I’ll never forget John, a 43 year old man who came to see me at my integrative clinic in Southern California. He didn’t walk into my office, he was rolled into to me in a wheelchair. He looked like he was visibly in pain. He has enormous patches of dry, scaly skin that covered the shoulders of his shirt. His wife had to help him to the chair in my exam room, as his feet were so red and swollen that his shoes did not fit onto his feet. His skin, all over his body, looked like he had sustained the worst sunburn of his life. For 2 weeks, he had been suffering from the monster of all psoriasis attacks. And he had had it. The intense itchiness, persistent flaking, and painful sores had pushed him to explore the root cause of the disorder, rather than continue with mainstream medicine that only treated the symptoms.
WHAT IS PSORIASIS?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where the skin cells build up in the dermis and don’t slough off properly, creating thickened, silvery plaques over the skin. It is quite inflammatory, itchy and painful. It is usually present on the knees, elbows, scalp and fingers. Often, it can be systemic and there are different types, including inverse, plaque, guttate, pustular and erythrodermic. This condition affects 7.5 million people.
I’m happy to say that we healed John up nicely before he went home a week later. But his main concern was–how do I prevent this so the flares don’t completely interrupt my life anymore? If you suffer from psoriasis, you may be wondering the same thing. So lets explore the root cause of this autoimmune condition from a conventional, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic standpoint. We can even explore a bit of nutrigenomics and how supplementing with certain trace minerals, while avoiding others, many drastically improve the skin.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Psoriasis
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, uses a combination of acupuncture and herbs to alleviate this autoimmune condition. This ancient healing system teaches that the skin belongs to the lung yang; both are interconnected. This is quite apparent if you consider the different lung disorders that relate to skin conditions. Examples include aspirin induced asthma and eczema and respiratory ailments in children. In fact, eczema is often called skin asthma. Think of how quickly our skin ages if we smoke!
The cause of psoriasis in TCM is damp heat in the body. Heat is a sympathetic dominant condition linked to:
- adrenal fatigue
- jealousy, anger, frustration
- imbalanced hormones.
As the parasympathetic system is our housekeeping system that controls digestion and elimination, people with sympathetic driven systems often suffer from constipation and difficulty eliminating toxins properly. They feel swollen and edematous. In fact, some people diagnosed with erythrodermic psoriasis actually have a fever!
TCM teaches that if you really want to heal psoriasis you will pursue acupuncture, quit smoking, and follow a clean diet low in meat. Meat slows down digestion further and can worsen psoriasis. Eat plenty of root veggies which will encourage the liver to detox. Think burdock, yellow dock, beets, ginger, and brussels sprouts. Work on integrating healing herbs into your daily routine like:
- astragalus-found in Hormone Master
- Scutellaria root
- dang gui
- flax seeds
- fish oil
- indigo naturalis
- cinnamon to improve blood stasis
Studies in the British Journal of Dermatology show that TCM has proven to be extremely effective in the treatment of cases of eczema and psoriasis.
Ayurveda and Psoriasis
Ayurveda originated in India over 500o years ago and has a unique way of understanding skin conditions. Ayurveda states that we all have three doshas (or mind-body types) that are influenced by the seasons, our thinking, diet and constitution/body type. Psoriasis is a imbalanced combination of kapha and vata. It is also caused by the accumulation of toxins, or ama, inside the body. Vata represents wind while kapha represents earth and fluid balance in our body, which becomes problematic with psoriasis. Remember John, who couldn’t even put his shoes on? If the psoriasis is erythrodermic, there is also a derangement of pitta, which rules over the skin as well.
So what does this ancient science of life recommend? Yoga which can detox the skin through sweat, meditation, oils, topical treatments, stress reduction and dietary changes. Avoid foods like dairy which is very inflammatory, acidic foods, whey, flour, gluten, no tobacco, no alcohol, chile peppers, chile powder, and fried foods. Ayurveda believes skin conditions are associated with impure blood so purification of the blood is of utmost importance. Here are some recommended treatments and herbs:
- Sesame or calendula oil massages on the skin as dry skin is a culprit in psoriasis
- Remove synthetic soaps and lotions like those at Bath and Body Works or in retail stores. These contain parabens and dyes that can irritate the immune system
- Tusli, rose hip, peppermint and nettles tea
- avoid harsh hair dyes and treatments
- lose weight if obesity is an issue
- use a humidifier every night
- neem oil
- boweillia, or frankincense, to reduce inflammation-this is in Inflammation Master for a reason!
- Navkarshk Churna
- Psorolin ointment, which helps to control out of control cell division
Conventional Wisdom (Plus a Side of my own Experience)
I was trained in western medicine and what we are taught is that psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that is a combination of predisposing genes and environmental triggers. However, there is no KNOWN cause. Western medicine teaches that the immune system is overreactive and is attacking itself due to faulty signaling in the body. Currently, the main treatments for psoriasis in Western medicine include steroid creams and immune modulators, which do not get to the root of the problem. The skin is screaming that something is triggering this reaction called psoriasis. Putting steroid creams on the rash may help the symptoms, but will never fully improve the condition. However, lifestyle changes including diet, herbs, sleep and stress reduction have shown promise in permanently treating and even curing this autoimmune condition.
A big piece of the puzzle, in my humble opinion, is COPPER! Some of the below information is taught in western medical textbooks while others are from my experience and research. Some acknowledged triggers and links include:
- Vitamin D Deficiency-Much research has recently linked vitamin D deficiency to plaque psoriasis. It is postulated that although low vitamin D does not necessarily cause psoriasis, it does impair the body’s ability to repair the skin. HELLO vitamin D is activated in the skin with sunlight which is why tanning often helps psoriasis!
- Copper Toxicity or anything that exposes one to excess copper-multiple recent studies have linked high copper and low zinc levels to psoriasis and its flares. This is important since many pesticides contain high levels of copper, such as DDT which was previously used as a widespread pesticide. Careful with copper IUD, cookware, pesticides. Elevated copper is also seen as a measure of inflammation.
- Zinc Deficiency-zinc protects the skin, encourages wound healing, decreases rampant inflammation during infection, and helps to produce hydrochloric acid during digestion which is paramount for nutrient absorption. If zinc is low, then copper is high as they have an inverse relationship.
- Estrogen Dominance/Low Progesterone-copper and estrogen are intimately tied together and rise in comparison to each other. It is thought that an estrogen increases the absorption of copper so therefore an estrogen dominance would also have worsening effects on psoriasis. If you have symptoms of painful periods, awful mood swings where you almost kill your significant other, migraines or endometriosis, then you may be suffering from an estrogen dominance. If you have these symptoms AND psoriasis, its time to work on your copper levels.
- Scratches or cuts-any sort of inflammation can trigger the skin if one is predisposed
- Extreme Stress, Adrenal Fatigue, Sympathetic Dominant-zinc is quickly used up in stressful situations and this increases the levels of serum copper. Low cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is also associated with low zinc levels. Sympathetic dominant people are usually type A, have poor digestion, anger and constipation. If toxins cannot properly be moved through the bowels, they will come out of the skin. Stress is absolutely acknowledged as a trigger for psoriasis
- Emotional Stress or Traumatic Experience-nearly all of my autoimmune patients can pinpoint a stressful or traumatic life experience that occurred, and then-BAM-their immune system’s took a hit. Shortly thereafter, they were diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Psoriasis is no different.
- cold weather
- dry skin-try sesame or aloe oils and creams
- processed foods, carbs and preservatives
- smoking and excessive alcohol-This can lower the immune system. Remember the lung and skin qi are connected so smoking anything will affect the skin integrity over time
- birth control pills and copper IUDs-BC pills contain copper as an inert ingredient. Copper IUDs can cause toxicity and lead to imbalanced hormones
- harsh soaps, cleaners and detergents
- strep infections-strep throat or urinary tract infections can can leave behind proteins which cross react with our own antibodies causing confusion within the body.
- drugs like Lithium or some malaria drugs-these drugs can lower the threshold to predispose one to psoriasis.
- eat regularly scheduled meals to avoid taxing an already overburdened liver- the liver not only handles the processing and making of sex hormones, but also stores and metabolizes copper levels. If the liver is overburdened with processed foods and manmade fillers, it will have a hard time metabolizing and ridding the body of pesticides, copper and preservatives. Eating regular meals aids the liver in breakdown and storage of glucose and it does not have to tax the adrenals this way either.
A DETAILED PLAN FOR THOSE SUFFERING FROM PSORIASIS
Now that you guys understand the multifactorial factors that influence the severity and progression of psoriasis, lets formulate a plan for you! If you have psoriasis, you may not need two weeks of intensive inpatient therapy like John, but we can still incorporate some of the treatments we used on him too, because they work. Heres my recommendations for those suffering from psoriasis, eczema, hives or any other chronic skin condition.
- Cut out ALL gluten. I know I know, its so hard. But it really does help. No cheating. Gluten has been around for thousands of years, but now the modification of it has set many people off. In my opinion, it is actually the Round Up that is sprayed on wheat prior to harvest, that is affecting so many people in modern times.
- Cut out dairy, processed foods and limit/stop meat intake. EAT ORGANIC. Dairy is so very inflammatory on top of an inflammatory condition. Processed foods often contain pesticide residues. Meat slows down digestion and elimination, slowing the rate at which toxins can be disposed of. Pesticides contain metals, such as copper, and are strong immune system irritants. It behooves anyone with psoriasis to fully eat organic, whole foods.
- Hyperbaric oxygen chambers and ozone treatments provide excess oxygenation for the skin and help to repair the integrity of the membrane. Ozone produces hydrogen peroxide and a reactive oxygen species in the body, which eradicates pesky viruses and increases superoxide dismutase enzyme which sweeps out excess free radicals. Hyperbaric oxygen and my ozonated olive oil drastically improved John’s severe psoriasis.
- Liver Cleansing herbs and Castor Oil packs-My Liver Master contains all necessary liver cleansing herbs! Think psyllium husk, rhubarb root, burdock root, beets, carrots, fenugreek, and milk thistle. Cut down on alcohol and harsh medications which can damage the liver. Castor oil packs are beneficial as castor oil has the unique ability to pull toxins from the skin and organs. Soak a flannel in castor oil and place it on the right upper quadrant of the abdomen where the liver is located. Put a hot water bottle or electric blanket over the flannel so that the heat helps the absorption. Hold for 3o minutes.
- Zinc 50mg daily
- Get tested for copper, vitamin D and have your sex hormones measured if you suffer from any estrogen dominance symptoms. Hormone Master if you do have an estrogen dominance!
- Stop smoking and using excessive alcohol.
- Probiotics, calming teas like chamomile, Tulsi or Nettles
- 4-5 well balanced, plant based meals a day
- Yoga and meditation for stress relief. If you have had a traumatic experience which triggered your immune system, then begin journaling every night about the experience and let the emotions flow. Tears are healing.
- Daily oil massages after the shower with sesame or aloe oil and cream
- Incorporate aloe juice, kefir or coconut water into your daily routine
- Pull the copper IUD or stop birth control pills and opt for a safer option like the Daysy fertility monitor which is 99.3% effective.
- Coffee enemas or colon hydrotherapy may also be considered as this can stimulate S-glutathione in the liver for proper detoxification. They can also improve bowel movements which decrease toxin load.
- MSM, alpha lipoic acid and curcumin IVs or oral pills-If all else fails, these anti inflammatory compounds can drastically improve the pain and swelling of psoriasis. They are also available in oral forms, but IV goes straight into the bloodstream where you will see quicker results. Inflammation Master is also your best friend when it comes to swelling and pain!
Congrats! You are becoming your own best doctor!