What People With Psoriasis Need to Know About Diabetes
Psoriasis is more than just a skin problem—it causes systemic inflammation throughout the body. And the underlying inflammation that drives psoriasis may put you at risk for several other conditions. Among them is type 2 diabetes.
People with psoriasis may have 1.5 times the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, according to some research. And the more severe your psoriasis, the greater the risk may be.
But there are things you can do to protect your health and possibly even reduce your risk of developing diabetes. And if you do have diabetes now or in the future, you can still protect your health. Here’s what to know.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when your blood sugar, called glucose, is higher than it should be. That can happen if your body doesn’t make enough of the hormone insulin or doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should. Insulin helps blood sugar move into your body’s cells to be used as energy. For those with diabetes, blood sugar stays in the bloodstream. This is known as insulin resistance.
Over time, chronically high blood sugar levels may lead to health problems, particularly if left untreated. These potential health issues can include:
- Kidney disease
- Nerve damage
- Heart disease and stroke
- Vision loss
- Higher risk of infections
- Foot problems
There are several ways to decrease the risk of diabetes. And if you have diabetes, there are ways to manage it, which can help prevent it from causing other health problems.
How Does Psoriasis Increase the Risk of Diabetes?
The reason why psoriasis is a risk factor for diabetes isn’t entirely understood. What is known is that inflammation plays a role in both conditions. “Skin inflammation from psoriasis can cause the release of cytokines, which are proteins that can cause insulin resistance,” explains Cameron Rokhsar, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at New York Cosmetic Skin & Laser Surgery Center in New York City.
Some research suggests that both conditions share underlying genetics, but more research is needed.
There may be indirect links between the two conditions, as well. As Rokhsar explains, “People with psoriasis may be more likely to have other risk factors for diabetes, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels.”
Ways to Lower Your Risk for Diabetes When You Have Psoriasis
The good news is that there are many ways to help lower the risk for diabetes—and many are the same healthy habits that are important for everyone. These habits may also help improve your psoriasis along the way.
Get Regular Exercise
Daily exercise not only keeps the body healthy, but it may also help people manage their diabetes and psoriasis. “Frequent exercise helps strengthen the immune system, lower stress, and minimize psoriasis risk,” says Anna Chacon, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami, Florida. “By maintaining blood glucose levels within desired ranges, it may also help in the management of diabetes.”
Eat a Healthy Diet
Good nutrition is crucial to preventing diabetes. Try to follow the following guidelines, which are similar to the Mediterranean diet that’s often recommended to help manage psoriasis:
- Opt for water or drinks with no added sugar, like unsweetened tea
- Choose whole grains over processed carbohydrates—try to avoid white bread and baked goods
- Eat healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, and some vegetable oils like olive oil
- Avoid processed meat and red meat, focusing instead on beans, poultry, and fish as sources of protein
Avoid or Quit Smoking
In general, people who smoke are 30–40% more likely to develop diabetes than those who don't smoke, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking can also make your psoriasis more severe—which may further increase the risk of diabetes. Really, it’s best to avoid this habit for your overall health, especially if you have psoriasis. For tips on how to quit smoking, visit smokefree.gov.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation (or Not at All)
Drinking in moderation may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, but drinking any more than that may increase your risk. Moderate intake is considered one drink per day or less for women and two drinks per day or less for men. If you don't currently drink, you don't need to change anything—alcohol consumption is also a potential trigger for psoriasis, so avoiding it when you can may help your symptoms.
If you have concerns about your drinking, how to cut back, or how it may be affecting your health, ask your doctor for their help.
Go to Your Checkups
Keep up with all your regular health screenings, like seeing your primary care provider for a checkup and bloodwork. “It is important for individuals with psoriasis to closely monitor their blood sugar levels and undergo regular health checkup,” says Rokhsar. Whether they’re with your dermatologist or primary care doctor, be sure to keep your recommended appointments.
Take Medication, If Prescribed
Some people with psoriasis may be at a higher risk of developing diabetes, such as those with more severe psoriasis or a family history of type 2 diabetes. According to Rokhsar, these people may benefit from taking diabetes medications such as:
- Glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists
These medications have been shown to help control blood sugar levels and also improve psoriasis symptoms, Rokhsar says.
Especially if you have a family history of diabetes, it's important to work with both your dermatologist and your primary care doctor to manage your risks. If you do develop diabetes, these doctors can help ensure that your psoriasis and diabetes medications keep you as healthy as possible. “Treatment for both psoriasis and diabetes are essential, as is trying to avert any potential problems,” Chacon says.
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