Dear Doctors: I’m 27 and have itchy skin my doctor says is psoriasis. It comes and goes, sometimes bad, other times not that noticeable. Can diet help?
Answer: Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition associated with a malfunction of the immune system.
It’s marked by overproduction of skin cells, which results in raised areas of dry, reddened and flaking skin. These areas of inflammation, sometimes topped by silvery scales, typically appear on the elbows, knees and scalp but can occur anywhere.
Symptoms also can include burning, soreness and itching, nails thicker than normal or with pits or ridges and joint stiffness or swelling.
Susceptibility is inherited. The condition is much more common in adults than in children.
The reasons the immune system goes a bit haywire this way aren’t fully understood. But flareups are associated with triggers such as stress, cold weather, the use of tobacco products and skin injuries.
You are correct that some studies have found diet might play a role. Research suggests that avoiding inflammatory foods might help ease symptoms and lessen the frequency of flareups.
Chief among the culprits: sugar, long linked to inflammation. In a mouse study last year in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers triggered inflammatory changes in the skin in just a few weeks on a high-sugar diet.
Other foods linked to inflammation include alcohol, red meat, saturated fats and highly refined carbohydrates found in snack foods and ultra-processed foods.
Some studies have found the Mediterranean diet, with its focus on seafood and olive oil as well as a wide range of fresh vegetables, fruit and leafy greens, might improve symptoms. This eating plan is rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as omega-3s, which appear to influence eicosanoids that have a role in causing inflammation.
Researchers suspect eating more omega-3 fatty acids might suppress inflammatory processes.
But diet alone hasn’t been found to control or cure psoriasis.
Some people find a vegetarian diet can lessen the severity. Pay attention to whether what you eat appears to correspond to changes in your level of inflammation. You might uncover dietary triggers that can help you.
Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internist and professors at UCLA Health.