines, so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before starting to use them.
For more information about herbal remedies and psoriasis, see here.
Which types of dietary supplements are used by people with psoriasis?
Dietary supplements are also used by psoriasis patients, many of whom report that it has a positive effect on their symptoms. There are many different types of dietary supplements available, some of which can interact with psoriasis medications and potentially make them work less effectively. Dietary supplements that have an anti-inflammatory effect may be helpful for some people with psoriasis. These include:
- omega-3 fatty acids
- vitamin D
- glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
For more information about dietary supplements and psoriasis, see here.