Don’t you just love when someone comes up to you claiming to have the “cure all” for your aches, pains, and skin manifestations? If someone comes knocking on my door, or shows up in my inbox, with news of a new cream or product they’ve tried, I’m weary.
Magic pills, miracle creams - we see them online every day. But unfortunately, with health, there is no quick fix. Unless we’re treating the root cause of our problems, we can put all the creams we want on our psoriasis or use all the peppermint oil we have for our headaches, but they’ll never go away because we’re fixing them with Band-Aids.
Psoriatic disease is an inflammatory condition in which your immune system goes into overdrive and starts attacking different parts of your body. Skin, joints, organs - nothing is off limits when it comes to inflammatory conditions. A key component to managing your psoriatic disease is decreasing your inflammation.
There are many different reasons we can have inflammation in our bodies. Our environment can cause inflammation. Stress can cause inflammation. Toxins, genetics, diet, lifestyle factors - all of these things can trigger inflammatory responses in our bodies. And guess what? Each of us have our own unique triggers for inflammation within our bodies.
Within chronic illness, there are many things that we have to come to understand are out of our control. Yet if we focus in on the aspects of inflammation that we can control, we can help calm down our systems, support our bodily processes, and allow our cells to focus on healing.
We can’t control our genetics, we sometimes can’t control our environment, but diet is one of the few things we do have complete control over.
I used to think in order to “be healthy,” I needed to watch my caloric intake and exercise. When I looked at food, I saw “delicious” or “comfort,” and didn’t necessarily look at food in terms of the nutrients they were giving my body. Instead, I counted calories religiously and you best believe that if I had 100 calories left in a day, I wasn’t reaching for a stalk of broccoli, I was eating a fun-sized snickers bar.
When I started on biologics, I had high hopes that they were going to help reduce my inflammation, decrease my pain, and get rid of my fatigue. It did help my inflammation, and that in itself helped my pain a bit, but it didn’t help my fatigue at all.
Appointment after appointment I went, begging for answers or advice to help me manage my symptoms, but I never really received anything of great value. More and more medications were thrown my way, and in my heart I knew there had to be more to the story. And there is!
Did you realize that 75-80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut? Since one of the main drivers of psoriatic disease is an overactive immune system, by targeting the foods that invoke an immune response in your body, you can have the upper hand at controlling your inflammation.
Before your autoimmunity, you may have been able to eat anything and everything! But having an overactive immune system can cause your body to become sensitive to foods that you weren’t before. Your body starts to look at food as a foreign invader and triggers an immune response to a harmless food protein.
There are common offenders of gut inflammation (like dairy, gluten, soy, corn, and refined sugar), but every single one of us is different and will react to different foods. Completing an elimination diet guided by a healthcare professional can help pinpoint your individual trigger foods. When you eliminate these trigger foods from your diet, you’re single handedly helping your system to settle, causing less inflammation in your gut and allowing your body to focus on other tasks.
It’s important to remove trigger foods that are invoking an immune response, but it’s just as important to ensure that you’re receiving all the proper nutrients you need for your body to thrive. If you’re only eating gluten-free rice cakes and almond butter, you won’t be feeding your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to function.
Each of our cells need fuel to survive. Without that proper fuel, any number of things can happen, including imbalances in our hormones, our nervous systems getting out of whack, our digestive process breaking down, guts becoming permeable, blood sugar spikes or falls - just to name a few. Any one of these things can be attributing to the fatigue we’re feeling, the cluster headaches we’re receiving, or the intense anxiety attacks that we’re experiencing.
Gut health is vital to our overall health. There are so many intricate parts to the human digestive process and they all play such important roles. Digestion starts in your mouth from the very moment you begin to chew your food, aided by saliva. Once swallowed, your stomach churns and pulverizes your food, while your stomach acid starts breaking down the food proteins.
The food is then released into your intestines, where a whole dance occurs to help digest and absorb nutrients. Your gallbladder releases bile salts and your pancreas secretes digestive enzymes to help continue the breakdown of those food proteins. Populated all along your gut’s ecosystem, gut flora is helping you to flourish by maintaining a delicate balance of bacteria and microbes.
If any part in the process isn’t working, then you won’t be able to readily receive the nutrients from your food. If your gut flora is off, you may have an overabundance of bad bacteria which prohibits you from absorbing all of your nutrients. Or if your body isn’t producing adequate amounts of enzymes, food particles will never be properly broken down.
Every time you eat a food that elicits an immune response, it can take days, weeks, or even months for your body to calm down the inflammation.
Of course it all depends on the food and the type of reaction your body is giving, but that one symptom you receive may cause weeks of inflammation and problems in your body. That’s why I always tell my clients, and other chronic condition patients, that it’s imperative to be 100 percent strict with your diet.
Food can bring people together and form a sense of community, and in its purest form, food nourishes us. But the food that we put in our bodies is either helping promote a state of health and wellness in our body, or it’s promoting inflammation and an environment for pathogens and disease.
Is Diet the Cure All?
There truly are a lot of different factors that go into healing. You can’t anticipate to change your diet and have all your symptoms disappear the next day. Your disease didn’t materialize overnight and you can’t expect all your problems to be fixed by just giving up bread and eating one stalk of broccoli every day.
There are many factors that all have an effect on your health and determine how long it will take for you to see improvements:
- How long you’ve had your condition
- How aggressive your conditions have been
- Your genetic makeup
- Any nutritional deficiencies
- Your gut health
- Your stress levels
- How active you are
- What types of foods you’re eating
- What other conditions or infections you may have
- What medications you take
- What supplements you take
So, is diet the only key to controlling your psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis? No, but it’s a major one!
When you focus on feeding your body the essential nutrients it needs, when you eliminate foods which are causing inflammation in your body, and when you choose to support your gut health in all aspects, you’re really giving your body a chance to begin calming your autoimmune response.
When this happens, your body can stop being in constant high alert mode and shift into a more proactive mode. It can then focus on healing the areas of your body which need it, your immune system will begin to calm, your inflammation will start to decrease, and your symptoms will start to become more manageable.
What Foods Should You Avoid?
I’ll be honest, I get annoyed when I see arbitrary lists of foods that “arthritis” or “psoriasis” patients should avoid, because to be honest, every single body is so different and every single body responds to foods differently.
Having said that, there are top immune-inducing foods that, if you do have an autoimmune condition, it is advised you steer clear of. Here's my list of what to avoid during flares, and what to load up on all the time.