What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is named for the Greek word psora, which means “itch,” and is a chronic skin disease known for its red lesions covered with silvery-white scales of dead skin. It most often makes its appearance on the elbows, scalp, knees, lower back, and legs, but has the capability to attack just about any part of the body. While not a life-threatening condition, psoriasis can be very painful in some individuals, and extreme cases can even be disabling. For most patients, psoriasis is a major inconvenience that never seems to go away. It causes a lot of psychological problems and increases stress levels for many folks, which in turn can make the condition even worse.
In a nutshell, psoriasis is the result of the abnormally fast maturity of skin cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin because they die faster than the body can slough them off. The dead cells cause lesions to form in the affected areas. Psoriasis is diagnosed as mild if it is found on less than 5% of the body, moderate if 5-30% of the skin is involved, and severe if more than 30% of the surface of the body is afflicted by psoriasis.
Psoriasis is found in both males and females, with a slightly larger percentage of psoriasis patients being women. At least four million Americans suffer with this malady, and the average age of onset is about 28. About 10-15% of cases are found in children under the age of ten. The vast majority of patients are fair-skinned peoples, and the illness is very rare in dark-skinned peoples.
This chronic skin disorder is known for being a frustratingly tough opponent. It is very unpredictable, and can disappear and reappear again seemingly at will. Treatment is a real challenge, with some remedies work well for certain individuals and not at all for others. Sometimes a remedy will seem to help for a while, and then stop working. The illness may flare up or go into remission with no apparent pattern and for no particular reason. However, part of managing the condition is to learn what seems to trigger episodes for you and to gear your lifestyle in a direction that can best help you to avoid them. Psoriasis is a very personal disease.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Psoriasis?
Signs can run the gamut from mild to extremely painful and disfiguring. There are several common types of psoriasis, and the symptoms an individual experience are often a factor of which type they have:
- Plaque psoriasis (psoriasis vulgaris) is the most common form, and is the type of psoriasis most people are familiar with, either in themselves or in others. It manifests the characteristic red skin lesions, officially known as plaques, covered by silvery-white scales composed of dead skin cells. The plaques usually start out as small red bumps that get larger, more inflamed, and more scaly as time goes by. The outer parts of the lesions are tough and dry, but underneath the skin is very tender, and bleeds easily, contributing to the “scabbing” effect. Most patients find these plaques to be sore and very itchy. Often scratching at them makes matters worse. Most often found on the scalp, elbows, knees, and trunk, they may at times also form in such sensitive areas as the inside of the mouth, the genitals, and near the finger and toe nails. Depending on how sensitive the skin is in the areas afflicted, the pain and itching may run from minimal to severe. In some patients, cracked bleeding skin may be a problem, especially around the joints.
- Pustular psoriasis is a rare type that can form locally on the hands, feet, and fingertips, or take the form of widespread patches elsewhere on the body (generalized pustular psoriasis, or Von Zumbusch pustular psoriasis). Attacks may come on suddenly, and may exhibit pus filled blisters only hours after the first signs appear, which is usually red and tender skin. The blisters tend to dry up and disappear after several days, but will often reappear on a regular basis, sometimes weekly or even more often. Generalized pustular psoriasis can also be associated with a fever, chills, weight loss, fatigue, and relentless itching, and severe cases have been known to cause perilous heart and kidney complications.
- Guttate psoriasis is named for the Latin word gutta, which means “a drop”. Itseems to be linked to respiratory infections and bacterial infections such as strep throat. It is found almost exclusively in folks under the age of thirty, and is characterized by small sores that are shaped like droplets of water. It is mostly found on the legs, scalp, arms, and trunk. They are thinner than the lesions associated with plaque psoriasis, and the scales are usually much finer. Guttate psoriasis may appear once and never come back again, but in some patients it is a chronic condition that is especially troublesome if they also have chronic respiratory infections.
- Inverse psoriasis has a bit of a different approach to its attacks. It is identified by smooth patches of inflamed skin that usually are found near the groin, on the genitals, under the breasts, and in the armpits. Obese patients seem to have a harder time with inverse psoriasis, as it is worsened by friction in folds of skin, and also by perspiration.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis is a very rare type known for its extreme itching and pain that can affect the entire body. This form of psoriasis has the ability to seriously disrupt the chemical balance of the body, and can lead to severe illnesses. Sometimes this type of psoriasis can be the first manifestation of psoriasis in a person, or it may develop in patients that already have plaque psoriasis. Severe sunburn is thought to be associated with some cases of erythrodermic psoriasis. It may also be triggered by the use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids.
- Psoriatic arthritis is not officially a form of psoriasis, but is rather a complication that appears in about 10% of all psoriasis patients. It exhibits swollen, sore joints and inflamed scaly skin along with pitted, discolored finger and toenails. It can also result in inflammation of the skin around the eyes, known as conjunctivitis. Psoriatic arthritis is not usually as disabling as other forms or arthritis can be, but it does progress in a small number of patients to the point of permanent deformity and disability. A small percentage of children succumb to psoriatic arthritis, but most cases are found in adults from the age of 30-60.
What Causes Psoriasis?
The skin is an amazing organ, and is in fact the largest organ of the body. The outer most layer, known as the epidermis, is a tough protective barrier that is no thicker than a sheet of paper. The epidermis is also one of the best recycling machines ever designed. It is constantly dividing and multiplying its cells so that the old ones are pushed up towards the surface where they eventually die, are sloughed off, and replaced by new ones in waiting. This is a continuous process that usually takes about thirty days to go through a complete cycle. In people with psoriasis, the process is abnormally sped up, and it results in more dead skin cells on the surface than the body can handle. Therefore, the dead tissue builds up into thick red patches and another case of psoriasis has begun.
I guess the key question is: what makes the cells turn over so abnormally fast? Well, the best research seems to point towards a dysfunctional immune system response. In a typical autoimmune disease response, the immune system mistakes healthy skin cells for invaders to be attacked and destroyed. It sends out white blood cells known as “T cells” which attack your skin cells as if they were viruses or bacteria.
What happens next is that the immune system response triggers a call to release a substance called cytokine that stimulates the skin cells to reproduce at a faster rate, since their comrades are being destroyed. This in turn stimulates the production of more T cells, so the process goes on and on in a continuous cycle. Certain triggers have been identified that researchers believe are responsible for causing the T cells to go awry. Some of the most common ones are:
- Bacterial infections, such as strep throat
- Alcohol: Heavy drinkers are especially susceptible to their psoriasis being aggravated. It is thought this has some relation to the poor nutrition that many alcoholics suffer from.
- Sunburn and excessive exposure to the sun
- Trauma, or an injury to the skin
- Exposure to environmental toxins such as paint thinner or disinfectants
- Certain medications seem to predispose some folks towards psoriasis or worsen an existing condition. Common offenders include lithium, beta blockers (for hypertension), iodides, and some drugs given to treat malaria.
What Treatments Are Available for Psoriasis?
There is a list of medications and other therapies as long as my arm that are typically thrown at psoriasis patients in attempts to control this complex and challenging disease. Most of them have serious side effects either in the short term, or long term, or both. And psoriasis is a very difficult ailment to treat. Some folks have better success than others, but trying to tame psoriasis can be a very daunting and frustrating task.
Unless you want to increase your chances for skin cancer and other major complications, I would stay away from the drugs offered by mainstream medicine.
Let me offer a few more natural, low impact tips on how to deal with psoriasis:
- Healthy diet: A gluten-free diet that is particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids has shown great promise for helping psoriasis sufferers. You can get them in a good, high quality supplement, but the best source is from food. Load up on cold-water fish like cod and salmon, organic flaxseeds and flaxseed oil (2-3 tablespoons daily), walnuts, broccoli, kale, and spinach. You’ll also give your heart and blood pressure a healthy boost as well.
- Sun in Moderation: Moderate amount of sunshine can actually help heal your psoriasis, but overexposure is your enemy, especially if you have psoriasis.
- Bathe daily: Use a shower filter to filter out toxins. A mildly warm bath can be soothing and healing to the sore and itchy skin associated with psoriasis. It works even better if you add a cup of oatmeal, some apple cider vinegar, or some Epsom salts to the water. Stay away from any harsh soaps or shampoos.
- Systemic Enzymes – Enzymes help the body to process food effectively and are great for most skin conditions. I recommend Trevinol Professional Enzymes.
- Vitamin D-3 – Necessary for health skin.
- Liver cleanseand support – I recommend LivaPure™
- Parasite Cleanse – I recommend ParaPure™
- Non-toxic personal care and natural skincare products
- Cotton clothing as much as possible
- Clean bed linens every 2-3 night (washed in non-toxic soap)