Psoriasis: My Experience of Food as Medicine

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Raising the idea of food as medicine with your doctor will likely produce a reaction ranging from bemusement to pity. Sometimes, it’s a look that suggests you need to have your head examined. Peak into my own experience, controlling excruciating psoriasis with food.

It Started With Stress

10 years ago, I started a new business. It was a stressful time. ‘How could tasting and reviewing wine be stressful?’ you ask. Trust me. It was.

Suddenly a rash broke out all over my body, and I ended up covered in oozing sores that looked like second degree burns. It was psoriasis, full on. (The pic above is accurate but it isn’t me. Tracey, the forever scientist, was so horrified even she didn’t take any pics.) There are seven varieties, and I had two: plaque and pustular.

My GP gave me pills and salves that did nothing to soothe my pain.

I was reduced to standing under a cold shower or sitting in a cold bath for pain relief. Cortisone, the miracle anti-inflammatory, was the only drug that worked. Sadly it’s a catabolic hormone that eats your muscles and makes your bones crumble. You can only take it for a week or so, followed by a long break.

I ended up covered in oozing sores that looked like second degree burns.

Kim Brebach

Lost in Space

I ended up stumbling around online forums, where horror stories were exchanged between people who’d suffered psoriasis for years, trying all kinds of drugs and treatments, but never finding a cure. ‘I’ve had psoriasis for 40 years,’ one woman wrote, ‘and it is now the worst it has ever been. It has just ruined a two week cruise in the Caribbean!’

I read up on various treatments that eased the pain for some people: vitamin D cream, retinoid gels and calcineurin inhibitors, coal tar ointments, UV light therapy and laser therapy. There are stronger drugs as well: methotrexate (a cancer drug), and cyclosporine (a drug used to stop rejection after organ transplants).

Back then, biologics were the latest drugs, targeting specific parts of the immune system. (Back in 2014, they cost $30,000 a year and needed to be injected. These days they’re on the PBS). Toxicity and immune suppression are serious issues, especially long term. Yet, untreated psoriasis can lead to psoriatic arthritis and permanent joint deformities, so doing nothing isn’t an option.

I’ve had psoriasis for 40 years and it is now the worst it has ever been. It has just ruined a two week cruise in the Caribbean!’

Psoriasis sufferer

Lost in Pyjamas

Food as Medicine for Psoriasis - water

I ended up seeing a specialist.

We went through the various drugs and treatments I’d tried, while he gave me tired nods and resigned shrugs. He mentioned several other drugs that might be worth trying, without much enthusiasm.

In the end, he asked me if I had a pair of old pyjamas.

I told him I hadn’t worn pyjamas since I was a kid, and said: ‘Why are you asking? He said: ‘Some patients tell me they get relief when wearing pyjamas after a cold shower, before toweling off.’

Some patients tell me they get relief when wearing pyjamas after a cold shower, before toweling off.

A dermatologst who will remain unnamed

I looked at him, thinking: ‘This is 2014, the human genome has been mapped, there’s talk of curing cancer in our lifetime, and the best this guy can offer me is a pair of wet pyjamas?’  

Lost No Longer

I really didn’t want to get on the drug treadmill; I just wanted my life back.

Until then, I’d been playing tennis, swimming, running on the beach, powering up steep hills and going to the gym 3 times a week. Now I had to play tennis early in the morning, wearing long sleeves to avoid the sun. I could no longer go swimming or lie on the beach, and I was in constant pain. Even in bed at night.

In my many travels on the internet, I’d come across the concept of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods.

I figured that this was a chance to test that idea, so I followed a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids. I ate oily fish such as a salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies four times a week for lunch and three times for dinner, augmented with walnuts and flax seed oil.  

I changed little else since I’d been eating real food for decades, including Greek-style yoghurt, sauerkraut, chick peas, black beans, avocados, blueberries, raspberries, nuts and dark chocolate. Along with some meat and lots of cheese.

Food as Medicine for Psoriasis - oily fish

After two weeks, the psoriasis was retreating, and after four it was just about gone. It’s been under control ever since (that’s almost a decade), as long as I observe the diet, and avoid strong sunlight, and swimming in the ocean or chlorinated pools. It’s a small price to pay for being pain-free and drug-free.

Psoriasis patients are increasingly turning to the use of alternative medicine to manage their psoriasis.

Millsop et al

Genius or Liar?

I jumped on the internet again, to check on diets for psoriasis. A scientific paper on Diet and Psoriasis started this way: ‘Psoriasis patients are increasingly turning to the use of alternative medicine to manage their psoriasis.’  I wonder why.

I checked the forums again, looking for feedback on anti-inflammatory diets. No luck with that idea. At the National Psoriasis Foundation, I stumbled on an article headed What’s the Deal with the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

‘If you’ve ever looked for answers about diet and wellness trends,’ it started, ‘you understand how difficult it is to separate the fads from the truth. The truth is there is no diet that will cure a chronic disease like psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and anyone claiming to have the answer is either overstating the effectiveness of certain foods or is simply wrong.’

There you have it; the oracle has spoken. The problem is that chronic conditions like psoriasis are a bonanza for drug makers. People end up taking their drugs forever, in search of ongoing relief. That’s because the drugs don’t fix the problem; they just mask the symptoms.

The truth is there is no diet that will cure a chronic disease like psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and anyone claiming to have the answer is either overstating the effectiveness of certain foods or is simply wrong.

National Psoriasis Foundation (USA)

A Better Way?

Relieving psoriasis is just one example of food as medicine.

In my decades-long research into causes of chronic diseases, food as medicine has popped up many times. In fact, I found that some foods actively make us unwell – anything from damaging our precious brains to pre-disposing us to cancer – while others keep us healthy and help us fight disease.

Yet, the right food isn’t the whole answer; these conditions are each caused by a host of factors. The good news is, many of these factors we have the power to control – and so reduce our chances of an adverse diagnosis.

Find out more about avoiding chronic illnesses through dietary and other easy changes in our eBooks here.

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Kim Brebach

Kim Brebach

Hi, I’m Kim Brebach, boomer, information researcher, technical writer and Joiner of Dots at M&M. In my spare time, I review wines and love to cook.

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