Research has yet to confirm a definitive link between diet and psoriasis flare-ups, but some people say that eliminating certain foods and drinks offers relief from symptoms.
While there’s no specific diet for psoriasis, some people with the condition find that what they eat affects how their skin looks and feels.
This could be true, says Jerry Bagel, MD, dermatologist and director of the Psoriasis Treatment Center of Central New Jersey in East Windsor. It’s just that there is no scientific proof to back it up.
Still, Dr. Bagel says, if you find that something you eat or drink seems to aggravate your psoriasis symptoms, it can’t hurt to limit it or cut it from your diet. For instance, in a survey of more than 1,200 people with psoriasis published in May 2017 in Dermatology and Therapy, over half of respondents said they noticed improvement in their symptoms after reducing their intake of alcohol, gluten, and nightshades.
Foods to Avoid
In general, the National Psoriasis Foundation recommends eating an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. Limiting foods that promote inflammation is good for your overall health and may help you manage your psoriasis symptoms.
Tracking your symptoms and keeping a food journal can help you determine if certain foods may be triggering your psoriasis flares. If so, you might consider cutting them out of your diet one at a time. Wait a couple weeks to see if it has an effect on your symptoms before moving onto the next food. Don’t cut them out all at once, or you may not be able to tell which food is causing your flares. Work with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making changes to your diet to your ensure your plan is reasonable and one you can stick with, recommends the Mayo Clinic.
Here are eight foods and beverages that get mentioned often by people as possibly causing their psoriasis flare-ups.
“First and foremost, stop drinking,” Bagel says. Here’s why: Alcohol opens the blood vessels in the skin. When your blood vessels are dilated, white blood cells, including the T cells that are believed to be responsible for psoriasis, can sneak into the outer layers of your skin more easily — and you don’t need to be inviting more T cells.
“Your psoriasis symptoms may worsen even if you’re a light to moderate alcohol user,” says Chelsea Marie Warren, RD, a certified wellness coach in Portland, Oregon.
- Junk food
Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, and junk foods and other highly processed foods tend to be high in saturated and trans fats and refined starches and sugars, all of which can promote inflammation. Another reason to avoid junk foods is that that they are high in calories with little nutritional value, and people with psoriasis often have weight problems. “If you have psoriasis, you have an increased risk of heart and vascular diseases,” Bagel says. “Being overweight adds to that risk.”
- Red meat
Red meats contain a polyunsaturated fat called arachidonic acid. “This type of fat can worsen psoriasis symptoms because it can easily be converted into inflammatory compounds,” Warren says. You should also avoid sausage, bacon, and other processed meats.
- Dairy products
Like red meat, dairy products also contain the natural inflammatory arachidonic acid. “Cow’s milk is one of the biggest culprits,” Bagel says, because it also contains the protein casein, which has been linked to inflammation. Egg yolks, too, are high in arachidonic acid, so consider nixing them from your diet.
- Nightshade plants
Some people report that consuming plants from the “nightshade family” — which includes peppers, white potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes — exacerbates their psoriasis. These vegetables contain solanine, a chemical compound that has been shown to trigger pain in some people. “Certain patients believe that if you avoid these vegetables, you decrease your symptoms,” Bagel says. “I’m not so sure about that, but I’m not opposed to people trying it.”
- Citrus fruits
Sometimes an allergic reaction can cause psoriasis to flare. Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes, are a common allergen. If you notice that citrus fruits seem to trigger your symptoms, see if eliminating them from your diet improves your skin. This goes for their derivatives as well, such as lemonade and grapefruit juice.
This protein is found in some grass-related grains, including rye, wheat, and barley. According to the Mayo Clinic, some people who have psoriasis may also be sensitive to gluten. For those people, avoiding gluten may help improve their psoriasis symptoms. Studies are ongoing, but the idea of psoriasis patients benefiting from a gluten-free diet is still controversial, Bagel says. Even if it works, he adds, it’s not an easy diet to follow.
If you suspect gluten is a trigger for your symptoms, ask your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease — a condition in which gluten causes an immune reaction that can damage the small intestine.
Some people with psoriasis find condiments and spices to be their enemy. The ones that seem to cause the most trouble for people with psoriasis are pimento, cinnamon, curry, vinegar, mayo, paprika, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup. These condiments are all on the no-no list because substances in each of them can increase inflammation.
Although research has yet to confirm a direct link between what you eat and psoriasis flare-ups, you might find that your symptoms improve when you avoid one or more of these foods.
Be sure to share what you discover with your doctor so you don’t miss out on any important nutrients.