Is There a Connection Between Caffeine and Psoriasis?
Nobody knows for sure why certain things trigger a flare in some people but not in others. Stress, certain illnesses (like strep throat), weather conditions (especially dry or cold), and skin injuries (like cuts, burns, and bug bites) may lead to worsening symptoms.
When it comes to foods and drinks, there’s more of a question mark. Some people with psoriasis report flares after they eat a type of food they’re sensitive to, such as dairy, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers), or foods containing gluten; but, at this time, there’s limited scientific evidence to connect certain diets with psoriasis.
If you think dietary changes might help relieve your psoriasis symptoms, it may take some detective work (i.e., keeping a food diary to track food and any related symptoms) to discover your personal triggers. But if you love your morning cup of joe, you can probably rest assured that coffee is one dietary habit you won’t have to change.
What the Research on Coffee Says
In the past, some reports suggested that coffee consumption can increase the risk of psoriasis, but there is no scientific data to back that up. In fact, “There are several studies that support no link between caffeine or coffee consumption and psoriasis,” says board-certified dermatologist Susan Bard, M.D., of Vive Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York.
One observational study, published in the journal Archives of Toxicology, evaluated the association between coffee consumption and clinical severity of psoriasis in 221 patients. The researchers assessed patients’ psoriasis severity and had them keep food diaries that included their coffee consumption and daily calorie intake over seven days. They found that the patients who drank coffee had a lower average psoriasis severity compared to those who didn’t drink coffee. The lowest average severity was found in patients who drank three cups of coffee per day.
Lifestyle habits, including smoking, were also taken into account. Those who had the lowest severity levels were people who drank three cups of coffee per day and didn’t smoke.
So, Could Caffeine Actually Help?
"It has been well documented that coffee and caffeine do not worsen or trigger psoriasis,” says Ted Lain, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology in Texas. In fact, Lain points out that caffeine may actually be helpful, since it has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects—but more research is needed in this area.
A study carried out by a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, published in the Archives of Dermatology, looked at more than 82,000 participants to try to establish a link between coffee and psoriasis.
All of the participants had filled out questionnaires about their daily food and beverage intake—at the time, none of them had psoriasis. Over the next 14 years, nearly 1,000 people in the study developed psoriasis. The researchers found no evidence that coffee intake was linked to an increased risk for psoriasis.
Initially, the risk for psoriasis did appear to be slightly higher in those who consumed a lot of caffeine, whether that was from coffee, tea, soft drinks, or chocolate. But the researchers found that coffee drinkers also tended to smoke more and drink more alcohol than people who had less caffeine in their diet. They concluded that the reason behind the association between psoriasis and coffee may actually have more to do with smoking and alcohol, since both are known risk factors for psoriasis.
Still, Don’t Overdo the Caffeine
If you’ve been wondering whether your psoriasis flares are linked to coffee or other forms of caffeine, Lain’s advice is to consider other possibilities, such as increased stress or a recent illness. “These are more likely related to the flare of psoriasis than caffeine is,” he says.
However, Bard warns that overconsumption of anything isn’t good, so don’t take this as a green light to overload on coffee or other caffeinated foods or drinks. “Overconsumption of caffeine causes the blood vessels in the body to constrict,” she says. “This decreases blood flow, which can have an effect on all organs, including the skin.”
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