Psoriasis: Natural and Medicinal Treatment Options
Jack Huber | June 1, 2016
You already know: Dealing with the rashes, dryness, fissures, flakiness, peeling, bumps, itching and redness that come with psoriasis is a full-time job. It’s enough to affect your mental state of mind, too. Every person’s psoriasis is different, so there’s no one solution. Debate rages about whether natural treatments are more effective than medical solutions like topicals, biologics, oral, etc. If you’re like most people with psoriasis, you don’t really care – you just want to find what works! Here is a look at what you need to consider to make the right choice for you.
Time is a Factor
There are two ways that time will affect your treatment decision – first, how much time are you willing to spend each day on the treatment, itself? Next, what are your reasonable expectations as to when you’ll start seeing (and feeling) progress? Natural solutions usually require more persistence on your part and can take longer to be effective, but are generally safer. The safety factor is especially important if you decide to switch from one method to another.
You Have to Consider Cost
Money is always a factor in deciding how to treat your psoriasis. Just as a luxury automobile will set you back more than an economy car will, the medicines that work the fastest and are most convenient are usually the most expensive. Just the same, the economy car will get you where you’re going, so if the goal is relief on a budget, a less-flashy (probably slower) alternative is the way to go. Of course, your level of health insurance coverage weighs heavily in this decision.
Convenience – Will You Stay with It?
Time, convenience, cost –- these three factors go a long way in determining your satisfaction level in most aspects of your life. In the context of treating your psoriasis, you can’t have all three. Natural options (adopting a gluten-free diet, for example) generally impact your lifestyle more directly. Some medical treatments can require two or three applications or doses a day. On the other end of the spectrum, a few more costly biologics treatments consist of just one shot every one to three months.
Salicylic acid ointment is a topical treatment which smooths the skin by shedding psoriatic scales. But treating large areas may cause your body to absorb too much of the medication, leading to side effects like skin irritation and weakened hair shafts –- and resulting in breakage and temporary hair loss. The bottom line is that the effectiveness of these preparations are usually modest at best, and for many people not worth the risks.
These are the most relied-upon forms of psoriasis treatment. They decrease inflammation, relieve itching, and block the production of cells that are overproduced with psoriasis. The stronger, generally more effective preparations, can come with side effects – burning, dryness, irritation, and thinning of the skin. It’s important that you follow instructions very strictly if you choose this option.
Coal-Tar Ointments and Shampoos
Coal tar ointments and shampoos are keratolytics, agents that dissolve or break down the outer layer of skin. They work by slowing bacterial growth and loosening and softening scales and crust. They can slow the rapid growth of skin cells and alleviate symptoms, but you may be one of the people vulnerable to the side effects – particularly folliculitis, a pimple-like rash affecting the hair follicles. These medicines should be used only with a doctor’s supervision.
Over the counter, retinoids are commonly used as an anti-aging product, because they can actually “tell” a skin cell to behave and even look like a more normal or even younger cell. In prescription form, the magic of these topical preparations (containing a synthetic form of vitamin A) can be tasked to improve your psoriasis. However, they don’t work as quickly as steroids, and topical retinoids can sometimes cause dryness and irritation of the skin.
There’s a fine line to straddle here. Regular doses of sunlight – not enough to produce sunburn – can help psoriasis lesions in some people. Doctors often recommend light therapy for persistent, difficult-to-treat cases. Some doctors may prescribe ultraviolet B light (UVB) treatment using a light box alone or with other therapies such as coal tar. A more targeted ultraviolet light treatment, called narrow-band UVB therapy, has also been shown to be effective.
If other treatments don’t offer any relief, your doctor may prescribe oral drugs to treat your psoriasis. Some of these affect the immune system. Methotrexate (also used in chemotherapy and some forms of arthritis), can produce dramatic clearing of the psoriasis lesions. However, it can cause side effects, so your doctor will need to perform regular blood tests. Oral retinoids, compounds with vitamin-A-like properties, can be helpful to people with severe psoriasis. Several “biologic” drugs, which are made from human or animal proteins, focus on controlling the body’s immune response. These drugs are quite effective but are extremely expensive.
Most people have found that diet therapies (that is, losing weight) offer little to no benefit in the treatment of psoriasis. Starvation has been shown to be associated with fewer symptoms, but this is hardly practical or healthy, and is certainly not recommended. On the other hand, adding fish oil to your diet may be helpful. Research has suggested that taking daily oral fish oil supplements containing 1.8 to 3.6 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) may bring some relief.
Early research suggests that topical cream from the aloe vera plant may improve symptoms of psoriasis and is more effective than placebo – but the jury is out on the overall effectiveness. One last word on natural remedies: They may well play a role in your psoriasis treatment, but it’s important to know that natural products carry risks. Never start a new treatment – natural or medicinal – or stop a treatment prescribed by your doctor without first speaking with him or her.