Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Healing Psoriasis Naturally

I can't wave a magic wand and tell you exactly what will clear up your psoriasis naturally. We're all different. But I can tell you what worked for me.


I don't have any photos of my psoriasis - I wouldn't let anyone near me with a camera - but after 1 year of eating well, getting lots of rest and some sunlight every day I feel like a different person. And a LOT less itchy. 

Here goes. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, where skin cells reproduce quicker than usual - it's as if the immune system senses a cut somewhere on the body and keeps sending cells there to repair it. Yep - even though there is no cut. Putting it simply, it's an immune system that's gone a bit wonky. Psoriasis patches can appear anywhere on the body and itch, burn and feel very sore. 

I've suffered from psoriasis for about 25 years. I'm sort of embarrassed to admit it, but it stopped me going to a lot of social events because I had thick, white scales on my eyelids and around my ears. Makeup didn't hide it, it just made it worse. I also had it very severely, on my entire scalp and on my knees and elbows, as well as smaller patches on my tummy. Even doctors winced as they looked at it, but helped as best they could, handing me prescriptions for stronger steroid creams and shampoos that would work for a couple of days and then no more. 

There was a decisive moment when I realised that I had to try something else. I was holding what was to be (although I didn't know it then) my final tube of rather strong steroid cream. And it was for my eyelids. I knew that steroid creams - I'd been using them since I was a teenager - had a tendency to thin the skin after a while, and - as we all know - skin around there is already very thin. 

I got home and read the leaflet inside the box. It said under no circumstances should this cream be used 'anywhere near the face'. Hmm. The doctor must have made a mistake, so I rang him. No, there was no mistake - even though it had big warnings in bold on the pack, he said I could ignore the warnings and use a 'little bit' on my eyelids. "Psoriasis is a pain," he said, "once you've got it, you'll have it forever. You won't be able to do anything about it. You just have to learn to live with it." 

Well, THIS wasn't good.

I looked into how I might be able to finally tackle this condition myself - preferably naturally. I read up on Pagano's 'psoriasis diet' and the paleo diet. And along the way, I found lots of people who claimed to have eased their symptoms, completely naturally. 

A year on, and I haven't needed steroid creams. I mean, I put up with it for more than two decades. Now, the psoriasis has disappeared from most of my body - all that remains is a stubborn, tiny patch on the back of my neck and a slight pinkness in one small area below one of my eyebrows. It's not even itchy, and every day it fades a bit more. 

I talk a lot about the autoimmune protocol - a diet designed to reduce inflammation and cool down the immune system - and it did help, but it wasn't the only thing that eventually got it under control. Here's how I did it. I hope it helps you too. 

Note: I'm not a doctor. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that varies greatly in severity. You should always talk to your doctor if you are planning on making any lifestyle or diet changes. I did, and found the doctors I spoke to quite supportive. There is so much that is unknown about psoriasis, which is essentially quite a complicated condition and one thing won't work, or be suitable, for everyone. There's evidence that it's genetic (my grandad had it) - but I've been able to reduce my symptoms considerably. One day I hope to send it into remission completely. 

My Top Tips for Healing Psoriasis Naturally

1. Identify any food triggers
I've been on a modified version of the autoimmune protocol (like a paleo diet but with more things cut out) for the past year. Yes, I've cheated - I'll admit I had the odd slice of birthday cake over the year - but I've kept pretty much straight. I found a lot of things that caused my psoriasis to flare (alcohol, sugar, egg whites) and foods that didn't bother me at all (egg yolks, goat's dairy and white rice). When I started following the AIP, my psoriasis patches were visibly less red, scaly and sore after just TWO DAYS. For me, eliminating some foods helped. I still find that if I eat raw tomatoes, egg whites, cow's dairy or gluten - or too much sugar, even natural sugar in fruit - I will get inflamed psoriasis patches within hours. Again, talk to a professional if you're thinking of changing any aspect of your diet. There's another diet plan for psoriasis by Dr Pagano, which you might want to look into. My doctor suggested I keep a food diary, which was a great help in identifying which were my personal trigger foods. But remember - everyone's different. 

2. Reduce stress
When you're stressed out, the body thinks - in it's native caveman mode - that you're under attack, so the brain is flooded with hormones and 'fight or flight' chemicals, which send the immune system into alert mode. It doesn't realise that you're just standing in the queue at the supermarket and the person in front of you decides to pay their weekly shop with all their small change. Relaaaaxxx..... Anything you can do to calm your mind is good. Drink tea, do yoga, learn some mindfulness techniques, meditate. Yoga worked wonders for me, personally. Check out classes in your area. Make a little bit of time - even 15-30 minutes a day - just for yourself.

3. Moisturise
But pick the right moisturiser. Avoid anything with fragrance or additives, even if it does smell divine. For me, posh, perfumed creams made my psoriasis patches redder and more sore. For a long time I used just plain Vaseline on my patches. Now I use a thick, plain aqueous cream which does the job of keeping what's left of my psoriasis soft - so it doesn't itch or turn flaky. Some swear by coconut or argan oil. Find the one that works for you. And moisturise straight after a shower or bath - it helps to lock in some of the moisture. 

4. Sunlight
Our body converts sunlight into vitamin D, which is thought to have a beneficial effect on the immune system, and our health in general. On a sunny day, you only need 10-15 minutes in the sunshine to get enough vitamin D for that day. But don't overdo it - be careful you don't burn. When you think about it, we tend to live a lot of our lives inside - we leave home, get in the car, arrive at the office and then get back in the car and straight home. Take your packed lunch and eat it in the park. Sit outside with a cup of tea for 10 minutes on a sunny afternoon. Just don't overdo it. 

5. Accept your condition
I used to get up in the morning, and dash to the mirror to check how my psoriasis was that day. I used to actively worry about it. I grew a long fringe, which I hoped would cover my eyelids (it didn't). I bought thick-rimmed glasses and tried covering my patches up with makeup. (It didn't work). I could only wear white tops. I used to worry about how I could handle meeting various people that day, if it was particularly bad. If I'm honest, having psoriasis whacked my self-esteem quite considerably. And then one day something clicked. I'd had enough. Fine, I had itchy patches of skin. So what? I decided I was going to tackle it and it WAS going to get better. When I did that, everything else - the food, the stress, the yoga - all clicked into place. And my psoriasis started improving. Maybe it was the worry that had been making it worse. I pinned my fringe up, went without makeup and if anyone asked me about it, I just said "my immune system's a bit wonky - it's sending skin cells where it thinks there's a cut. I've had it for ages." It was, suddenly, no more of a huge deal, because I'd accepted I had it - rather than constantly putting in lots of energy trying to hide it. The power of thinking positively... 

6. Treat food like medicine
Oily fish, flaxseed oil, avocados, bone broths, organ meats - they're all thought to be good for the skin. Make sure you eat lots of vegetables. If sugar is a trigger for you (like it is for me) you might want to reduce your fruits just a little bit and chomp on more veggies instead. Vegetables - as well as fruits and berries - contain good amounts of healing nutrients and antioxidants. 

7. Stay hydrated
Oh yes. A BIG one. When I look back at the two times my psoriasis was at its very worst this year, it all boiled down to being dehydrated - once after an illness and the other time because I hadn't been drinking enough water. This doesn't mean you need to drink gallons of water - too much of anything is, after all, too much. But drink the minute you feel thirsty, and carry a small bottle of water around with you, taking little sips throughout the day. 

8. Get lots of sleep
When I started to heal, I noticed a definite pattern. When I got a couple of good nights' sleep, my psoriasis patches were faded and hardly visible when I woke up. When I'd had interrupted sleep, they were more raised and itchy. Try and get 8 hours sleep every night - go to bed early. Drink camomile tea with a teaspoon of honey (that always sets me off). Read a book but avoid tapping on your computer or mobile phone in the wee hours. It made a difference to me, I hope it will work for you too. 

9. Be Patient
When I say I noticed the difference after 2 days on the autoimmune protocol, I don't mean that it all healed up completely. It became suddenly less itchy and inflamed but the patches stayed where they were, in their slightly less red state, for about 8 months. That's a long time. Then suddenly, in month nine, I realised the spots on my eyes didn't itch any more. I hadn't itched my scalp in a couple of weeks. And from 8 months to a year there was a more robust difference, with everything healing a little bit more quickly. But again, everyone is different. Just because you hear about someone who healed in a few weeks, doesn't mean it'll work for you. And the lifestyle changes - sleep, stress-reduction, acceptance - are just as important as any diet. Work with your doctor and don't just give up on your medicines unless they say it's ok. Stay positive. 

Has any of this helped? Have you suffered from psoriasis? What has worked for you?