Diets were in the news again this week. An article in The Lancet looked at diets in 195 countries across the world and confirmed that a poor diet of processed meat, sodium and sugary foods was the leading factor in 1 in 5 deaths globally. That’s bigger than any other risk factor, even smoking cigarettes. A lack of whole grains and fruits, and too much sodium, accounted for more than 50% of deaths attributable to diet.
As a psoriasis sufferer, diet is never far from my mind. A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of diet plans claiming to successfully cure psoriasis, from alkaline diets to the no-nightshade-plants diet and the more tempting 20-blueberries-a-day diet.
In the past 30+ years I’ve tried many diets in an attempt to control my skin. My dermatologists have always reassured me there’s no link between diet and psoriasis but that’s never really made sense to me.
There is some research looking at the link between diet and psoriasis but it’s not great quality. The main evidence points to a low calorie diet. One such study carried out in Croatia in 2003 put volunteers on nothing but fruit, vegetables, boiled rice and low fat dairy for 4 weeks. They found significant improvements in serum lipids but it’s not clear whether their psoriasis got better.
Another study from the 1970s, this time in Russia, found psoriasis improved after 2 weeks of an extreme fasting diet; nothing but mineral water, vitamins and daily enemas. Before you embark on fasting for 2 weeks, the researchers noted that the psoriasis came back as soon as volunteers returned to their normal diet, so any benefits were short-term.
There’s also anecdotal evidence from times of war and famine. In post-World War I Germany, psoriasis all but disappeared from the population. Similarly, Dutch prisoners of war in World War II concentration camps found their psoriasis disappeared whilst they were incarcerated. Again this points to an extreme low calorie diet having benefits, but obviously this is not a sensible or healthy diet to follow.
You can find more information about these studies at Coping With Psoriasis along with other tips on living well with psoriasis.
So should we be following a special diet if we have psoriasis? My dermatologist is partly right; there’s really not enough strong evidence to recommend changing your eating habits to clear up your skin. What the article in the Lancet tells us, if anything, is that our physical health is strongly connected to what we eat. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains, and limit your intake of meat and processed foods and your body will thank you.
Try a whole food plant based diet and your body and the planet will benefit. Will it clear up your psoriasis? Well, the jury is still out on that.