Certain foods might help ease psoriasis symptoms, while others can worsen the condition.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin disease that causes a red, scaly rash, most commonly on the elbows, knees, hands, lower back, and scalp. “Because psoriasis is a chronic and inflammatory disease, many patients seek alternative therapies and lifestyle modifications to supplement their treatments and help relieve symptoms,” says Paul Yamauchi, MD, PhD, of the Dermatology Institute & Skin Care Center in Santa Monica, California, and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
This includes dietary changes, and while research reveals that most diets have mixed effects on psoriasis, Dr. Yamauchi notes, certain foods and supplements have gotten more attention in studies — and it appears that foods with systemic anti-inflammatory effects have a higher chance of improving psoriasis symptoms.
Larger studies are needed, but findings from a study published in September 2018 in the journal JAMA Dermatology suggest that sticking to a Mediterranean diet may slow the progression of psoriasis. This heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts and legumes, and olive oil and limits red meat, sugary foods, and dairy. You can incorporate a Mediterranean diet into your routine to manage moderate-to-severe psoriasis, he says.
Many people with psoriasis wonder whether dairy causes inflammation or if eliminating gluten from their diet would help them manage their psoriasis symptoms. Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. While gluten is largely found in breads and pastas, it’s also in processed meats and sauces and other products.
According to Mayo Clinic, some people who have the chronic skin condition might also be sensitive to gluten. For these people, following a gluten-free diet might improve psoriasis symptoms. If you believe gluten is a psoriasis trigger for you, talk to your doctor about tests for celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to gluten. Avoid eating gluten by carefully checking the food labels on products.
In a dietary behavioral study published in June 2017 in the journal Dermatology and Therapy, the most commonly reported food triggers for psoriasis patients were:
In this same study, less common food triggers that worsened symptoms of psoriasis included meat, eggs, processed foods, bread, beer, wine, soda, and spicy foods. To find out if these foods trigger your symptoms, try a psoriasis diet that eliminates them.
Participants reported other dietary approaches that improved psoriasis symptoms, including:
- Gluten free
- Low carbohydrate, high protein
- Pagano diet for psoriasis
Across all these diets, 69 percent of patients reported weight loss, which is supported by scientific evidence as a method to lessen psoriatic symptoms in obese and overweight patients. Participants also used over-the-counter dietary supplements to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms of psoriasis, including:
Additionally, study volunteers found that the following dietary items helped improve psoriasis symptoms:
If you’re considering trying a diet to manage psoriasis, it’s important to talk with your doctor (or dermatologist or rheumatologist) about which foods may trigger your symptoms and avoid those foods. A licensed dietitian can work with you on a diet that helps you avoid triggers and stay healthy.
Consider Cutting Wheat or Gluten if You Have a Sensitivity
The link between psoriasis and gluten intolerance is not fully understood. A review of research, published in August 2018 in the journal JAMA Dermatology recommended a gluten-free diet for people with psoriasis who also have a gluten sensitivity, but not for people without celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
Some research suggests that people who have celiac disease may be at increased risk for psoriasis; both are related to the immune system. For these people, a gluten-free diet could lead to improvement in psoriasis symptoms. But for everyone else, while some skin conditions are worsened by wheat, “Little scientific research supports a gluten-free diet for psoriasis,” Yamauchi says. Some patients also feel yeast plays a role in their worsening psoriasis. While more research is needed to establish a link, it couldn’t hurt to eliminate yeast for a little while and see if it helps. You could also use a food journal to track your diet, along with your symptoms.
Try Eliminating High-Fat Dairy
Psoriasis is a disease of inflammation, so it makes sense that an anti-inflammatory diet might help reduce symptoms, and high-fat dairy is associated with inflammation. Try cutting out whole milk and full-fat cheeses, which are rich in saturated fat, and opt for lower-fat versions instead. Even if it doesn’t improve your psoriasis, low-fat dairy is better for your heart, Yamauchi says.
Avoid Fatty Red Meats
Like dairy, fatty red meats can cause inflammation, and some people with psoriasis find an anti-inflammatory diet helps control their symptoms. “While fatty red meats might not necessarily worsen psoriasis,” Yamauchi says, “a diet heavy in fatty red meats can promote heart disease, and people with psoriasis have a higher risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases.” On occasions when you want to eat beef, choose leaner cuts.
Eat Fish and Omega-3s
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids (essential fatty acids found in some fish and plant foods) help reduce inflammation. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends that people eat fatty fish, such as albacore tuna, mackerel, salmon, herring, and lake trout, at least two times a week to protect against heart disease. Because people with psoriasis have a higher risk of heart disease, it makes sense to include anti-inflammatory omega-3s in their diet, Yamauchi says. But no studies have found a clear benefit from fish oil for psoriasis.
Add Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Good sources of antioxidants are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. “Again, the benefit of eating these is not necessarily for making psoriasis better,” Yamauchi says, “but they are important for protecting against heart disease and cancer, which people with psoriasis are at higher risk for.”
“A lot of my patients tell me if they consume too much alcohol, it makes the psoriasis worse,” Yamauchi says. Because some research indicates a connection, you may want to explore whether limiting alcohol consumption reduces flare-ups for you. The theory is that alcohol dilates the blood vessels, giving white blood cells and other substances in the blood easier access to the skin, promoting the inflammatory response that triggers psoriasis flares. Alcohol also dehydrates your body and can dry the skin, worsening psoriasis symptoms.
Put Vitamins A and D to Work for You
Fruits and vegetables that provide vitamin A help promote healthy skin. Good sources of vitamin A are cantaloupe, carrots, mangoes, and watermelon. Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin because the body produces it through sun exposure, can also be helpful for treating psoriasis. “Back in the 1930s, vitamin D was shown to help psoriasis if taken by mouth,” Yamauchi says. “However, people needed such high levels [to have a positive effect on psoriasis] that it caused side effects.” You can get vitamin D from 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine daily or by using a topical treatment. Your diet can be another source of vitamin D: Fish, mushrooms, and leafy green vegetables are chock-full of this important nutrient.
Enhance Your Immune System With Herbs
Some people with psoriasis find the skin condition responds to herbs used to enhance the body’s immune system and reduce inflammation. While no scientific evidence supports the use of herbs or natural herbal supplements for psoriasis, some patients report success with evening primrose oil, milk thistle, and oregano oil. Turmeric has also been used by a number of patients, but further study is needed to fully establish its effectiveness in psoriasis treatment.
Stick to a Healthy Diet for Psoriasis
One of the worst things you can do for psoriasis is follow a fad or extreme diet. A fad diet can rob your body of the nutrients it needs. “People with psoriasis hear of something that works for someone and want to try it, too,” Yamauchi says. “But if they follow extreme diets, it hurts rather than benefits them.” Talk to your doctor before making any changes. The best psoriasis diet is a healthy one: low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, and, if you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, whole grains.