Can Losing Weight Help Psoriasis Symptoms?
If you’re living with psoriasis, you know that the condition can affect more than just your skin. You may also experience joint pain, fatigue, or a comorbidity, like cardiovascular disease or depression. Managing your symptoms and overall health can feel like a constant juggling act.
Adding to the struggle may also be your weight. More than 73 percent of US adults over age 20 fall into the categories of overweight or obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And it’s generally considered beneficial for overall health to fall within an average weight range, which for most people means having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. Another added benefit is that being at a healthy weight may also reduce psoriasis severity.
“There is a large connection between psoriasis and weight,” says Anna Chacon, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston. “Weight gain can often worsen psoriasis symptoms, and it is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, which is linked to psoriasis.”
Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of conditions that raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. People with metabolic syndrome may have excess body fat around the waist, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
Lowering your risk of these life-threatening conditions is a good enough reason to want to lose weight, but reducing psoriasis symptoms could be an extra motivating factor.
What Weight Loss Can Mean for Psoriasis Symptoms
Roxie M. Calloway, a registered dietitian in Jersey City, New Jersey, explains that our adipose tissue (also known as fat tissue) is actually an endocrine organ that secretes pro-inflammatory cytokines.
“It's been shown that fat cells have a major role in activating our immune system,” says Calloway. “Fat tissue can, and will, make inflammation worse with people who are experiencing psoriasis.”
Plus, carrying extra weight can be hard on your joints, which can cause additional pain and difficulty getting around for people with psoriatic arthritis.
“If someone is heavier, psoriasis flares can be made worse by rubbing skin against skin, causing even more inflammation,” Chacon says.
Weight loss really can help reduce psoriatic symptoms. A study on lifestyle changes for treating psoriasis patients found that when people with obesity and psoriasis were given dietary intervention (strict calorie restriction), it led to a 75 percent improvement in their symptoms. This can mean a significant decrease in flares and better results from treatment.
Weight Loss Can Be Hard, But Worth It
Losing weight isn’t easy, and it can take a lot of time, which can feel frustrating. It may help to focus less on the numbers on the scale and more on eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
A 2018 report published in the journal Cureus suggests that improved diet and exercise not only boost one’s overall health, but they are also helpful in fighting oxidative stressors and reducing psoriasis severity.
Eat Anti-inflammatory Foods
When it comes to improving your diet, it’s okay to start slowly with a few changes and swaps. Calloway suggests swapping out your usual meals for foods that are anti-inflammatory and may aid in weight loss but also have the potential to improve psoriasis symptoms.
“Specifically, foods in the brassica family—broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi—have been shown to reduce inflammation,” she says. “Kefir, yogurt, and coconut milk are also great sources of probiotics, which help to reduce inflammation, as well. Consuming foods high in fiber is also a great way to help keep inflammation in check, as fiber-containing foods have been shown to decrease intracellular levels of TNF-alpha." Short for tumor necrosis factor alpha, TNF-alpha is a protein produced by the immune system as part of an inflammatory response.
Once you begin eating more healthfully, you may find it gets easier to overhaul your diet.
“If something isn’t giving you nutritional value, don’t eat it,” says Chacon. “You find out over time that you are what you eat. Seeking advice from a nutritionist is a good way to start, and oftentimes, they are very affordable.”
Make Moving Fun
When it comes to exercise, cardiovascular workouts are going to be best for your heart, and those most likely to help your psoriasis, says Chacon. When you think of cardio, you probably think of running, but there are also lower-impact options like using an elliptical machine, doing indoor cycling, brisk walking, swimming, or using the stair-stepper. There’s no one way to exercise—choose the activities you enjoy most, because then you’ll likely stick with it.
If you’re dealing with joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, you might feel limited in your ability to increase your physical activity, but try focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. Once you get moving, you may find that it relieves your symptoms, making it easier to increase activity. Chacon strongly encourages people to see their doctor or a physical therapist for guidance on finding the right workout.
“Yoga and other physical outdoor activities can also make you feel better,” Chacon says. “Seeing a nutritionist will help, as well as consulting with other experts including a weight-loss management physician.”
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