Research why people develop psoriasis. Which herbs can be used to help support this condition and why are they helpful?
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis presents as a skin disorder with silver white and red raised plaques of skin with dry areas that flake off and can sometimes cause itching. It takes 27 days for healthy skin to replace itself with new mature cells, in psoriasis the cells are replaced in 3-4 days with immature cells forming the thick psoriatic patches. It is not infectious, you can’t catch it.
Why do people develop psoriasis?
“The skin and nervous system are closely linked, both originating from the same embryonic tissue in the developing foetus. In many ways the skin can be seen as the mouthpiece, as it were, of the nervous system - 'speaking out' when things are getting difficult” (Claire Choudhury). I never knew this but have long held the belief that our mental and emotional health shows in our physical well-being.
Although the exact cause is not known, psoriasis is thought to be an autoimmune disease, where the body’s own immune system turns upon itself as in rheumatoid arthritis. Psoriasis can also be inherited, so if it’s in the family there is an increased chance that you will have it.
Triggers known to bring on some people’s psoriasis are streptococcal throat infections, previous injury to the same area of skin and allergies or food intolerance.
Some literature suggests that if the digestive and urinary systems are not working effectively then toxins are not eliminated from the blood. One of the functions of the skin is elimination so the body relies on the skin more for excretion while other methods are not fully functional.
Conventional medicine seems to treat the symptoms and not the causes. Steroid creams and coal tar are prescribed and intensive light therapy is sometimes used. Creams can ease the symptoms, improve appearance and therefore self-esteem and reduce itchiness. Sensible sunbathing has been shown to improve the skin.
There is a lot of dietary advice; Kolbjorn Borseth recommends a diet low in acidic food and more alkaline. Spicy and salty foods can be a trigger in some people and alcohol should be avoided. Omega 3 and omega 6 are recommended which are found in oily fish and flax seed. To ensure the bowels and kidneys are working efficiently a high fibre diet and plenty of water are required. When skin flakes off continually, nutrients are lost, in replacing these consider carrot juice contains vitamin A, kelp provides trace elements and wheat germ has vitamin E and these can all help the skin. Richard Mabey says psoriatic skin contains abnormally high amounts of cholesterol and recommends lecithin from sunflower and soya oils to disperse it, he calls it “natures washing up liquid”.
Aloe Vera cream resolved psoriatic plaques in 83% of patients in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study compared with 6.6% placebo cure rate (Bensouilah & Buck).
Stress plays a big role to play in psoriasis, causes need to be identified and looked at to see how mental and emotional well-being are affected. Sufferers could reduce stress by doing regular exercise and practicing relaxation techniques or medication.
Herbs to support Psoriasis
Considering the many causes and then the symptoms of psoriasis, a lot of herbs could be considered. I thought herbs could be included which are useful for the following:
· Immune system support.
· Nervous system and adrenal gland support.
· Urinary system.
· Digestive system.
· Healthy skin.
· Easing symptoms of inflammation, dryness and itchiness.
Topical Application – herbs to put on your skin
EVENING PRIMROSE oil, ST. JOHN’S WORT oil, CALENDULAR and CHAMOMILE are anti-inflammatory.
CHICK WEED eases itchy skin.
Claire Choudhury says COMFREY ROOT cream normalises cell replication.
OAT MEAL or YARROW in the bath is soothing and anti-inflammatory.
CLEAVERS in a poultice can also ease inflammation.
Herbs for Internal Use
RED CLOVER gently improves elimination over a period of time by increasing the flow of urine, moving mucus out of the lungs, increasing the flow of bile and acting as a gentle laxative. It has a high content of trace minerals which we need to replace with psoriasis.
Julie Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal recommend red clover tea and red clover and curled dock tincture.
Red clover tea: 1-2 teaspoons of clover flowers per cup of boiling water, allow to infuse for 10 minutes before straining then drinking.
Red clover and curled dock tincture: put equal amounts of red clover blossom and chopped curled dock root in a jar and pour on enough vodka to cover the herbs. Leave in a dark place for a few weeks then strain. Dose: ½ teaspoon 2 to 3 times daily.
DANDELION is a bitter and a diuretic so can be used to aid digestion and urine output. It can be taken as a tincture to aid skin problems, sluggish liver, constipation, urinary problems and chronic illness. Take ½ - 1 teaspoon 3 times a day in water.
BURDOCK is a cleansing, blood purifying, detoxifying herb which is particularly effective for skin problems. It stimulates the release of waste products from cells. Susan Weed suggests frequent light applications of burdock root oil and internal use of infusion and tincture to continue after the visible symptoms have gone, she says it works “thoroughly and slowly”.
BIRCH leaves can be used in a pleasant tea for general detoxing, urinary complaints and fluid retention.
NETTLE SEEDS are an adrenal adaptogen; good for helping us adjust in stressful situations and give more energy.
|Nettle in seed|
LIQUORICE may help the adrenal glands.
VERVAIN works on the nervous system, liver, kidneys and digestion and also balances hormones.
SKULLCAP relaxes and strengthens the nervous system so helping with psoriasis along with WILD OATS, PASSIONFLOWER, CHAMOMILE and HOPS.
Anne McIntyre says herbs containing psoralens such as ANGELICA, WILD CARROT, WILD CELERY SEED and FENNEL help clear the skin in combination with sunbathing.
OREGAN GRAPE can reduce free radical damage to the skin and reduce inflammation.
Bensouillah,J. and Buck,P. (2006) Aromadermatology Radcliffe Publishing: Oxford
Borseth, Kolbjorn (2010) http://www.aromantic.co.uk/psoriasis.htm
Chaudhury, Claire (2010) http://www.talkpsoriasis.com/webdocs/features/Western_Herbs.php
McIntyre, Ann (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor Gaia: London
Mabey, Richard (1988) The New Age Herbalist Simon & Schuster: New York