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Psoriasis is a quite common condition and occurs in about 1-3% of the population. It affects men and women equally and is more common in temperate climates.
The term psoriasis is actually used to describe a number of conditions such as plaque, guttate, pustular, erythrodermic and light-sensitive psoriasis as well as psoriasis that appears in a number of body areas such as the palms and soles, the scalp, nails, elbows, knees, in skin folds and between the buttocks.
The areas affected generally start as deep red and scaly areas that merge, forming round or oval plaques. The scaly areas are silvery-white and when scratched or rubbed off can bleed—this is called the “Auspitz sign”. These plaques may or may not itch. The scales can get very dense, especially on the scalp. The most common areas for psoriasis are the elbows, knees, scalp, between the buttocks, and on the nails.
The cause (s) of psoriasis is/are not known, but it does run in families and there is both an inflammation and an immune aspect of psoriasis that is important to understand when talking about treatment. Another common aspect of psoriasis is the overgrowth of skin cells—psoriasis skin cells may have a rate of growth that is a thousand times faster than normal skin cells! Psoriasis can develop after a trauma to the skin such as sunburn, surgery or scratching and can be made worse with drugs such as lithium, steroids and beta-blockers (used in cardiovascular disease). People with psoriasis often suffer not only from the condition, but from emotional and psychological problems because of the way psoriasis makes them look and feel about themselves.
There are a number of lifestyle approaches that can be helpful for psoriasis. Thermal baths in water of high salt content followed by twice daily sun exposure of about 3 hours a day resulted in some very marked improvements in 73-88% of patients with psoriasis. The best results were obtained in spas and clinics using a very high salt content, similar to that found at the Dead Sea in Israel. The UVA content used was also higher in these Dead Sea studies. The high salt content seems to be very important in the successful treatment—it doesn’t necessarily have to be salt from the Dead Sea—but, the bath DOES have to be about 33% salt as opposed to normal sea water which is about 3% salt.
Diet, as always, is very important for any condition. In naturopathic medicine, skin is considered to be an organ of excretion—any toxins that you take in may be excreted through the skin—and may cause problems. There is some evidence that removing gluten and dairy products can improve some people’s symptoms. There is no specific diet that has been tested for psoriasis patients, but a healthy, whole foods diet with a minimum of processed foods or beverages is advisable. You may, if you suspect specific food sensitivities, try an elimination diet to see if that helps your psoriasis—or helps you feel better overall!
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