5 Foods That May Help Psoriasis—and 5 to Avoid
If you have psoriasis, an important part of keeping your condition under control is working with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. And you may be wondering if there’s anything else you can do to help manage your disease—such as altering your diet.
There’s lots of talk about eating habits and how they may or may not affect psoriasis, and the truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all food plan that’s going to clear up everyone’s symptoms.
“We have no good studies that prove whether one particular diet can affect psoriasis,” explains Laura Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh.
That said, what we do know about psoriasis and diet can help you decide whether making changes to your eating habits may help you manage your condition and overall health. Here’s the full lowdown on what doctors know, what they don’t know, and what may be worth a try when it comes to diet and psoriasis.
The Importance of a Healthy Weight
One thing research has determined is that there’s a direct relationship between weight and psoriasis. “What we do know is that patients who are obese, who [reduce the number of calories in their] diet and lose weight—that can be beneficial to their psoriasis,” says Anthony Fernandez, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. A review published in August 2018 in JAMA Dermatology found that, along with following their treatment plan, weight loss in overweight or obese people with psoriasis led to improvements in disease severity.
“Generally speaking, an overall healthy diet has a positive impact on maintaining a healthy weight,” says Ferris. Meaning, a diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein—and that limits unhealthy fats, salt, and added sugars.
Foods That May Help Psoriasis
Since psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, some people do see improvements in their condition by eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
“There is a little bit of evidence that a Mediterranean diet—which is considered to be an anti-inflammatory diet—can be beneficial to patients with psoriasis,” says Fernandez.
In fact, a recent study published in JAMA Dermatology found that people with psoriasis who adhered to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to report severe symptoms than those who didn’t.
“The evidence isn’t great yet—we still have a lot to learn,” says Fernandez. “But a good rule of thumb is to eat anti-inflammatory foods.” That includes:
- Fish. Consider upping your intake of omega-3 fatty acids by adding more coldwater fish to your diet—like salmon and albacore tuna.
- Nuts and seeds. Plant-based sources of omega-3s, like flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts, may also be beneficial.
- Other sources of healthy fats. Other good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids include avocado and olive oil.
- Fruits and vegetables. Aim to eat a wide variety of different colored produce—such as strawberries, figs, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, squash, kale, spinach, broccoli, and blueberries.
- Lean protein. Opt for lean options such as chicken, tofu, and beans over fatty red meat.
Following a Mediterranean Diet has other health benefits, too—it may help reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s; it can also promote agility and boost longevity.
Supplements to Consider
If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough omega-3s from your diet alone, ask your doctor if you may benefit from adding an omega-3 supplement to your treatment regimen.
Other dietary supplements to consider include vitamin D, which may help slow the growth of psoriasis skin cells; glucosamine and chondroitin, which may help prevent inflammation in the joints if you also have psoriatic arthritis; and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which may also help ease psoriatic arthritis pain.
“Supplementation with curcumin can also have a modest improvement in psoriasis,” adds Ferris. Curcumin is an active ingredient found in turmeric, and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. “It won’t make severe disease go away, but combined with other medication, it may improve disease severity,” says Ferris.
Always talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen.
Foods to Avoid
“There’s not a lot of great evidence that foods in and of themselves trigger psoriasis,” says Fernandez. But there are some foods that can promote inflammation that you may want to avoid, such as:
- Red meat. Fatty cuts of red meat contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. When you do eat red meat, opt for leaner cuts such as loin or sirloin, and trim any excess fat before you cook it.
- Refined sugar. Aim to satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruits instead of relying on high-calorie refined sugars, as they can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
- Processed foods. Things like frozen meals, deli meats, packaged snacks, and canned soups and sauces should be avoided, as they likely contain high sodium and sugar levels, as well as added trans fats.
- Dairy. Some people with psoriasis find that dairy products—which may contain sugars, proteins, hormones, and antibiotics—can trigger an inflammatory response, and find that cutting dairy from their diet helps their psoriasis.
- Alcohol. Drinking alcohol may trigger a psoriasis flare for some people. What’s more, “certain psoriasis drugs are metabolized by the liver, so the recommendation is to limit alcohol intake [while taking them],” adds Ferris.
Should You Go Gluten-Free?
Some people may also claim that following a gluten-free diet can help with psoriasis—but that won’t necessarily work for everyone.
“We get questions all of the time about gluten,” says Fernandez. “There’s really no good evidence that a gluten-free diet has any effect on psoriasis unless the patient has objective evidence of gluten sensitivity.”
Note though that if you’re overweight, and have found that sticking to a gluten-free diet helps you reach a healthy weight, that may be enough reason to go gluten-free—just be sure to clear it with your doctor.
Keep an Eye Out for Sensitivities
If a food sensitivity triggers your psoriasis, it may help to avoid that particular food. A survey published in May 2017 in Dermatologic Therapy found that some people with psoriasis make an effort to consume less dairy, gluten, sugar, whole grains, alcohol, and/or nightshade vegetables (including cayenne and bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant) in an effort to reduce psoriasis symptoms. Some find that their skin improves after doing so.
If you have a suspicion that certain foods may be playing a role, then there’s no harm in keeping a food diary, says Fernandez. “If you believe a specific food is triggering or worsening your disease, having a trial away from it can help you figure that out.” A dietician can guide you in deciding exactly how and how long to do that. Oftentimes, elimination diets involve abstaining from potentially triggering foods for six to eight weeks, then reintroducing them one by one to see if there’s a reaction.
“Whether or not diet impacts psoriasis is a really interesting and important topic where data is just beginning to emerge, and there’s a lot that we don’t have answers to today,” says Fernandez. “Hopefully, we will in the future, and we can come up with optimal strategies that may significantly benefit psoriasis.”
In the meantime, your best bet is to stick with a healthy diet to help manage your weight and lower your risk of health conditions linked with psoriasis such as heart disease and diabetes, to follow your prescribed treatment plan, and to check in regularly with your doctor.