How your diet can affect psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis
Psoriasis is an auto-immune condition that affects around 1.8 million people in the UK, who live with a variety of skin issues that may cause physical pain and discomfort, as well as psychological symptoms.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition that can initially affect people from their teenage years up to their thirties, varying in severity from person to person. It is sometimes manageable with topical treatments and medications, and may go into remission, but many people live with it for most of their adult lives once affected. Here, we look at what causes psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (a related condition causing joint pain and mobility problems) and how diet is considered to be a big factor in improving symptoms and wellbeing.
What causes psoriasis?
Psoriasis occurs when the body’s immune system – an innate defence mechanism that fights off infections and potentially harmful invaders – mistakenly attacks the body rather than protects it.
In psoriasis, special ‘T-cells’ responsible for fighting off bacteria and healing wounds, actually attack healthy cells within the skin. This leads to the normal skin cell production process going into overdrive – and new skin cells that would usually take a month or so to move through the skin’s layers actually arrive at the skin’s surface in just a few days. The patchy, crusty, red, scaly skin that psoriasis causes, is actually a build-up of skin cells which have reached the skin’s surface before they were ready.
There are several types of psoriasis, determined by the look and feel of the skin, where it is on the body and how severely it appears. No one knows why a person’s immune system reacts this way, but there may be some genetic and environmental influences, and psoriasis often runs in families.
What is psoriatic arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis linked to psoriasis, in that many people have both conditions. It causes swollen joints, fatigue and pain which can lead to mobility difficulties and deformed joints. Not everyone who has psoriasis is also affected by psoriatic arthritis, but it is thought that the latter is caused by the same faulty immune system response, which causes inflammation in the tissues surrounding the joints. Some people with psoriatic arthritis need daily living aids and mobility equipment to get around.
Can diet help treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis?
We all know that eating right is essential for our bodies, and many people with chronic health conditions are recommended to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Nutrition experts believe that by changing your diet, you can actually change how the integral processes within your body work, and improve symptoms of a variety of health conditions.
Some people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis find that certain foods actually make their symptoms worse, and by keeping a food diary they are able to work out which foods or types of foods can be linked to a flare up. This may differ from person to person, but it is generally understood that some foods may actually cause inflammation within the body, whereas others are anti-inflammatory and have the opposite effect.
Inflammation within the body is linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Inflammatory foods are generally sugary, fried, refined and processed foods that often form the basis for the 21st century diet. Certain vegetables and whole foods may also cause inflammation in the body, but generally, anti-inflammatory foods include berries, garlic, nuts, leafy vegetables, ginger, seeds and herbs and spices such as turmeric and coriander. These foods are high in antioxidants and increasing these within your diet may have a positive effect on the body.
Some people find that certain types of foods, ingredients, additives or components of foods such as dairy, red meats or gluten, cause their symptoms to flare up and they choose to restrict how much of these foods they eat. Some even eliminate them completely from their diet. Lots of people with psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis report that their skin and joint pain symptoms became much less severe, or even improved completely, due to the changes they make with their diet, but there is a lack of clinical research evidence to support these positive results and experiences.
If you are considering making any dietary changes, we recommend discussing this with your GP or contacting a registered dietitian in the first instance for professional medical advice. If you are interested in finding out more about people’s experiences of living with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and how they have managed this through diet, you may wish to access the Psoriasis Association forum, which is a great source of advice, support and information.
If you have either of these conditions and have found that changing your diet has had an impact on your symptoms, we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment below!
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