Sunlight found to bring big benefits for psoriasis sufferers

Some of you will have noticed that there has been some focus, of late, on the beneficial properties of vitamin D within the body. For example, recently on this blog I have written pieces exploring the potential for sunlight/vitamin D to help moderate body weight and enhance muscle strength, fitness, balance and reaction time. And of course it should not be forgotten that vitamin D appears also to help ward off several conditions including osteoporosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin D is made in the skin in response to sunlight, so one question we might ask is whether vitamin D might also somehow promote health here. One piece of indirect evidence which supports this concept relates to the experience that many sufferers of the skin condition psoriasis have in the sun. Psoriasis is characterised by raised, red, usually scaly skin ‘plaques’ (often on the knees, elbows and scalp). Quite often, these can improve considerably and may even disappear when exposed to sunlight, say when on holiday.

Psoriasis is thought to be caused by the excessive proliferation of cells in the out layer of skin known as keratinocytes. Vitamin D regulates a large number of genes in the keratinocytes, which means that vitamin D might have a role to play in the regulation of the division of these cells. In fact, compounds related to vitamin D (vitamin D ‘analogues’, such as something known as calcipotriol) are sometimes used in the treatment of psoriasis.

Light therapy is also sometimes used to treat psoriasis. This can be provided by ‘sun lamps’ giving off ultraviolet B (UVB) light. But of course this might just come directly from the sun.

I was interested to read a recent study where the effect of sunlight on psoriasis was tested. 20 Swedish men and women (average age 47) were taken off for a 3-week break in Gran Canaria (an island in the Atlantic sea about 130 miles/210 km off the northwest coast of Africa) [1].

The severity of psoriasis in this group was measured using something known as the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI). Over the course of their time on Gran Canaria, PASI scores declined an average of about 73 per cent. There was no control group (a similar group not sunning themselves in Gran Canaria to compares these results too), but nevertheless, my feeling is that these results are impressive, and add at least some scientific support for the anecdotal experiences of many psoriasis sufferers.

However, this study did not look only at individuals’ responses to sunlight. The researchers also measured vitamin D levels. I was particularly interested in this, seeing as I recently discovered my own vitamin D levels were crashingly low, and one thing I am doing to remedy this situation is to get as much sun exposure as I can without burning. At the beginning of the study, the average vitamin D was 57.2 nmol/l (22.9 ng/ml). At the end of the study, levels had risen to an average of 104.5 nmol/l (41.8 ng/ml) ” a rise of almost 83 per cent.

The researchers also measured blood fat levels and the level of a substance known as HbA1c (also known as glycosylated haemoglobin) which gives a measure of blood sugar control over the preceding 2-3 months. Over the course of the study, there was improvement in the ratio of supposedly ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol to supposedly ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. This would traditionally be regarded as a sign of reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Levels of HbA1c fell too. All changes were statistically significant.

Of course, some of these changes might have been down, at least in part, due to changes in factors others than sunlight/vitamin D levels (such as diet). Though dietary change tends not to change these parameters very quickly. The speed of the changes suggests that non-dietary factors (e.g. sunlight) were more likely to be responsible for these positive changes.

This study demonstrates, I think, sun exposure really does have the capacity to improve skin psoriasis. Sufferers will be generally glad of this relief, not just because the condition can be unsightly, but because it can be uncomfortable too (the plaques can crack and bleed for instance). The study also shows that sunlight exposure can dramatically enhance vitamin D levels. It should be borne in mind that the study subjects were from Sweden, and are likely to have had fair skin (more vitamin D is made in fair skin in response to a given amount of sunlight than in darker skin).

Finally, sunlight (and maybe other factors) appeared to lead to positive changes in the biochemistry of these individuals with regard to blood fat and blood sugar levels.

People who go off on holiday to sunnier climes very often report feeling better at the end of it. For many, getting away from one’s routine and perhaps hectic and stressful life at home has a part to play here. However, it does seem that, through the action of sunlight, one of the reasons that people feel healthier at the end of a holiday is because they are healthier. It seems to me that there is really is such a thing as a healthy tan.

References:

1. Osmancevic A, et l. Effect of climate therapy at Gran Canaria on vitamin D production, blood glucose and lipids in patients with psoriasis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 24th April 2009 [Epub ahead of print publication]

19 Responses to Sunlight found to bring big benefits for psoriasis sufferers

  1. Agent 3244 31 May 2009 at 12:01 am #

    Thought provoking as ever, John. I am becoming more accustomed to thinking along more dispassionate lines in relation to human diet and health. The vitamin D studies are interesting because they can be considered in relation to habitat.
    The developed nations of the world tend to lie in higher latitudes compared to our evolutionary origins in lower latitudes. Additionally, in the migration to more northern latitudes adopting agriculturalism significantly reliant upon domestication and cultivation of cereal grains becomes increasingly advantageous to the species. In short, peoples living in the developed nations of higher latitudes are essentially living ‘out of habitat’ – There are many parameters that may be considered to be ‘out of habitat’ of which latitude and high dependency upon cereal grain are two.

    I’d be curious to see the relationship of vitamin D and and dietary inclusion of oily fish opened up in relation to human metabolism and general well being. While the ability to synthesise vit D decreases with increasing latitudes the availability of omega 3 rich oily fish generally increases with latitude since the source of the omega 3 (zooplankton upon which the fish feed) is found in colder waters. Perhaps in each instance both vitamin D and oily fish confer some protection for the metabolic consequences of consuming a diet rich in unnaturally energy dense carbohydrate (high GL; and ‘unnatural’ in the sense that evolutionary precedent for such dietary high energy density is entirely absent from the significant past) and perhaps consumption of oily fish and/or other omega 3 rich sources in some way compensates for decreasing vitamin D availability with increasing latitude?

    Did I read somewhere that cholesterol is an important component involved in the synthesis of vitamin D? Despite general accepted convention that plasma cholesterol is taken to be a good indicator of creeping onset of chronic illness such as heart and circulatory diseases, there are those who question its’ validity in this regard. Might it be possible that raised cholesterol levels are, in fact, the bodies response to sub-optimal vitamin D? In this way the body would be able to synthesise generous amounts of vit D once exposed to adequate exposure to UV of appropriate wavelength? Perhaps then vit D deficiency has greater implied significance to the mechanisms of advancement of chronic illness than does cholesterol, but then does cholesterol have the potential to be a reliable indicator of low vit D levels? Immaterial really, as vit D levels are easily measured. Perhaps there is more mileage to be gained from the routine screening of vit D levels than of the routine screening of cholesterol and the prescription of statins? – Just thinking!

  2. Mike 31 May 2009 at 2:05 am #

    anyone interested in vitamin D should take a look at http://www.vitaminD3world.com The site also offers a good newsletter and has recently developed a new formulation of vitamin D and is offering free supplies to its customers children

  3. Anna Salvesen 31 May 2009 at 8:19 am #

    I also wonder if the holiday diet was lower in gluten and hybrid grain content, as well as lower in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids from industrially processed vegetable oils. Perhaps the diet was lower in processed foods in general.

    But I’m sure the extra sunshine was likely to be a huge factor.

  4. merryweather 1 June 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    You wrote that your own Vit D level was “crashingly low”: how low exactly was it? When are you plannning to retest? Will you let us know the before and after numbers?

    And do you object to taking Vit D3 in supplement form? If so, why?

    After much to-ing and fro-ing, I finally decided to start taking Vit D3 in Nov 2008, mainly to ward off osteoporosis, and have never looked back to be honest. It really has made me feel better in so many ways. You should check out “The Great Vitamin D Experiment” on the Active Low-Carbers Forum to see what great results a huge number of people have had from taking Vit D3 as an oral supplement.

    The claims that Vit D supplementation can damage your kidneys is based on supplements containing Vit D2, not Vit D3. So many of your “colleagues” in the low-carb world take it (e.g. the Good Doctors Eades) that I am really surprised that you haven’t taken the plunge and tried it out, too.

    You should, though, I am sure you wouldn’t regret it!!!

  5. Dr John Briffa 2 June 2009 at 1:38 am #

    merryweather

    Details of my vit D level and vit D supplement regime (I am taking it) can be found here: http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2009/05/14/low-vitamin-d-levels-linked-with-raised-risk-of-metabolic-syndrome/

  6. Paul Blake MH 2 June 2009 at 5:46 am #

    Hi,
    Vitamin supplements are opening the door to natural healing a crack why not open it all the way and go for it? What have you got to loose some poor life style habits? Autoimmune diseases are interesting there are approximately 80 to 100 with another 40 waiting for a name and if you get one you will get another and so on. Medical science cannot explain why we have this autoimmune epidemic or why you have even one of these diseases. You can trigger one of them just by having an auto accident, taking aspirin or medication or by starting a new exercise routine, even too much stress says latest research. Naturopathic medicine says, “Look for the root, it is in the basics beginning with what is on your fork, what toxins are in your body, what exercise do you do, what stress is in your life, what is your spiritual base”. Scientific arrogance has led us down the wrong path we better stop and take a close look at what is happening. This month 150 new chemicals will be added to the 85,000 in the environment which are part of the autoimmune problem. They will be added too industry with no oversight control at all. Autoimmune disease is the worst kind of contradiction; for a sufferer you are attacking your body with your immune system, a world upside down. God bless you in your search.
    Sincerely
    Paul

  7. Chris 4 June 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Paul, yours is an interesting discourse. Could you direst me to a reference which expands the idea that 85,000 environmental chemicals contribute to the autoimmune problem. I don’t doubt the validity of what you say in the broadest sense, but I would like to contextualise the significance and risks as may seem pertinent to my own life and viewpoint.

  8. Roy Schwartz 5 June 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    You can read more about psoriasis herE:
    http://bit.ly/NbB7z

  9. Trinkwasser 7 June 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Anecdotally, I have a small but persistent patch of psoriasis on one elbow which gets bigger and smaller seasonally but never quite goes away. I have had it on my other elbow, knees and elsewhere in the past.

    Sun exposure is one sure treatment for reducing it back to its minimum.

    Having said which I should stop typing here and get back out into the garden . . .

  10. Mike 10 June 2009 at 8:28 am #

    The first comment on this article talks about vitamin D from diet. Unless you are an eskimo chewing blubber you are not going to get enough from diet alone. Sun or supplements are the only way to go. Take a look at http://www.vitamind3world.com for some good summaries. The site also offers a good newsletter

  11. Jim 27 September 2009 at 1:38 am #

    Sunlight or tanning is usually beneficial to those suffering from psoriasis. While it can take awhile for it to produce results, 2-3 months is not unusual, it will produce good results that last.

    There are a number of options, puva, narrow band uvb, tanning salon, your own tanning bed, and of course the sun.

    Vitamin D3 also can be beneficial for those who are deficient in the vitamin and don’t produce enough of their own naturally.

    The most successful way to treat psoriasis is to follow a method like that in Say Goodbye to Psoriasis along with proper medical treatment from your doctor.

  12. Lee 4 August 2010 at 11:55 pm #

    I have been living with placque psoriasis in the northern U.S. for the last 6 years and it was terrible. I paid a ton of money for light treatments and checkups to a doctor with very little results. To me, there is only one effective treatment for psoriasis. You need a job and a geographic location that provides 2 hours of PTSR relaxation in a lounger. That is 2 months of prime time sun rays. 12pm plus or minus 1 hour. Afternoon sunlight didn’t work. Prime time sunrays did. It took me at least 1 month to see results. I was discouraged for at least the first month because I didn’t see results. I thought that the sunlight after 2pm would be best and I was wrong! I lounged in the sun one time every 3 days for 2 months. The inflammation and scaling are gone. I have some scarring in spots still, however, a lot of the scarring is disappearing. I used sunscreen protection in areas that didn’t have psoriasis placques and vaseline without sunscreen protection on the placques themselves. Diet had nothing to do with the removal of the inflammation. Maybe diet can play a part with inflammation associated with psoriasis however pure God given sunlight will take the inflammation, scaling, embarassment and long sleeved shirts and slacks away. It is nice to wear shorts and tank tops again. I am glad to hear that the results will last. Thanks to God for the free sunlight.

  13. Lee 24 September 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    For me, UVB light was very expensive and it didn’t work nearly as good as sunlight.
    Here is my prescription for psoriasis (and I had a ton of it) :
    Go to a sunny location like Arizona, Florida, or Hawaii and relax in a lounger from 11am to 2pm every other day for 1 month. If you don’t see results right away, do it for another month.
    Make sure that you start out carefully so you don’t get too burned. Use sunscreen in areas that don’t have placques and use vaseline on the placques themselves.
    It has been a month and a half of no sun for me and I am still psoriasis free.

  14. muse 31 October 2010 at 1:12 am #

    Lee, you make me laugh! Here I am in sunny florida, and am shad-belly white. I started some sunning last week to see if it will help diminish the ugly psoriasis on my legs (no itching, just unsightly).

    I was out 15 minutes on Saturday and 15 minutes on Sunday, but Sunday was humid. I was out today too, because it’s a gorgeous, cools autumn day, only about 81* and breezy. I was able to tolerate almost 40 minutes before I poured in dripping perspiration.

    When I came in, the psoriasis itched like crazy. Something new. I creamed it with “Calm Cream” (msm et al) and it seems, well, calmer. Right now it’s sort of hot feeling.

    As a basic pale-white of UK ancestry, were I to stay in the sun from 11-2 every day, I’d be fried. Lobster red. Covered with blisters. I have never been able to tolerate that amount of sun exposure. And in FLORIDA? For 5-6 months a year, it is far too hot to lie in the sun for me.

    I have been taking decently large doses of D3 for the past almost 2 years. It has had no discernible impact on the psoriasis.

    I AM tired of long skirts though. I’m hoping the sun will work. I don’t want to take meds.

    I love to hear of others’ experiences and hope to remember to come back to post my updates.

    Muse/St Pbg

  15. muse 31 October 2010 at 1:17 am #

    Forgot to mention above that my employer prefers that I not sunbathe during work hours

    Nevertheless, I hope what sun I can get helps as much as it helped Lee, even though I tolerate sun less.

  16. Adam 4 August 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Exposure to the sun is a well known practice to help Psoriasis that many people don’t know about. As others have said, D3 helps some, but not others. I’ve found it’s all about experimenting with different treatments until you find one that works for your particular body

  17. Roger Harmer 5 January 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    Stephanie Senneff has some very interesting comments on the relationships between sunlight, cholesterol/cholesterol sulphate, vitamin D3/D3 sulphate and many conditions related to possible sulphur deficiency: http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/sulfur_obesity_alzheimers_muscle_wasting.html

  18. Tasha 5 March 2013 at 9:02 am #

    The Magic of Dangerous Sunlight

    Psoriasis first manifested on my scalp, elbows, abdomen, back, legs when I was 8 (approx. 30 years ago) and the prescription was steroids and tar solution and some sunlight, though living in Australia, the latter was kept to a minimum by my parents. The tar shampoo regularly used kept my scalp in check.

    As a teenager (am Caucasian w. fair skin which burns then tans quickly then doesn’t burn) I discovered the one panacea – extremely unhealthy, but which I viewed as a better option when the psoriasis became unsightly – sunburn.
    Following exposure to sun for one hour at least at midday, the patches would turn bright red (darker than the surrounding skin so it looked as if I had bites), & overnight the psoriasis would disappear, literally like magic, leaving smooth white areas of skin where the patches had been. These did not bother me in comparison & gradually disappeared as the tan of the surrounding skin faded. Remission would last approx. 4 – 6 months.

    Countries where I experienced the worst episodes of psoriasis were when I lived in London and Canada, which is most of my adult life ( I would come home to Oz each Xmas – see my family & burn my body). As I’ve grown older and recognised the dangers of sun exposure, I now cover up every area except the patches. I’ve tried exposing the areas to some sun regularly, but the psoriasis only disappears if the area is sunburned.

    Note, having shared this with my dermatologist I have now been persuaded to try light therapy instead.

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