Psoriasis is a complicated disease, and there’s no simple answer to treating it. To be clear, there is no cure.
Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the USA, with nearly 8 million people suffering from it. It’s an autoimmune disease, because our immune system—our white blood cells, or specifically, the T cells—attack our skin from below the surface in the dermis. This causes red, raised, flaky, itchy patches of skin that’s just misery to live with.
I was born with psoriasis, but many people don’t get diagnosed until their teens when it starts showing up on their skin. This can be devastating for a teenager who just wants to “fit in” with everyone else. There’s a hereditary component to it (my father had it, and his mother did too), so you may inherit it from one or both parents.
My psoriasis was labeled as “severe” with a PASI (Psoriasis Area Severity Index) score of more than 10 for most of my life. Traditional medications and treatments didn’t work well for me. The biologics worked, but I couldn’t stand the side effects or the exorbitant cost.
So I’ve spent the last decade trying to figure out alternatives to treating it without using toxic medications, and because of that, I’ve gotten my skin into almost complete remission.
There is a strong nutritional component to controlling psoriasis, and a question I get all the time is which supplements or vitamins I recommend.
I’m not a fan of multivitamins, and I just call them “expensive urine” because most of it just gets eliminated as waste without doing anything for you. Furthermore, if you’re eating a reasonably healthy diet without a bunch of junk (yes, you have to eat your fruits and veggies), a multivitamin really doesn’t do you any good. You’re already getting the essentials naturally from your food.
So what do I recommend? This is my list of must-have supplements and there’s a reason for each one, which I’ll explain.
I used to think probiotics were a bunch of marketing hype – something to sell more stuff on TV and extract more money from my wallet. But over the last several years, I’ve come to realize that they’re essential to good health.
What is a probiotic anyway? Our intestines have trillions of bacteria living there (called the microbiome), and they do the dirty work of breaking down whatever we eat into nutrients that our bodies can use. If we didn’t have gut bacteria, we literally couldn’t survive. Unfortunately, with a less-than-optimal diet (like the “Standard American Diet” or SAD), “bad” bacteria move into the neighborhood and kick the good guys out.
A probiotic is literally a load of the “good guys” to move back in and kick the bad guys out.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? How does it help our skin?
The gut is hard-wired to the brain through the vagus nerve, which is one of the largest “telephone lines” in our body back to the brain. When the gut is unhealthy and inflamed, it tells the brain to send in the troops to combat the inflammation. Instead, these troops go rogue and attack our skin causing eczema and psoriasis, or attack our joints causing psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis.
When the gut is healthy, then the troops calm down and stop attacking us.
There are several sources of probiotics:
- Yogurt (like Yakult) – I’m not a fan, because it’s loaded with sugar, and dairy isn’t good for those of us with autoimmune diseases
- Probiotic capsules – Most of the bacterial load doesn’t make it to the gut because the stomach acid kills it off, so it’s generally a waste of money
- Raw sauerkraut (must be in the refrigerator section) – Contains 100 times the bacterial load as capsules, but not everyone likes the taste
- Other fermented foods: kombucha, kimchi, raw pickles, etc. – These are harder to eat on a regular basis, and kimchi is made with peppers (not good for those of us with psoriasis)
I personally LOVE sauerkraut, and eat it for breakfast every morning. If I miss a couple days, my face breaks out in acne. When I get back on track, my face clears up. My absolute favorite is Ozuké citris and ginger kraut, but it’s hard to find. Whole Foods sometimes has it, but it frequently sells out. Trader Joe’s has their own brand of kraut, which is good, but I pick out the Persian cucumbers because I just don’t care for them. Bubbies is probably the mildest flavored and easiest to find (Safeway carries it).
But given that a lot of people don’t care for sauerkraut, there is one probiotic capsule that I highly recommend is Dr. Danielle’s Probiotic. It’s made with specific types of bacteria that form spores (basically it self-encapsulates) so that it can survive the strong stomach acid and make it alive to the gut, where it then flourishes and does its magic to heal our skin.
Prebiotics and Antioxidants
OK, now you know what a probiotic is. But what’s a PREbiotic? Basically, a prebiotic is the food that the “good guy” gut bacteria want to eat. By eating prebiotics, we encourage the good guys to stick around and kick out the bad guys. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that don’t get digested easily, and mostly pass through the digestive tract. The things that encourage the bad guys to stick around are simple carbs: sugars, all grains, potatoes, and legumes (beans and peanuts).
Most fruits and vegetables are prebiotics. Others include green bananas, green plantains, and sweet potatoes. These are excellent prebiotics.
Now if we combine the prebiotics with foods that are strong antioxidants, then we’ve got a winner. Antioxidant foods have chemical compounds that scavange and remove oxidizing chemicals that cause aging and inflammation, which is a big problem with psoriasis.
What are the top ten strongest antioxidant foods? In reverse order from best to less best, they are:
- Dark chocolate (the more cacao the better – no sugar added and NOT milk chocolate candy bars)
- Goji berries
- Red cabbage
My go-to prebiotic and absolute best source of antioxidants is a product called Juice Plus+.
I cannot say enough good things about this product. They grow 100% organic produce, flash freeze it when it’s at the peak nutrient level, they put 30 fruits and vegetables into capsule (or chewable) form.
So even if I don’t eat the best one day, I still know I’m getting the most healthy phytonutrients and micronutrients that I can possibly get. They have over 40 independent scientific clinical trials showing the efficacy of their product in supporting the immune system, which we need all the help we can get!
Oh, and in their “trio” fruits, veggies and berries capsules, guess how many of the top 10 antioxidant foods are in the capsules? Eight of the ten are there: cocoa, blueberries, artichokes, raspberries, kale, cabbage, beets and spinach!
You might note too that the label says “Nutrition Information” and not “Supplement Information”. That’s because it’s FOOD, and not a chemical supplement like a vitamin pill is.
Essential Omega Fatty Acids
According to Dr. Bill Sears, omega fatty acids are probably one of the critical nutrients missing the most from our diets. Our bodies cannot produce them, and generally you can only get them from eating fatty fishes like salmon, sardines and shellfish. So unless you eat fish on a regular basis (two times per week or more), you’re probably deficient.
There have been multiple studies that show that the essential fatty acids can be beneficial in helping psoriasis to heal.
In most cases, the only way you can get these fatty acids (there are several) in the proper proportion without eating fish is to take a fish oil capsule.
Fish burps are gross. And if you have a fish allergy, then that’s out.
Thankfully, the Juice Plus+ company has come up with their own VEGAN omega blend version that is 100% plant-based and there are no fish or shellfish involved.
Turmeric is an ancient herb that’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine from India to reduce inflammation. It’s a rhizome that’s closely related to ginger, and gives curry its characteristic bright yellow color (I LOVE curry!)
When I started taking turmeric capsules, it took MANY months, but then suddenly I started noticing my skin was slowly getting better!
Unfortunately, turmeric doesn’t absorb very well. For some reason, it helps to have black pepper mixed in it, so the one product I trust and have used for many years now has black pepper in it, is Dr. Danielle’s Turmeric/Curcumin with Bioperine. I take six capsules every day – three in the morning at breakfast and three at dinner for a total of 3 grams. You can subscribe to auto-fill the prescription and get a 10% discount.
This isn’t going to make it all go away by itself, but it’ll help cool things down. I was amazed when I actually started seeing results just from this alone.
Have you ever noticed that your psoriasis gets better during the summer months (when it’s sunny) and worse during the winter? When you get sun exposure, your body naturally produces vitamin D, which helps your skin to heal.
Technically, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all. A vitamin is an essential nutrient that your body can’t get any other way, except to eat it.
Since our bodies can produce vitamin D, it’s really a hormone.
But the problem is that over 1 billion people in the world are severely deficient in this hormone, because we’re all sitting in front of our computers and watching TV, not out working the fields like our ancestors did.
If you live above the 35th parallel, even if you laid out in your back yard naked all day long in the winter, you wouldn’t produce enough vitamin D to do you any good. I’m directly on the 35th parallel, which is the latitude that roughly splits the USA into two halves horizontally.
You can see what my vitamin D blood levels looked like when I got a blood test a few years ago. I was severely deficient!
My doctor prescribed 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 per week. I chose to take 10,000 IU per day rather than trying to remember a weekly pill. But you can see the results of my blood work.
Please DO NOT just pound down a bunch of vitamin D3. If your blood level gets above the 125 ng/mL level, it becomes toxic. Ask your doctor to authorize a quarterly blood test to measure your current level and what it gets to over time. Keeping it between 75 and 100 ng/mL is a safe zone, and it will help your psoriasis to heal from the inside.
You can buy this stuff anywhere, just make sure it’s vitamin D3 (not D2). You should also cut back on your dairy intake, because D3 will increase calcium absorption. Too much calcium, and you end up with hypercalcemia, which is not a good place to be.
No matter what, PLEASE talk with your doctor on this one, and work with him or her to get to safe levels.
One Final Note on Psoriasis
Everything I listed here will HELP you to heal, but as I said at the beginning, there is no CURE. Also, this is not like taking an ibuprofen: down a pill and feel better in an hour. Nope. It will take MONTHS for you to even notice a difference.
Psoriasis is a very slow moving disease. It takes a month for a flare to show up, and maybe two months for it to settle back down again. Using these supplements in your diet will slowly cool things down, but you will not notice it for a long time. Stick with it, and it’ll help.
Also, work on your diet as I discuss in the companion article, Best Diet to Follow for Psoriasis Sufferers. The better you eat, the better your skin will feel. It just takes time.