The plummeting temperatures we have experienced of late will inevitably bring a rise in a range of ills including stiff joints, icy extremities and viral infections such as cold and flu. One other condition that is usually in season at this time of year is psoriasis – an affliction characterised by thickened, red, scaly patches of skin that often manifest on the backs of the elbows, the fronts of the knees and the scalp. Psoriasis typically responds well to sunlight exposure, and therefore tends to take a distinct turn for the worse as the days shorten and wrapping up against the elements becomes necessary. The desiccating effects of the wintry air don’t help matters either, and can induce drying and cracking in the affected skin that may cause considerable discomfort and distress. Many sufferers of psoriasis will be only too familiar with what it is to endure a winter of discontent.
While conventional treatments for psoriasis exist, they are renowned for giving quite patchy results. My experience is that natural approaches are often a useful adjunct to orthodox medicine, and sometimes negate the need for it at all. One often-effective nutritional strategy concerns adjusting the types of fat consumed in the diet. Individuals with psoriasis tend to have elevated levels of a fat known as arachidonic acid in their bodies. Arachidonic acid encourages inflammation in the body, and it has been muted that this may be an important underlying factor in psoriasis. Within the body, arachidonic acid can be formed from what are known as omega-6 fatty acids, such as those found in many margarines, vegetable cooking oils, processed foods, fast foods and baked goods such as muffins, cakes, biscuits and patisserie. Individuals with psoriasis generally do well to avoid not just these foods, but also those that contain some arachidonic acid such as dairy products and red meat.
While arachidonic tends to encourage inflammation in the body, other fats, notably what are known as the omega-3 fatty acids, do quite the reverse. Omega-3 fats are found main in oily fish (such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines) and flaxseed (linseed) oil. Interestingly, it has been noted that populations with a high intake of omega-3 fats, such as the Greenland Eskimos, are really quite immune to psoriasis. Also, some studies have found that fish oil supplementation can help reduce the severity of psoriasis. I recommend supplementing with a couple of teaspoons each day of cod liver oil for this purpose: in addition to its rich stash of omega-3 fats, it also contains vitamin D which itself is believed to be of benefit in the healing of psoriasis.
Another natural remedy that may help psoriasis sufferers is the medicinal herb Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape). There is some evidence that this may work by reducing the overzealous proliferation of skin cells that is a hallmark of the condition. Preparations of Mahonia aquifolium are available from health food stores, and may be used internally (e.g. capsules or tinctures) and externally. In addition, it may help to treat the affected areas with creams or gels containing extracts of the cactus aloe vera. One study found that applying aloe vera for 16 weeks significantly improved 83 per cent of psoriasis sufferers (compared to only 7 per cent of those using an inactive cream). When the cold bites, psoriasis sufferers have a number of natural options available to them that can really help to save their skin.