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Diet Linked to Relief for Sufferers of Psoriasis

Amanda Ursell, a dietitian and nutritionist, is a London-based freelance journalist. Her column appears twice a month. She can be reached at amanda@ursell.com

Psoriasis, a noncontagious disease that causes scaly, reddened, itchy patches of skin, has been documented in humankind’s earliest records. It can cause extreme discomfort, even distress, and affects all people, except for Eskimo populations.

Dermatologists use a host of medications to treat this inflammatory skin problem, which affects almost 7 million Americans. But, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, many people are also attempting to treat themselves. One of the most promising methods is by making dietary changes.

Pointing out there is little evidence to support the use of most diets and nutritional supplements, the foundation admits that, “in the case of fish oil, clinical studies have produced some good results.” This could be coincidence, of course, but it is intriguing, given that oily fish is the mainstay of the Eskimo diet.

Fish oil supplements and the flesh of oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, pilchards, herring and eel are rich in two fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. Both are converted in the body into substances called leukotrienes, and specifically into a type of leukotriene that dampens inflammatory processes involved in triggering psoriasis. A number of clinical studies over the last decade have revealed that taking 5 grams of fish oil supplements or eating 170 grams of oily fish each day can improve symptoms such as redness, itching and scaling.

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But recent research suggests the benefits of dietary changes may not end with increasing intakes of oily fish. Work by scientists from the University Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden, recently discovered that 16% of their patients with psoriasis had antibodies in their blood that indicated an intolerance to gluten, the protein found in wheat, oats and barley.

Their report, published in the British Journal of Dermatology in January last year, said that symptoms were significantly reduced in 30 of their 33 patients who followed a gluten-free diet for three months. These improvements then deteriorated in 18 of these patients once they were back on their ordinary diets. Going gluten-free is a big undertaking involving the exclusion of bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, cakes and biscuits and many foods such as sauces and even some candy. Such onerous restrictions are only appropriate for those with a diagnosed gluten sensitivity and should be done with the guidance of a registered dietitian.

Poor Dietary Intakes a Contributing Factor

Polish researchers have recently shown that levels of the mineral selenium are significantly lower in men with psoriasis, leading them to believe that poor dietary intakes could be one of the contributing factors in the development and course of this skin problem. Brazil nuts, beans, seafood, whole grains, low-fat meats and dairy foods are rich in selenium.

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In addition, it is known that zinc (found in similar foods) and vitamin E (found in nuts and seeds) are nutrients important for healing damaged skin. They may be particularly helpful for people with psoriasis and are key components of any well-balanced diet. As the American Academy of Dermatology somewhat sweepingly puts it: “The healthier the diet of someone with psoriasis, the better.”


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