I have lived most of my life with the skin affliction psoriasis. Since I was eight years old, I have had to deal with the itching, unsightly appearance and low self-esteem associated with this autoimmune disease.
The average person sheds skin on about every four weeks. There is a gradual peeling off of the old skin layers with a simultaneous rejuvenation with new skin. For the psoriasis sufferer, skin changes within days not weeks. The old, dead skin cells accumulate very quickly to develop into white, scaly patches.
Sometimes the patches are small but they may grow. Sometimes on growing, patches join together to cover large areas of skin. This can be very uncomfortable as the skin becomes less flexible. There may be intense itching, breaking of the skin and nails and joints may also become affected.
As I already mentioned, psoriasis is generally thought to be associated with the formation of inflammation and a compromised immune system. The body is fighting itself, sometimes in a losing battle: the disease is chronic with varying intensity depending on several factors. It appears that it may be genetically linked, being able to skip generations before putting in an appearance. There are times of remission and times of “flare ups”.
Remission may be brought about by some medication, change in diet or lifestyle or may occur spontaneously. Flare ups may be brought about by several, independent conditions. For example a flare up may be preceded by a period of intense stress, by a new medication, or by a change in the weather. The consumption of excessive alcohol has also been associated with psoriasis outbreaks in a person. Another evil is chocolate. Yes, that most delicious temptation has been known to bring about intense bouts of uncomfortable skin irritation.
There are even more possible causative factors. Wounds or other areas of skin damage are susceptible to becoming covered with those snow white flakes. Some medications have been suspected to induce a flare up as well. A simple common cold or flu could weaken the system making it an easy prey for the psoriasis vulture. There are so many triggers for this skin problem and they may be custom made for each individual, meaning what may result in an unsightly and unbearable attack for one person may not be of consequence to another.
There are so many different possible avenues of attack that controlling this lifelong disease is not an easy task. The good news though is that we sufferers do have some options for control and /or soothing of symptoms.
General guidelines for having a more acceptable quality of life with psoriasis are given below. Remember these are tried and sometimes successful tips and suggestions. I have lived with psoriasis for about forty years. The doctors’ advice and treatment methods based on their lessons learnt from medical school have not always been the best choice for me. I have planned and designed treatments for myself over the years. I have followed the usual method of having controlled, manipulated and responding factors to adjust and monitor. What works at one time may not work at another time. What works for me may be irrelevant for someone else. You alone will be able to work out what is best for your skin.
A summary of suggestions to help in the control of psoriasis.
1. Hydrate internally and externally: drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day and moisturize with a hydrating lotion or ointment.
2. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables: as far as possible with a minimum of cooking. Juicing does work and there are the added benefits of weight loss and general positive health effects.
3. Avoid alcohol, chocolate, sugar and wheat flour and its products.
4. Use topical steroids.
5. Use coal tar applications: shampoos, lotions. Caution: these applications tend to be messy and stain clothing.
6. Use salicylic acid treatments.
7. Consult a dermatologist for advice on use of oral steroids and other immunosuppressant drugs.
8. Consider using vitamin D , its derivatives and/or getting more sunlight.
9. Zinc supplements have been effective with some cases.
10. Vitamin B deficiency has also been linked to psoriasis. A vitamin B complex ought to be administered intravenously/ by intramuscular shot not orally – oral absorption is far less effective than intramuscular absorption.
11. Phytochemicals, in particular antioxidants have been found to be useful in the treatment of liver toxicity and its associated evils which include psoriasis. Natural foods such as ginger extracts, oleoresins and oils have scavenging effects for free radicals which may cause oxidative damage to cells. Silymarin use had also been suggested. Glutathione supplementation along with Vitamin C is my most recent experiment – results still pending.
12. Perhaps to boost the immune system, supplementation with L- Arginine, an amino acid, could be tried.
13. To reduce daily stress levels, I suggest doing some sort of meditation or take up a hobby such as gardening or playing a musical instrument. It works wonders to spend time on your own in quiet reflection.
14. Coupled with suggestion 13 would be to incorporate a regular exercise program – select some physical activity which you enjoy so that committing to the program does not become a chore. Exercise has so many benefits: it promotes good health, fitness, weight loss, social interactions depending on the activity, and produces “feel good” hormones such as serotonin and endorphins. [ eating protein rich foods produces dopamine which promotes mental alertness while not overindulging in food produces another hormone called ghrelin which helps to reduce stress.]
15. Take the focus away from your problems by either joining a service organization or adopting your own service project. Helping others brings happiness which replaces the negative self esteem issues brought about by those sometimes ubiquitous flakes.
16. Pray. In fact never stop praying. Pray in thanksgiving and praise. Pray for blessings. Pray for others.
I must emphasize that these are suggestions. These suggestions may be introduced singly before beginning another treatment option. The reason for this is to allow each option time to work or not work, before beginning another. In this way the method or methods which work for you may be more efficiently determined.
Note too that there is no cure. All these treatments give relief and may assist in preventing or delaying a possible relapse. What works at one time may not work another time. One option alone may work for you; someone else may need a combination of options to get relief. The idea is that you have to determine this for yourself.
Your health is your responsibility. Your physician or dermatologist can make medical recommendations based on theory or experience. You alone will know what gives you maximum assistance. The key to psoriasis treatment is commitment, dedication and regularity. Conscientious adherence to your particular treatment regimen is critical to successful control.
Just as a farmer applies weedicide to clear a field so too, we must apply treatment to rid our skin of this scourge. Just as the farmer meticulously has to tend to his crop, applying fertilizers, pesticides and water, we have to be rigorous in our schedule of treatment. Treatments done in a haphazard manner, without persistence, could prove detrimental. Such an unsystematic approach to the treatment of psoriasis tends to lead to exacerbated flare ups and the development of inflammation of the lesions.
Psoriasis may attack the nails and nail beds. It may develop into psoriatic arthritis, which is even more painful, could lead to joint deformations and is difficult to treat. Another secondary but equally devastating effect could be depression as a result of uncontrolled lesions which to the ignorant appears to be scornful and could be mistaken as poor hygiene. There could be social withdrawal along with the depression. It must be noted that this skin affliction is NOT contagious. If you are not genetically inclined to psoriasis you cannot “catch” it from someone else.
The battle against this enemy is constant. There can be no letting up; no period of rest, except during times of remission. Along with prayer, there are many physical options for the treatment of psoriasis. The onus is on you, the sufferer, to develop a management plan for keeping the dust off your shoulders; for keeping the itching to a minimum; and for letting go of mental stress.
You are not alone in this battle. There are millions of sufferers plagued with the scaly, itching, bleeding and painful skin as a result of psoriasis. You can choose to see only the negative or you can appreciate that, unlike other sufferers of internal disease, your illness manifests itself. This gives you the advantage of being able to discern quickly when your body is not functioning at its optimum. Compare this with someone who suffers with hypertension for example. That person may not be aware of their condition for the symptoms are not evident. In fact hypertension is referred to as the ‘silent killer’. Consequently treatment may have been started too late or may have been non-existent.
Take the proactive approach. Make lifestyle changes which include more natural foods in the diet, regular exercise, take nutritional supplements, meditate, pray, indulge in a hobby and have social interactions which are positive. Avoid alcohol, chocolates, excessive sugar and wheat and wheat products as well as excessive consumption of oily foods. During times of flare ups, use appropriate medications, as suggested or recommended by a dermatologist. The first line of choice ought to be topical applications, then oral steroids and finally other immunosuppressant drugs.
I leave you with these words: the quality of your life is dependent on only one choice – the choice to be a believer or not. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. God bless.