Plaque psoriasis is a chronic immune system disorder which results in rapid turnover of skin cells, producing dry, scaly patches on the skin. Approximately 7.5 million people in the U.S. have psoriasis, affecting individuals of all ages, though it occurs most commonly in adults. Psoriasis usually presents on the scalp, hands, elbows, knees, and/or feet.
- Plaque psoriasis: Typically appearing on the scalp, knees, elbows, and lower back, this type produces red plaque patches with silvery-white scales. These can be painful and itchy, often resulting in bleeding.
- Guttate psoriasis: Often triggered by a strep infection in early childhood, this type produces small, round lesions. Roughly 10% of psoriasis cases are guttate.
- Inverse, pustular, and erythordermic psoriasis: These an other, more rare types of psoriasis may occur in addition to one of the above types, often as a complication.
If one parent has psoriasis, there is a 10% chance a child will develop the disease. If both parents have psoriasis, the risk increases to 50%. However, while roughly 10% of individuals carry the genes associated with psoriasis, only 2-3% of the total population develop the condition itself.
Triggers for psoriasis flares include:
- infection (strep is a common culprit for guttate psoriasis)
- dermal injuries (vaccines, sunburn, scratches) trigger a Koebner response
- medications (antimalarials, lithium, certain beta-blockers, and certain anti-inflammatories)
Roughly 1/3 of all children and young adults experience a flare up within 2-6 weeks of an ear infection or upper respiratory infection. The incidence of Crohn’s Disease (3.8) and ulcerative colitis (7.5) is higher for those with psoriasis than in the general population (Najarian et al). Additionally, up to 50% of patients with psoriasis have depression and roughly 30% of those with psoriasis will be diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
Other co-morbidities include heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Conventional Treatments for Psoriasis
Mild to moderate psoriasis is typically treated with corticosteroids, salicylic acid, emollients, and vitamin D. Severe or extensive cases may be treated with phototherapy and immune suppressing drugs.
Natural Solutions for Psoriasis
Oregon Grape Root: Berberine, the active chemical in both Oregon grape root and goldenseal is effective at not only alleviating the symptoms of psoriasis but alleviating the plaques altogether. Relief is typically found after one application, but daily applications are ideal for full eradication. In clinical studies, a 10% topical cream is applied for up to 12 weeks (Gulliver & Donsky, 2005).
Turmeric: Light therapy (phototherapy) is often used for psoriasis, so a 2015 study looked to see if turmeric as an addition would help reduce inflammation. The patients in the study had moderate to severe level psoriasis and took turmeric orally. During the trial, no adverse events were reported, and 81% of the treatment group had a reduction in lesions compared to only 30% in placebo group. (Carrion-Gutierrez, et al, 2015)
Slippery Elm: In a 2004 collection of case reports, the use of slipper elm tea and a real foods diet was found to reduce the severity of psoriasis significantly with severity scores on two separate measurement instruments falling from an average of 18.2 and 14.6 to an average of 8.7 and 5.4 (Brown, et al, 2004).
Cayenne: Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, has been found to reduce the inflammation and pain of psoriasis, though initial application may cause temporary redness and burning. In a 2016 journal article, the botanical is recommended for both its anti-inflammatory benefits and pain relief potential (Srinivasan, 2016).
Berberine Formulation for Psoriasis
Many natural treatments focus only on the symptoms by soothing the pain or reducing the inflammation, but studies show that Oregon grape root has the potential to go further and eliminate the rash altogether. To achieve these results, researchers to use a simple cream for topical application that you can easily make at home. While you will likely see results after just one application, it’s best to continue treatment for about a month to ensure that the results are long-lasting.
To make your own psoriasis ointment, simply combine 4 ounces (1/2 cup) coconut oil with 2 tablespoons of powdered Oregon grape root. (While herbs should ideally be measured by weight, not volume, this application works because the herb is powdered (which leaves little room for variation in weight) and is a topical formula.)
Combine well. Place in a sterile tin or glass jar. To use, apply a generous amount directly to the affected area. Because the ointment still contains the herb, it may be slightly grainy so be gently during the application. The goal is not to exfoliate the skin, just to ensure ample coverage. Leave on the skin for a minimum of 1-2 hours or overnight, then bathe as usual. Reapply daily for 4 weeks.
Brown, A., Hairfield, M., Richards, D., McMillin, D., Mein, E., & Nelson, C. (2004). Medical Nutrition Therapy as a Potential Complementary Treatment for Psoriasis -‐‑ Five Case Reports. Alternative Medicine Review. 9 (3):297-‐‑307.
Carrion-Gutierrez, M., Ramirez-Bosca, A., Navarro-Lopez, V., Martinez-Andres, A., Asín-Llorca, M., Bernd, A., & de la Parte, J. F. H. (2015). Effects of Curcuma extract and visible light on adults with plaque psoriasis. European Journal of Dermatology, 25(3), 240-246.
Gulliver, WP, and Donsky, HJ. (2005). A report on three recent clinical trials using Mahonia aquifolium 10% topical cream and a review of the worldwide clinical experience with Mahonia aquifolium for the treatment of plaque psoriasis. American Journal of Therapeutics. 12(5): 398-400.
Misik, V.; Bexakova, L.; Malekova, L.; & Kostalova, D. (1995). Lipoxygenase inhibition and antioxidant properties of protoberberine and aporphine alkaloids isolated from Mahonia aquifolium. Planta Medica. 61(4):372-373.
Najarian DJ, Gottlieb AB. Connections between psoriasis and Crohn’s disease. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2003; 48: 805-21.
Srinivasan K. (2016). Biological Activities of Red Pepper (Capsicum annuum) and Its Pungent Principle Capsaicin: A Review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 56(9):1488-1500.