Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which causes skin cells to multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. This results in raised, red spots, or larger plaques, which are usually covered with white scales. The lesions may be itchy and can crack and bleed. August is psoriasis awareness month, which aims to provide information to the public about psoriasis, in order to help sufferers to feel less self-conscious, and to inform the public that it is not a contagious condition.
Psoriasis most commonly starts between the ages of around 10 and 25. The tendency to develop the condition is genetic, but the onset may be triggered by an infection (such as strep throat), or by emotional stress, injury to the skin, or use of certain medications, such as beta blockers, and ibuprofen. Psoriasis is exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity
Psoriasis most commonly affects the elbows, knees, and scalp. However, plaques can appear on any part of the body. A form of psoriasis called ‘flexural psoriasis’ causes smooth (non-scaly) inflamed areas in the skin folds, such as the underarms, groin, between the buttocks and under the breasts.
Psoriasis may be associated with discoloration and pitting of the nails, and the nails may also begin to crumble or detach from the nail bed. Furthermore, up to 30% of people with psoriasis go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints. People with psoriasis are also more prone to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other autoimmune conditions.
Unfortunately psoriasis is also a major cause of depression and low self-esteem. Sufferers often feel self-conscious about their appearance and cover their skin, even though psoriasis benefits from exposure to sunlight, and may become increasingly itchy if the person gets too hot.
Psoriasis is one of the most difficult conditions to treat, and there is no permanent cure, although various treatments can help to keep symptoms under control and minimize the lesions, while some patients achieve complete remission.
Orthodox treatments include steroid creams or in severe cases, immune suppressants, which are associated with serious side effects. Other treatments that are proven to be beneficial for psoriasis include dead-sea bath salts, sunlight exposure, and emollient creams to prevent dryness and cracking. Useful supplements include Vitamins A, and D, and Fish oils. Ensure your diet is rich in oily fish, vegetables and green tea, and avoid consumption of red meat, wheat (and other gluten-containing grains), alcohol and coffee. If you are overweight try to lose weight and maintain a normal BMI.
Herbal medicines that can help with psoriasis include sarsaparilla and Oregon grape to normalize immune function and treat any chronic infection, plus Gotu kola and liquorice to reduce inflammation and stress. Creams containing Aloe vera and wintergreen can reduce inflammation topically. If you are suffering from psoriasis, a visit to your local Medical Herbalist can provide a uniquely tailored blend of herbs with advice about diet and nutritional supplements to reduce symptoms.