The Hidden Link Between Diet and Psoriasis

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Psoriasis is a systemic autoimmune condition that affects the whole body, not just the skin. While the red, itchy, scaly skin lesions are the most visible symptom, the underlying disease process involves inflammation, abnormal angiogenesis (blood vessel growth), and autoimmunity. Though not curable, psoriasis can be managed through lifestyle approaches like diet.

The Mediterranean Diet and Psoriasis

Multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet for reducing psoriasis severity. A Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole, minimally processed plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, olive oil, and herbs and spices. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, seafood, yogurt, eggs, poultry, and cheese, and limits sweets and red meat.

A study from Italy found that those who closely followed a traditional Mediterranean diet had less severe psoriasis, as measured by the Psoriasis Severity Index. The more closely someone adhered to the diet, the milder their psoriasis was. Two components of the Mediterranean diet were particularly beneficial:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil contains high levels of hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Certain varieties like Koroneiki (Greek), Picual (Spanish), and Moraiolo (Italian) olives produce olive oils especially rich in this beneficial compound. Seek out olive oils made from these specific olive varietals for the biggest anti-inflammatory punch. A daily drizzle of real extra virgin olive oil over salads and vegetables can help calm inflammation.

Fish and Seafood

Fish and shellfish contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. Salmon is well known for being rich in omega-3s, but consider exploring other seafood like anchovies, sardines, squid, clams, and mussels for a change. Canned fish like sardines are budget-friendly ways to get omega-3s. Flash frozen varieties provide the same robust nutrition as fresh seafood. Aim for at least two servings of omega-3 rich fish or seafood weekly.

Spirit of traditional Mediterranean diet

Beyond focusing on extra virgin olive oil and seafood, follow the entire healthy pattern of the traditional Mediterranean diet to benefit psoriasis. Fill your plate with vegetables, fruits, beans and lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Enjoy fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and poultry in moderation, and limit sweets and red meat. Don’t forget the wine and socializing!

Other Dietary Considerations

Beyond a Mediterranean dietary pattern, other aspects of diet play a role in taming psoriasis.

Limit Gluten

Many with psoriasis have gluten sensitivity if not full-blown celiac disease. Try eliminating gluten entirely or choose gluten-free variations of foods. Check labels, as gluten hides in unexpected places like soy sauce.

Choose Organic Coffee

Coffee’s chlorogenic acid lowers inflammation. Organic coffee contains more chlorogenic acid than conventional since the plants ramp up production of this protective compound when pesticides aren’t used. Limit intake to around 3 cups of coffee daily.

Try Intermittent Fasting

Caloric restriction via intermittent fasting may enhance the effectiveness of psoriasis medications. Fasting also reduces inflammation and discourages the growth of abnormal blood vessels.

Lose Excess Weight

Carrying excess body fat worsens psoriasis by fueling inflammation. Caloric restriction, fasting, exercise, and sufficient sleep promote weight loss and defend against flares.

The Gut-Skin Connection

Gut health has an intimate connection to skin health. The trillions of microbes that live in the intestines influence inflammation throughout the body, for better or worse. Supporting a robust, diverse community of beneficial bacteria defend against flare ups.

Eating plenty of prebiotic foods high in fiber feeds good gut microbes. Sources of prebiotics include beans, lentils, oats, berries, nuts, seeds, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, bananas, and non-starchy vegetables. Aim for 30-40 grams of fiber daily. If you ramp up fiber intake, increase water consumption as well.

Probiotic foods can also foster healthy gut flora. Look to yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and sourdough bread. Consume a variety of probiotic foods instead of relying on capsules which have questionable viability.

On the flip side, junk foods high in sugar, fat, and artificial ingredients harm microbiome diversity. The Standard American Diet heavy in processed foods and low in plants wreaks havoc on gut health. Limit sweets, refined carbs, fried foods, sweet beverages, and alcohol which can irritate the gut lining and promote inflammation.

Research confirms that a disrupted, unhealthy microbiome corresponds to more severe psoriasis. When good bacteria thrive, they produce short chain fatty acids and other compounds that lower systemic inflammation and may improve autoimmune conditions.

Don’t underestimate the gut-skin axis. Optimizing your microbiome through prebiotic fiber sources, probiotic foods, and avoiding processed junk fortifies your body against inflammation and autoimmunity.

Manage Stress

Stress exacerbates psoriasis by increasing inflammation and the reactivity of the overactive immune system. Relaxation techniques, socializing, chamomile tea, and green tea counteract stress’ effects.

Psoriasis, and Immunity

Having psoriasis increases COVID-19 infection risk by 36% and mortality risk by 30%. Those who contract COVID-19 often experience worsening of psoriasis. A diet focused on anti-inflammatory foods, gut health, and micronutrient density bolsters immunity against viruses like SARS-CoV-2. Even serious conditions like autoimmunity and cancer can sometimes be reversed through lifestyle approaches, offering hope.

Eating for health defenses gives those with psoriasis greater control over this systemic condition. Work with your healthcare team, but realize that food truly is medicine when dealing with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

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