Psoriasis | Portland, OR | Lee Dennis, ND

Lee Dennis, ND

Naturopathic Physician


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Psoriasis May Be More Than Skin Deep

by Lee Dennis, ND

Posted: January 10, 2014

Psoriasis is a skin condition characterized most commonly by red, scaly plaques that may have a silvery appearance. The plaques generally found on the elbows, knees, and scalp, although they can occur in many other places as well and may be accompanied by mild to severe itching. In some cases, an individual may have pitting in the fingernails and/or toenails and there is the chance for joint pain as well (psoriatic arthritis). In the long term, individuals with psoriasis are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately, it's not clear what causes psoriasis. While it is known that the immune system is involved in causing the symptoms of psoriasis, it is not clear exactly why the immune system becomes over-active in these individuals. Although, there is definitely a genetic component that creates susceptibility to psoriasis in an individual, there are also external triggers that seem to contribute to and aggravate psoriasis. The immune system is thought to be triggered by an unknown substance that leads to the production of cytokines (chemical messengers in the immune system) that cause skin cells known as keratinocytes to grow faster than normal while also not maturing properly. This leads to the characteristic red, scaly plaques described above.

The standard approach to psoriasis involves topical ointments and creams that are applied directly to the plaques, along with ultraviolet (UV) light therapy. In more severe cases, drugs that suppress the immune system may also be employed to decrease the appearance of skin symptoms. While these drugs can be very effective they do not cure psoriasis and they can also have a whole host of undesired side effects as might be expected when you suppress the immune system. These side effects could include an increased risk for infections and cancer.

From a naturopathic perspective, skin conditions are often seen in a different light. The skin can be thought of as an extra organ of elimination (meaning a way to eliminate toxins). The primary organs of elimination include the GI system, liver and kidneys. Secondary organs of elimination include the lungs and skin. From a general, abstract perspective, when one or more of the primary systems of elimination isn't functioning properly or sufficiently, the secondary organs are there to assist. This is why, in the case of many skin diseases it can be beneficial to treat the gut (and liver).

In the case of psoriasis specifically, one theory in naturopathic medicine is that toxins from the gut are absorbed into the bloodstream leading to activation of the immune system and stimulation of excess cellular growth in the skin. These toxins could come from various sources including incomplete protein digestion, bacterial byproducts and yeast compounds. Therefore, in addition to topical treatments and UV light therapy, NDs will also generally treat the gastrointestinal tract.

ND Treatments

With a naturopathic theory in place, there are a number of treatments that can be beneficial against psoriasis. These treatments are going to be focused on preventing the formation and absorption of toxins and removing toxins before they can get in to the bloodstream. This can be done using a number of different herbs and dietary changes. Additionally, the naturopathic approach may focus on decreasing overall inflammation and modulating the immune system to decrease its activity without necessarily suppressing it.


Increased fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables can help for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are one of the cornerstones of a balanced and healthy diet as well as being anti-inflammatory. This will not only improve the symptoms of psoriasis, but also can help to lower the risk for cardiovascular disease that is associated with psoriasis. Secondly, fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help to bind toxins in the gut so that they are excreted in the feces.

Decreased animal fats and dairy

While there may be some arguments against this recommendation (especially if you are using high quality, grass-fed, organic beef, for instance), the general thought is that decreasing animal fats may be helpful in psoriasis patients. This is because they are generally higher in arachidonic acid which promotes inflammation.

Increased lean meats and cold-water fish

Cold-water fish (such as salmon) may be especially helpful because of their high omega 3 content which can help to decrease inflammation overall.


Studies have shown that fasting can be beneficial in psoriasis patients, likely by decreasing toxins from the gut.

Elimination Diet

An elimination diet involves removing a number of common allergens for a period of time (generally 4-8 weeks) and subsequently re-introducing them one at a time. This process can help to identify food allergies and sensitivities that may be contributing to an individual's symptoms.


Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)

Sarsaparilla can be beneficial due to its ability to bind bacterial endotoxins. One small study of 92 patients showed an improvement in 80% of those taking sarsaparilla.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Goldenseal and other herbs containing berberine can be helpful in psoriasis by blocking a bacterial enzyme that produces toxic byproducts.

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

Milk thistle in known for its ability to protect the liver and may be helpful in psoriasis by improving liver function and its ability to remove toxins from the blood.

Alterative Herbs

Alterative herbs are bitter herbs that stimulate digestion and bile secretion and/or production. Some of the following are alterative herbs that a practitioner may use: dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, cleavers, nettles and red clover. Alterative herbs are commonly used in skin conditions and may help with psoriasis because bile acids can help to detoxify toxins in the gut.

Other Treatments

A number of other treatments may be beneficial in treating psoriasis. Castor oil packs are used to improve elimination which may be helpful in psoriasis by improving the gut's ability to remove toxins. Colon hydrotherapy is a method of flushing out the colon which, again, can help to remove toxins in the colon. Stress management can also be very helpful in psoriasis as outbreaks can often be triggered by stressful events. Techniques to improve how one handles stress may, therefore, help to improve symptoms of psoriasis.

The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a medical professional. Please speak to your doctor before trying any of the treatments or recommendations listed in this article.


March 31, 2014 at 10:17 am

Nice information, There is obviously a lot. Your points are very valuable and knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing this great blog with us.

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