broken dishes juxtaposed with whole dishes

What Happened When I Tried an Anti-Inflammatory Diet for My Psoriasis

By Claire Gillespie
August 12, 2021

Over the last 20 years, I’ve tried almost everything to treat my psoriasis, which I currently have on my elbows, knees, scalp, ears, face, and the backs of my hands. And I’ve had varying levels of success. Those treatments include topical corticosteroids, vitamin D analogues, salicylic acid, coal tar, UVB phototherapy, sunlight, various herbal remedies, oat baths, Dead Sea salt baths, aloe-vera cream, Oregon grape lotion, dozens of other creams, lotions, and any product that the internet hails as a “miracle cure.”

For me, the most effective treatments were the conventional ones, like corticosteroids and phototherapy; but, even those didn’t always clear my skin completely, and potential long-term side effects always concerned me. Plus, they didn’t treat the cause of my disease, only the symptoms. Decades of experimentation and finger-crossing had left me with more questions than answers. Could I tackle the cause of my psoriasis and ease the symptoms?

I realized that the one thing I hadn’t tried yet was treating my psoriasis from the inside out. During my 20s and well into my 30s, I simply followed the advice of various doctors, not one of whom suggested that making some dietary tweaks might help to relieve my symptoms. In fact, there’s very little solid scientific data to support the idea that diet has a significant impact on psoriatic disease. At the same time, there’s a huge amount of anecdotal evidence out there. Psoriasis forums are filled with people who noticed a difference when they cut out nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.), or gave up gluten, or quit alcohol.

In the last couple of years, I’ve started to take a more holistic approach to my health, and my psoriasis was obviously a key part of that bigger picture. Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, so what steps might I take to reduce inflammation in my body?

It was time to look closely at what I ate. Google “inflammatory foods” and the list is long. So far, so daunting—but I was determined to give it a go. I decided to go all in, eliminating gluten, dairy, nightshades, processed foods, and refined sugar. I gave up alcohol (which is said to cause flare-ups in some people) in 2017, so that was a box already ticked.

For people who have a normal response to inflammation—a crucial part of the body’s physiological response to injury and infection—those foods are generally no big deal. But when you have a chronic inflammatory disease like psoriasis, to me, it makes sense that making lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation should be part of the treatment plan.

I based my new diet on anti-inflammatory foods—fruits and vegetables (apart from nightshades), salmon and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, seeds, nuts, and antioxidant-rich herbs and spices, such as turmeric, cumin, sage, and ginger. I started each day by drinking a green juice and drank two liters of water a day.

Despite cutting out all the bad stuff, I didn’t feel great for the first few days. I was hungry, tired, and irritable. The urge to comfort-eat all the wrong things was strong. I went to bed early—and with a growling belly—hoping I’d spring out of bed the next morning feeling amazing. In this early stage, it wasn’t even about my skin. It was about getting to the end of the day without giving in to the temptation of the cookie jar.

I didn’t exactly spring out of bed on day five, but I felt a noticeable improvement. And from that point onward, my energy levels increased a little each day. After two weeks, I felt better than I had for months. I wasn’t bloated, I was sleeping soundly. I wasn’t even craving any of the foods I’d given up. Food tasted better to me, and my sweet tooth was more than satisfied by the apples in my green juice and the nut butter on my gluten-free bread.

But the benefits weren’t reaching my skin—the whole reason I’d made all these huge food changes in the first place. The existing plaques of psoriasis on my knees, wrists, elbows, and upper arms grew darker. Patches of dry skin on my cheeks that had been coming and going for months refused to budge. And some new plaques formed on other parts of my body, parts that hadn’t been touched by psoriasis in years.

I was devastated, and wanted to suffocate my sorrows with the biggest, cheesiest pizza I could get my hands on. But first, I checked in with some of the social-media accounts I follow—inspirational “psoriasis warriors” who are walking the same path I am.

I’d read Hanna Sillitoe’s book Radiant: Eat Your Way to Healthy Skin before I started the process, and had been incorporating some of her “skin-friendly” recipes into my diet. I sent her a quick message on Instagram, not sure if she’d see it, let alone reply.

And she did. Her reply was the boost I needed to continue with this experiment. Sillitoe said she’d experienced the same thing when she’d eliminated all potentially inflammatory foods from her diet and had had two weeks of her skin getting worse before the “happy changes” began. On her podcast, she stresses that everyone is different. Some people report an improvement in their skin within days. For others, it takes several weeks or even months. And like me, many people experienced a deterioration before they noticed any progress.

If there’s one thing every person with psoriasis needs, however the disease manifests itself on their body, wherever they rank on the severity scale, and whatever types of treatment they use, it’s patience. I’ve been patient before, I told myself, and I can be patient again. I’ve been patient when I waited for the steroid cream to work, when I went through weeks of phototherapy, when I washed my hair with coal tar shampoo every morning. So I can be patient while I nourish my body with nutritious foods that are, after all, only doing good things. The bonus is that eating a healthy diet doesn’t come with any nasty side effects, like thinned skin or sensitivity to sunlight or a higher risk of skin cancer.

Today, I’m three months into my anti-inflammatory diet. And the results are good. My skin isn’t completely clear, but it’s getting there. The dry patches on my cheeks have almost gone, and so have the new plaques that formed just after I started this process. The remaining plaques are pale pink, not dark red, and much less scaly than they once were.

I’ve introduced very small amounts of dairy and gluten back into my diet, and haven’t experienced any obvious adverse effects. Most importantly, I haven’t had to use steroid creams or any other topical treatments for months. I finally feel as if I’m in control of my psoriasis, and that alone has had a really positive impact on my mental health, which I’m sure has contributed to the overall picture, since stress is definitely a trigger for me.

Psoriasis is a complex, frustrating, exhausting disease, one that comes with no certainties. Maybe one day we’ll have scientific evidence showing that the foods we eat have a direct impact on psoriatic disease. Until then, my dietary changes are working for me, and that’s all the proof I need.

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