What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease that’s characterized by elevated, red, inflamed patches that are sometimes covered with silver scales. Often there’s itching, pain, and burning sensation as well. Psoriasis can happen anywhere on the body but most commonly on the knees, elbows, and scalp. Psoriasis tends to affect men and women equally and although it can affect all age groups, it primarily affects adults.
Possible causes of Psoriasis
In western medicine, the possible causes of psoriasis are still not clear but the following are a few possibilities that scientists have come up with:
- Autoimmune condition: In psoriasis, a type of white blood cell, called a T-cell, are put into action by mistake and become so active that they can trigger other immune responses, which lead to inflammation and rapid turnover of skin cells. This means that skin cells quickly rise from their origin below the surface of the skin and pile up on the surface before they have a chance to mature. Usually this takes about a month in the average person, but in psoriasis, it may only take a few days.
- Family history: one-third of cases; Researchers have identified genes linked to the disease after studying a large number of families affected by psoriasis.
- Emotional stress
- Skin damage
- Cold weather or changes in climate
- Physical illness
- Some medications including lithium, quinidine, and those that treat high blood pressure and inflammation can trigger an outbreak or worsen psoriasis
Doctors treat psoriasis based on the severity of the disease, size of the areas involved, and type of psoriasis, and the patient’s response to initial treatments. This is called the “1-2-3” approach. In step 1, topical medications are used. In step 2, light treatments are used (phototherapy). In step 3, oral medications or injections that treat the whole immune system are used (called systemic therapy). Over time, affected skin can become resistant to treatment and will no longer work, especially when topical steroids are used. Also, many psoriasis patients say that they have either not yet found a treatment that really works or they are afraid of the adverse reactions they will have to the medications.
Chinese Medicine for Psoriasis
In my practice, I see many patients with psoriasis. In most cases, the patient has tried every ointment or medication without success and is seeking an alternative. In the initial visit, I ask the patient many detailed questions and talk with them about the course of treatment. Chinese herbal medicine is my first treatment of choice but quite commonly I’ll also recommend acupuncture once per week. In all cases, I advise them regarding their diet and supplement intake.
In Chinese medicine theory, the skin lesions of psoriasis are mainly caused by an excess of “heat” which can manifest as blood-dryness, heat in the blood, blood stasis, damp-heat, or fire and toxic-heat. The “heat” is often resulting from pathogenic wind entering the body and invading the yin and blood. Also, Qi (energy) and blood obstruction throughout the body due to stress for example, can result in heat accumulation. Liver and Kidney weakness may also lead to the deficiency-type psoriasis. The TCM approach to psoriasis is to differentiate the syndrome and decide on what the underlying cause is. The aim of Chinese medicine is to result in a permanent solution after treating the root cause of the illness.
How fast can you see results?
The results of Chinese medicine treatment will vary depending on each case, although most patients notice visual changes within 1 – 4 weeks. It’s very important that patients comply with all treatment requirements for maximum effectiveness including nutritional changes, stress-relief exercises etc.
Nutritional Therapy for Psoriasis
In my practice, the nutritional recommendations I give are detailed and customized for the individual patient. However, the following are just some general therapies for all people suffering from psoriasis:
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids – may reduce inflammation, lubricate skin, and regulate prostaglandins (2000mg per day)
- Zinc (25mg per day)
- Folic acid (1mg per day)
- Quercetin (500mg three times per day before meals)
- Limit intake of red meat, dairy products, and simple refined sugars
- Limit acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus foods, eggplant, and coffee
- Limit highly allergic foods such as corn, wheat, eggs
- Avoid alcohol and smoking
Research study: Acupuncture for Psoriasis
61 cases of psoriasis were treated with acupuncture, including 25 patients with complications of joint involvement, and two cases of scleroderma additionally. All of the patients had failed to respond to their western medical treatments. 25 patients were males and 36 were females. Their ages ranged from 22 to 84 years, with an average of about 52 years. Most of them (about 61%) had quite extensive involvement of the body. The average duration of their illness was over 16 years, ranging from 2 to 65 years.
They received an average of about 9 acupuncture sessions.
With the acupuncture treatment, about one-half (30) of the 61 patients had complete or almost complete clearance of the skin lesions. About a quarter (14 patients) of them had a clearance of about two-thirds of the skin lesions. Eight of them had a clearance of one-third of the skin lesions. Only nine patients had minimal improvement. This indicates that acupuncture is an effective therapeutic modality for psoriasis, particularly when the western conventional treatment was ineffective.