Is psoriasis curable? I know instinctively by the very fact you're here and asking this question, you're desperate for the answer to be 'yes'! How do I know? Many, many years ago I was asking the exact same question.
Let me start with some positive news. I've battled psoriasis since I was fifteen years old. I was on various steroid treatments, emollients and creams until my mid thirties when I was finally offered an immune system suppressant called methotrexate. I turned that medication down and decided something in my life had to change. That was seven years ago and I've been clear of psoriasis ever since without medication.
So, since my skin has been psoriasis-free for almost a decade, do I still have psoriasis? If you've ever been to a spa for a treatment you'll know they give you a little form to complete before you have your massage. I used to dread those forms because I'd have to tick 'yes' to psoriasis, eczema and acne, which always instigated lots of uncomfortable questions. After I first cleared my psoriasis I spent many years continuing to automatically ticking 'yes' on those questionnaires, because I felt like my psoriasis always had the potential to reemerge. But for the past few years I've confidently answered 'no'.
Even more excitingly, I was asked in a recent medical whether I have any autoimmune conditions. It was one query in a long list of many, but this is the first time since healing I'd been directly asked that question by a nurse. I thought about it for a moment and then answered 'yes, I have psoriasis, but my skin has been clear for seven years.' The nurse looked up and said 'you don't have psoriasis then. We'd only consider that an issue if you'd had a significant flare in the past five years.' That made me so happy! I'd officially been declared psoriasis-free. My psoriasis, it seemed, was cured.
HEALING MY PSORIASIS FLARE
If you visit the NHS website, you'll see they say 'There's no cure for psoriasis, but a range of treatments can improve symptoms and the appearance of skin patches.' I have to say, I disagree.
The dictionary defines cured as 'to relieve (a person or animal) of the symptoms of a disease or condition.' I am most definitely free from the symptoms of a disease or condition. Perhaps 'remission' would be a better expression? Since I have a genetic predisposition to psoriasis (my auntie and dad both have it), there is always the chance that it might come back.
The way I see it, yes the chance is there, but for now I'm healed. Would it not be like saying somebody who is cured of breast cancer still has the cancer because for the first few years of remission there is the elevated risk it might return? This seems crazy to me. In that moment you are still free from cancer. At what stage can we confidently use the term 'cured'? Is it purely a timescale thing?
PICTURES SHARED VIA MY INSTAGRAM
I remember back in my mid twenties reading a book I'd found in the local library about psoriasis. These were the days before Amazon and I'd gone to the medical section to see if anybody had written anything that might offer me an answer to my skin troubles. Sat there on the shelf was a book called 'Healing Psoriasis' by Dr John Pagano. I devoured the information. One thing that still stands out to me after all these years was something Pagano said very early on in his book 'psoriasis can be cured'. For a decade my doctors had told me quite the opposite, yet here was somebody assuring me that I could actually get rid of these horrible patches.
Having the strength to follow Dr Pagano's guidance was another matter! He recommended apple fasts and caffeine colonics. I was a student and DJ. I smoked, I drank, my diet was anything but healthy! I just couldn't get my head around making such significant changes to my lifestyle. On top of which, my Doctor continually reminded me that 'diet makes no difference to psoriasis', which was all I needed to become complacent and do absolutely nothing.
So, is Psoriasis Curable?
From my own experience, I absolutely believe your psoriasis can be cured, or certainly put into permanent remission, if you prefer that expression. For those of us living with this skin condition, we will always have the underlying potential for that visible barometer, reminding us to keep our diet and lifestyle incheck. You might prefer to use the word 'managed' in this sense. I know that if I eat a healthy balance of plant-based foods, get a good night's sleep and tailor my reactions to stress, my skin will remain clear of psoriasis for good.
PICTURES SHARED VIA MY INSTAGRAM
Can Diet Cure Psoriasis?
For two decades doctors repeatedly told me 'diet will have no affect on your psoriasis'. Looking back, this was such a crazy statement to make! I hear from people time and time again that dermatologists are still dismissing the dietary connection.
On a very basic level, psoriasis is classified as an 'immune-mediated inflammatory disease', so it stands to reason that an anti-inflammatory diet is going to have a positive impact. What's more, with scientists confirming almost seventy percent of our immune system is housed in our gut, surely gut health is absolutely vital to treating psoriasis, which is, after all, considered an autoimmune condition.
When it comes to official dietary studies conducted on people with psoriasis, they are thankfully increasing in number. The problem with scientific research is, it costs money. Pharmaceutical companies are happy to fund studies when they're generating positive conclusions to help them sell more steroid creams or biologic drugs, but a study on the benefits of diet is of no financial benefit to anyone, except perhaps your local greengrocer!
Nevertheless, research is emerging and it's looking positive when it comes to the correlation between psoriasis and diet. In 2017 the National Psoriasis Foundation surveyed 1206 people in the USA, to ask them about dietary changes and the impact on their psoriasis. Eighty six percent of those who took part in the study confirmed that they had indeed made changes to their diet to help improve their skin condition. The percentage of patients reporting improvement in their psoriasis was as follows;
- reducing alcohol (53.8%)
- eliminating gluten (53.4%)
- eliminating nightshades (52.1%)
- adding fish oil/omega-3 (44.6%)
- adding more vegetables (42.5%)
- taking oral vitamin D (41%)
In addition, seventy percent of those studied confirmed that a vegan diet had favourably improved their skin.
This study from 2005 confirms that some psoriasis patients have an elevated sensitivity to gluten and that symptoms have been shown to improve on a gluten-free diet. A further Portuguese study conducted in 2009, considers a diet high in omega-3s, fasting, low-calorie protocols and vegetarian practices to show beneficial results.
PICTURES SHARED VIA MY INSTAGRAM
Good Gut Health to Cure Psoriasis
I'm so excited that modern science is finally reinforcing what dieticians, naturopaths and traditional chinese practitioners have been saying for years. Healthy gut bacteria is absolutely crucial when it comes to healthy skin.
Our gut contains around 100 trillion cells, which are collectively known as the 'human microbiome'. These microbes do many important jobs. They assist the body in fighting off infection, they regulate immune activity, and they help us to digest food. Evidence is increasingly coming to light to suggest that an imbalance of this bacteria in the gut can trigger psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases. This 2015 study concludes that people with psoriasis have less diversity in their gut microbiome than that present in those with healthy skin.
Furthermore, this updated review of scientific evidence from last year states that "all of the ten retrieved studies reported alterations in the gut microbiome in patients with psoriasis." Reiterating the belief that there is something different in the gut bacteria of psoriasis patients.
Since evidence suggests that this imbalance of bacteria in the gut can trigger psoriasis, it's important to eliminate bad bacteria and replenish depleted beneficial bacteria by using a good quality probiotic. This is a very simple and effective way to begin treating the underlying absence of good gut microbes.
What Else Impacts the Gut Microbiome?
Probiotics and diet are probably the two things most often referenced when it comes to making positive changes to our gut microbiome, but lots of other factors play an important role.
Emotions and our Gut
Traditional Chinese Medicine has, for centuries, explored the connection between our emotions and our gut. Now Western studies are confirming what Eastern practitioners have preached for years, there is a direct correlation between the two, classified as the “gut-brain axis.”
It isn't just Eastern medicine that historically connected the gut and brain. The ancient Greeks, for example, believed mental disorders arose when the digestive tract produced too much black bile. And long before the microbiome was even discovered, some philosophers and physicians argued that the brain and gut formed partners in shaping human behaviour.
As more and more studies are coming to light, we're seeing an interesting correlation between missing microbes and emotional ailments. In 2019 a review published in Nature Microbiology revealed that people with depression had deficits of the same two bacterial species. Scientists believe the amino acid tryptophan might play a role here, since microbes can convert tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in depression and other psychiatric disorders.
But what does this all have to do with psoriasis? Stress or psychological distress is often described as a trigger or exacerbating factor in psoriasis. Since studies show that the gut microbiome is significantly impacted by our mental health, it might further explain the link between stress, depleted healthy gut bacteria and psoriasis flares.
Sleep and our Gut
An increasing number of studies suggest that the microbiota can help regulate sleep through the brain-gut axis I talked about earlier. Preliminary evidence shows that microorganisms and our circadian rhythm interact closely with one another. When it comes to further exploring this connection, it seems there's a two way street. Poor quality sleep depletes the healthy bacteria in our gut, whilst a lack of healthy bacteria can lead to poor quality sleep.
Getting a decent night's sleep can feel difficult if you're anxious about your psoriasis, not to mention trying to cope with the night time itch. This is where oatmeal baths and my Skin Soothing Spray can come in useful. Resting well helps the body to replenish the healthy gut bacteria we need more of, especially when coping with a stressful skin condition.
Having to Change my Life Seems so Unfair
I know it can feel this way. But I want to help switch your perspective on that. Whilst I used to crave that magic pill, lotion or potion to take my psoriasis away overnight, in truth, my journey with this awful skin condition has ultimately made me stronger, tougher and healthier than ever! I know it sounds idealistic when I'm sitting here with my clear skin reflecting on something that hasn't directly affected me for almost a decade, but trust me on this one, it's a journey well worth embarking on.
Think of your skin not as the problem, but as a very visible indicator of your underlying health. Your body is screaming at you to make some changes.
I remember sitting in the doctors waiting room when my skin was badly flaring, watching all these unhealthy, obese people walk past in vest tops and strappy dresses with bare arms on show, thinking 'if gut health is so crucial, why don't THEY have this condition?' The truth is, they might have had many other underlying health problems, some of which they were acutely aware of and others which weren't yet apparent.
There are lots of little indicators that try to nudge us to change our diet and lifestyle. For some people it's migraines or recurring exhaustion. For others it's painful digestive issues, stomach cramps or IBS. And some people don't get that subtle nod until something serious like a stroke or heart attack strikes.
Our skin is an early warning system. It's telling us the gut is unhappy and that we need to do some work to change that. Diet seems the obvious place to begin. Both my books Radiant and Skin Healing Expert explain these changes in detail. Radiant is a much stricter 28 day plan, whereas Skin Healing Expert is gentle and step-by-step, perfect if you're not ready to make massive changes just yet.
Lifestyle, Stress and Psoriasis
Lifestyle and stress are also important to take into consideration. As we've discovered, stress most definitely impacts the gut microbiome and correlates with psoriasis flares. Whilst we can't always change the fact that our lives are stressful, we do have the ability to control our response to that stress.
I used to get really frustrated when friends would say 'stress makes your skin worse, stop getting so stressed', like I could just switch it off! But there are tools such as talking therapy and meditation that I now find incredibly useful. They don't stop the stress, but they change my reaction to it.
Addressing the anxieties around my skin itself, dealing with childhood trauma and working through emotional day to day life problems with an independent listening ear has not been an easy road to go down - but it's offered a wonderful release. I find if I can discuss these things with my counsellor on a weekly basis, the problems are less likely to mount and manifest as angry, red skin patches on the surface of my skin.
Working with a trained therapist is definitely more accepted in the USA. I think us Brits still take the tough-upper-lip stance, but this is not always best for our mental health. When I encourage people to make changes to their diet, most will listen, but the moment I suggest working on mental health, people shy away. It's such a hugely significant part of our lives, but it can be painful to go there.
With the upheaval of the past year and Covid having a massive impact on people's mental health in lots of different ways, our emotions deserve more TLC than ever.
If addressing your anxieties and emotions is something you'd like to explore, finding the right counsellor for you is a fantastic place to begin. Remember the first person you speak to might not be right, and it's okay to try a few to find the right fit. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can ensure you're connected with somebody reputable.
What's the Answer?
Going back to the original question 'Can Psoriasis be Cured?' Yes, I absolutely believe it can. But steroid creams and suppressant medication are not going to achieve this. At best they might offer a temporary relief from symptoms. Healing from psoriasis begins with making significant, and often difficult changes, but let me reassure you, you won't be disappointed that you embarked on this journey.
The overriding feeling I experienced from healing my psoriasis was, and still is, empowerment - because I am back in control. I don't consider myself to be on a restrictive diet, I enjoy food far too much for that! I just eat very differently to the way I used to. I experiment with new foods and I find a balance that works for me. I cook from fresh lots more than I used to, and love trying out new ideas and recipes. My daily diet is far from boring!
When it comes to what I eat and drink, there are changes I made that I would never want to go back on - such as eliminating alcohol. If you'd told me I'd still be alcohol free seven years ago I'd have laughed. Now I can not imagine waking up with a hangover ever again! Other foods I'm more flexible with - cake at birthday parties, I still enjoy eggs from time to time if I know they're truly free range, sourdough bread which isn't always gluten free - finding your balance is important.
My psoriasis has encouraged me to tackle other, more difficult areas of my life. Revisiting upsetting memories from childhood was a tough process, but one I'm so happy I worked through. I used to get incredibly frustrated and angry about the slightest things and figuring out why that was happening was really important for me. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, excessive irritability and anger can impact the liver and result in multiple ailments including skin conditions such as psoriasis. Our body's are not all these disjointed parts - our skin, our liver, our brain - they're all connected and they all influence and impact one another.
The sooner we begin treating ourselves as a whole (think about it as a whole-listic approach) the sooner we can feel empowered to take back control of many different aspects of our health.
MY BOOKS RADIANT AND SKIN HEALING EXPERT BOTH FOCUS ON DIET FOR PSORIASIS
Where to Begin?
My books Radiant and Skin Healing Expert explain in great detail the changes I made to my diet and lifestyle. They each feature over 100 recipes to help you get started. Here are some of my favourite tips to naturally heal psoriasis. Remember, the more of these you're able to add in to your daily routine, the more you are doing to heal your gut. If you're not able to do all of them, don't let that be an excuse for doing nothing at all! Every step you take to good gut health is a positive one for your skin.
- Google 'nightshades' and familiarise yourself with them. According to a study by the National Psoriasis Foundation, 52.1% of patients saw an improvement in their psoriasis by eliminating those from their diet.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol has been proven to play a significant role in triggering and worsening psoriasis. If you're struggling to move away from alcohol, you might like to consider trying some of the new non-alcohol drinks on the market such as Gordons 0% Gin, Becks Blue Beer or a non alcoholic rose fizz like this one. You might also want to consider a Milk Thistle Tincture which can support the liver in the work it does. Eastern practitioners often talk about the close correlation between liver and skin health.
- Drink at least 2 litres of water a day. This might sound far too simplistic, but staying hydrated is absolutely crucial when managing dry skin. Drinking water also helps to flush your liver and kidneys.
- Make time to take 30 minutes of exercise each day. This doesn't have to be anything dramatic. It can be something as simple as taking a walk through the park or following a beginners yoga tutorial on YouTube. My favourite thing through lockdown has been a dedication to hiking 5km with my best friend every single morning. It's just as important for mental health as it is for physical.
- Take a Skin Clear Complex Probiotic Probiotics are proven to replenish healthy gut bacteria. With more and more studies strongly establishing the gut/skin connection, taking a probiotic formula is a really simple way to boost good gut health.
- Invest in a juicer (they don't have to be expensive) and add a green juice alongside breakfast each morning. Juicing makes it really easy to consume an abundance of vitamins every day. The amount of leafy greens and pectin boosting fruit you can fit into a juice gives you a concentrated shot of nutrients in one tasty drink.
- Consider switching to non-dairy. Dairy can be a trigger for inflammatory skin conditions. With lots of vegan options available in the shops, you might like to try coconut milk, almond milk or oatly as alternatives to cow's milk. Vegan cheeses are still not quite up to their dairy counterparts, but ice cream brands Booja Booja, Wicked and Magnum make it very difficult to tell the difference between the real thing and a scoop of non-dairy!
- Get a good night's sleep. Simple tricks like adjusting your bedroom temperature, clearing clutter from the space you sleep in, going to bed at the same time each evening and taking a warm bath two hours before bed, can all induce a good night's sleep. Remember the 2-way gut/sleep street? A good night's sleep promotes healthy gut bacteria and healthy gut bacteria can help you get a better night's sleep.
- Speak with a therapist. If you're struggling with anxiety and stress, talking it through with somebody who can support you can lift a huge burden from your shoulders. Think of your body as a whole. Your thoughts can impact your organs and in turn your skin. Anger, frustration and stress can manifest in chronic inflammation.
- Download meditation apps. If you're not sure where to begin with meditation, apps like Calm or Headspace literally talk you through it. Sitting in silence can be hard, but listening to a calming voice often helps beginners on their meditation journey. I still prefer using guided meditations after all these years.
I hope these top tips help you make positive changes to heal your psoriasis. Connect with me on Instagram to see more amazing natural skin success stories!