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Food Triggers for Psoriasis: What To Avoid

Posted on April 07, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Paz Etcheverry, Ph.D.

Research has shown that certain foods can worsen psoriasis, while making dietary changes and losing weight may improve psoriatic symptoms such as itchy skin. Your diet can sometimes affect psoriasis itself, as well as how your body processes drugs used to treat the condition.

Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and the accelerated production of skin cells. Symptoms include thickened, scaly skin that can crack, bleed, and itch. Although diet plays an important role in total health and symptom management, dietary changes alone usually are not a replacement for the medical therapies for psoriasis recommended by your dermatologist or health care provider. Be sure to discuss strategies for managing your psoriasis, including diet, with your doctor.

Potential Food Triggers

Certain foods may act as triggers for psoriasis symptoms in some people. If you think certain foods may be triggering your psoriasis, be sure to talk with your doctor before making any adjustments to your diet. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid those foods.

Gluten

Many members of MyPsoriasisTeam wonder if foods containing gluten act as triggers for psoriasis. “Anyone feel better eating gluten-free?” one member asked.

A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with psoriasis and celiac disease (or gluten sensitivity). For these people, a gluten-free diet will generally also improve psoriasis symptoms. The evidence is more mixed for individuals with psoriasis who do not have a confirmed gluten intolerance.

Gluten is present in foods such as:

  • Barley (present in brewer’s yeast, malt, malt extract, and malt vinegar)
  • Rye
  • Triticale, a cross between wheat and rye
  • Wheat and types of wheat, such as durum, emmer, semolina, and spelt

Additionally, gluten may be used as an additive in less obvious sources, such as:

  • Butter, candy, dressings, ice cream, marinades, seasonings, and stuffing (as a thickener, emulsifier, or gelling agent)
  • Medications and confections (as filler and coating)
  • Processed meat
  • Reconstituted seafood
  • Vegetarian meat substitute

Read more about psoriasis and gluten.

Histamine-Rich Foods

Foods high in histamine can sometimes make inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis worse. Studies have shown that psoriasis lesions often have higher levels of histamine than healthy skin does. Histamine is a compound that is produced inside the body and that is involved in the immune response. However, certain foods can also release histamine into the body or block the enzyme that breaks down excess histamine.

Foods that are high in histamine include:

  • Fermented foods, including yogurt, cheese, wine, and beer
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Chicken and pork
  • Spinach and certain fruits
  • Green tea
  • Ketchup and mayonnaise
  • Mackerel and tuna

Nightshades

Nightshades, which include eggplant, peppers, white potatoes, and tomatoes, are sometimes linked to worse psoriasis symptoms. Nightshades increase the formation of inflammatory compounds called cytokines and worsen immune-related disorders like psoriasis. It’s believed that the alkaloids present in nightshades negatively impact the intestine and aggravate the inflammatory response.

MyPsoriasisTeam members often post about the challenges of giving up nightshades. “I love potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. What a killer!” one member wrote.

In response, a second member suggested eating fewer nightshades instead of eliminating them. “I've done much better at greatly limiting these foods than trying to give them up entirely forever. It's just not going to happen in my case,” they wrote.

Other Foods

Other foods that might act as triggers of psoriasis include:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Fatty red meats
  • Fried or processed foods, like white bread
  • Junk food
  • Soda
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar

Cutting out dairy, sugar, and processed foods are popular approaches among MyPsoriasisTeam members. “I’ve cut all dairy out completely and I’ve done really well,” one member wrote.

Another member commented, “Day 40 of no soft drinks and sugar in my coffee. It is helping my spots break up.”

Discover Triggers Through an Elimination Diet

If you suspect that a particular food is worsening your psoriatic symptoms or causing flare-ups, your doctor may suggest that you try an elimination diet. An elimination diet entails removing certain foods from your diet for three weeks. After the 21-day period, you gradually reincorporate each food into your diet one by one. The goal is to observe which foods may be associated with negative symptoms.

“Next experiment is to take cow’s cheese out of my diet and possibly eggs,” a MyPsoriasisTeam member commented. “It’s a process of elimination!”

You will then continue to avoid foods that you suspect cause symptoms for an additional three to six months, at which time you can try again to reintroduce them. The elimination diet can help you discover if any foods are behind your psoriasis flare-ups.

What Foods Might Help?

There is no scientific evidence that a specific diet or food can treat, cure, or prevent the symptoms of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. However, foods that decrease inflammation, like those in an anti-inflammatory diet, may offer benefits. A healthy diet may also reduce the risk of comorbid (simultaneous) conditions associated with psoriasis, such as heart disease and diabetes.

MyPsoriasisTeam members have shared how an anti-inflammatory diet has helped them. “I have been incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods. Pineapple, turmeric, ginger, and tart cherry have all been helpful,” said one member.

Another emphasized the important role of diet in symptom management: “I am keeping a very strict anti-inflammatory diet,” they said. “If I go off of it just a little bit, the symptoms come back quickly.”

While you’re looking at specific foods, consider also looking at your diet as a whole and determining whether changes to support a healthy weight are needed. Being overweight or obese can make psoriasis more severe, but weight loss can improve the response to systemic psoriasis therapies and lessen disease severity.

Nutrients To Incorporate

Research is investigating the role of other nutrients for their potential in alleviating psoriasis symptoms. You may find that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil and many plant-based foods) might improve psoriasis. Vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the minerals copper, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc, have antioxidant properties that may help decrease inflammation. Dietary fiber may have a similar effect. Finally, vitamin D has also been shown to help.

Read more about vitamins and psoriasis.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. More than 90,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Do any foods trigger your psoriasis? Have you tried the elimination diet? Share your experience in the comments below or start a conversation by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.

References

  1. Skin and Diet: An Update on the Role of Dietary Change as a Treatment Strategy for Skin Disease — Skin Therapy Letter.
  2. Diet and Psoriasis: Part 2. Celiac Disease and Role of a Gluten-Free Diet — Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
  3. Environmental Risk Factors in Psoriasis: The Point of View of the Nutritionist — International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
  4. Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Celiac Disease — National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
  5. What is Gluten? — Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology
  6. The Role of the Histamine H4 Receptor in Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis — British Journal of Pharmacology
  7. Histamine and Histamine Intolerance — The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  8. A Histamine-Free Diet Is Helpful for Treatment of Adult Patients with Chronic Spontaneous Urticaria — Annals of Dermatology
  9. Dietary Behaviors in Psoriasis: Patient-Reported Outcomes from a U.S. National Survey — Dermatology and Therapy
  10. Heal the Gut With the IFM Elimination Diet — The Institute for Functional Medicine
  11. Dietary Recommendations for Adults With Psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis From the Medical Board of the National Psoriasis Foundation: A Systematic Review — JAMA Dermatology
  12. Considerations for Systemic Treatment of Psoriasis in Obese Patients — American Journal of Clinical Dermatology
  13. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Plant-Based Diets — Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Paz Etcheverry, Ph.D. has an M.S. in food science and nutrition from North Carolina State University and a Ph.D. in food science and technology from Cornell University. Learn more about her here.

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