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Q. I need help for psoriasis. What can you recommend?

A. This is an inflammatory skin condition in which new skin cells are produced about 10 times faster than normal, resulting in red, scaly patches. Unsightly and distressing, the exact cause of psoriasis is not well understood. However, nutritional and lifestyle modifications are very effective.

According to naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), psoriasis stems from an imbalance in the digestive system. Start your self-help program by undergoing a thorough gut and liver detoxification program, under professional supervision from a naturopath or TCM practitioner. This will entail avoiding foods which stress the liver (additives, colourings, coffee, sugar, alcohol), and may include traditional blood-purifying and liver-cleansing herbs like burdock, dandelion, globe artichoke, milk thistle and goldenseal, which are all are excellent for psoriasis.

Some people benefit from avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat (e.g. red meat, dairy foods), gluten-containing grains, and the inflammatory trans fats that are found in many processed foods. Increasing dietary fibre is important, as psoriasis is linked to bowel toxicity and fibre moves toxins out of the body. Avoid foods that worsen symptoms - wheat, citrus, strawberries, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and capsicums. Eat an alkaline diet loaded with whole carbohydrates, leafy greens, fatty fish like salmon, and some fruit. Take flaxseed or fish oil daily, along with zinc and evening primrose oil. Have your vitamin D levels checked; if they are low, up your sun exposure during sun-safe times, and take a supplement.

Psoriasis is associated with abnormalities in the metabolism of essential fatty acids, and omega-3 fats – such as those in fish oil – can reduce itching and plaque formation. I would suggest at least 4,000mg of fish oil daily, plus selenium (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory), vitamin A and zinc (for skin healing). Topical remedies to reduce flakiness and itching to try include aloe vera gel, chamomile cream, and creams made with mineral-rich Dead Sea salts or detoxifying herbs like Oregon grape – ask your naturopath to make one for you. Aloe vera gel has anti-inflammatory compounds: look for lotions that contain at least 0.5 percent aloe, or use the fresh gel.

Sunlight is an excellent natural remedy. Every day, spend 15 to 30 minutes outdoors and you should start to see results in a month. Research shows that sunlight decreases the activity of the skin’s production of cytokines, which initiate a cycle of inflammation.

While its exact cause is unknown, any sufferer will tell you that stress is a trigger – that makes regular, plentiful sleep and a de-stressing practice like yoga or meditation essential.

On bad days, add 2 tablespoons of almond oil to a tub of warm water and take a long soak. The bath softens scaly patches and soothes itching, and the oil helps seal moisture into skin. Or, try a bath with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. The acetic acid kills bacteria, and one theory is that psoriasis is worsened by bacterial infection.

Lynda Wharton is an acupuncturist and naturopath, and the author of Well-Being – an essential guide to vibrant good health for women (HarperCollins). Contact her at lynda@lyndawharton.com.