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Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes chronic inflammation. Inflammation can be acute or chronic. When we’re sick, our body responds with short-term (or acute) inflammation to fight off the infection. This is a normal and healthy response. Long-term, chronic inflammation is linked with several diseases, including psoriasis, diabetes, heart disease, and more.
An anti-inflammatory diet aims to reduce inflammation in the body. The Mediterranean diet, a high-fiber diet, and a vegan diet are examples of anti-inflammatory diets.
There is no conclusive evidence that a specific diet can prevent, cure, or improve the symptoms of psoriasis, but eating foods associated with an anti-inflammatory diet may offer benefits. Your dermatologist can help you understand how dietary changes may influence your symptoms, or refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist.
MyPsoriasisTeam members share how an anti-inflammatory diet has helped them:
Foods and nutrients with proven anti-inflammatory effects on the body include omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, antioxidants, and whole grains. These nutrients and foods are part of the Mediterranean diet, the diet most correlated with anti-inflammatory eating. The Mediterranean diet is a healthy diet option for most people, and it may be particularly helpful for people with autoimmune diseases. It is linked with reduced rates of vascular inflammation, oxidative stress, and chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic disease, and heart disease.
A Mediterranean diet is rich in oleic acid (a type of fatty acid), omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, and phytochemicals (compounds found in plants). The diet contains high amounts of olive oil, fish, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It limits red meat and refined grains, and it includes moderate consumption of red wine.
Learn more about diet for psoriatic arthritis.
There are key nutrients in the Mediterranean diet that may reduce inflammation and positively impact psoriasis symptoms.
Olive oil is a primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. Studies have suggested that olive oil can have a positive impact on inflammation. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid proven to decrease the risk of heart disease and to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad kind” of cholesterol).
Dietary fiber remains one of the most influential foods for the prevention and management of inflammation. Fiber is also beneficial for healthy weight, blood sugar control, cholesterol management, and a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber is considered a prebiotic, which promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is related to decreased risk of chronic disease and inflammation.
Antioxidants are substances that prevent or delay cell damage. Antioxidants tend to be associated with phytochemicals and flavonoids, which are two other components of an anti-inflammatory diet. Phytochemicals and flavonoids are compounds found in plant-based foods that fight free radical damage and decrease inflammation. Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains is an easy way to ensure you are getting enough antioxidants, phytochemicals, and flavonoids. Try to eat five servings of vegetables per day and two or three servings of fruits per day.
Turmeric, ginger, and black pepper have antioxidant properties that may decrease inflammation. These are spices that can be used while cooking vegetables, soups, stews, smoothies, and more. One member of MyPsoriasisTeam drinks turmeric lattes: “Turmeric latte — soy milk, manuka honey and, yes, a good helping of turmeric. Delicious drink before bed and great for my psoriasis.”
There is some evidence that consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce symptoms, when combined with psoriasis treatment, however more research is needed. Among the respondents to a 2017 National Psoriasis Foundation survey, 988 reported adding certain foods to their diets. Of those, 44.6 percent reported positive results from adding omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA cannot be made by the body. ALA is found in chia seeds, flaxseed, soybeans, and canola oil. You can add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet by adding chia seeds and flaxseed meal to oatmeal and smoothies.
Eating two servings of fatty fish per week is another way to add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Talk to your doctor before adding omega-3 fatty acid supplements like fish oil to your diet. Fish oil can thin the blood.
Several foods can contribute to inflammation, including alcohol, saturated fats, and refined grains and sugars. In a survey of 1,206 people with psoriasis conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation, 13.8 percent reported that sugar worsens their symptoms.
The research on alcohol and psoriasis is somewhat mixed, however there is some evidence that links heavy alcohol consumption with more severe psoriasis. The National Psoriasis Foundation survey found that 13.6 percent of respondents reported that alcohol exacerbates their symptoms. Some MyPsoriasisTeam members have found reducing or cutting out alcohol improves their symptoms. One member wrote, “I gave up alcohol last year, as I used to find the next day I would be in agony.”
Saturated fat and trans fats are two culprits of inflammation. Saturated fat is found in red meat and processed meat, as well as full-fat dairy products. “I stopped eating red meat. My psoriasis is so much better,” one member reported.
Trans fats are found in baked goods, fried foods, and some packaged foods. It is important to always read nutrition labels, and avoid products with hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup listed as ingredients. Fried foods should be eliminated or avoided. Dairy should be limited to no more than three servings per day.
Refined grains and added sugar are two more contributors to inflammation. These spike blood sugar levels, leading to increased production of insulin. A MyPsoriasisTeam member shared, “Day 40 of no soft drinks and sugar in my coffee. It is helping my spots break up.”
Some members of MyPsoriasisTeam recommend a gluten-free diet to reduce symptoms. There is some evidence that cutting out gluten can improve psoriasis for people who have celiac disease or have tested positive for markers of gluten sensitivity.
When beginning an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet, it can be helpful to take stock of the foods you have in your refrigerator and pantry. You may already have many foods that fit into the diet. Taking stock of your groceries can help you understand what items may no longer be the best fit and give you practice checking nutrition labels for trans fats, saturated fat, or added sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Here are the staples of a Mediterranean diet and some examples of foods to look for the next time you grocery shop:
Be sure to include plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables on your shopping list. When choosing frozen vegetables, avoid items that include sauces, salt, and other additives. Some people with psoriasis avoid nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and white potatoes), however there is no evidence they cause inflammation.
Fruit is another healthy source of fiber and antioxidants. Most Americans need only two or three servings of fruit per day, due to its high carbohydrate content. Berries, like blueberries or strawberries, tend to yield a larger serving size for a smaller calorie and carbohydrate content. They are also higher in fiber than most fruits. Several members of MyPsoriasisTeam eat blueberries for their high antioxidant content: “I eat blueberries daily for antioxidants and fiber. Love them for a sweet snack.”
Meal planning is a helpful tool when looking to adopt a new diet plan. This can prevent feeling overwhelmed. For example, one week you could make egg white muffins for breakfast and stick with your normal lunch and dinner recipes. This recipe helps you get a serving of vegetables in with breakfast to boost fiber and antioxidant intake. The following week, incorporate a new fish recipe for dinner — such as this salmon. From there, try getting into the habit of preparing salads for lunches that are full of vegetables to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits. This recipe is a unique way to enjoy an easy-to-prepare Mediterranean salad.
The scientific evidence on an anti-inflammatory diet for psoriasis is inconclusive. Nevertheless, an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet can be a healthy option for anyone and may be worth trying — in addition to other psoriasis treatments.
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Have you tried an anti-inflammatory diet to improve symptoms of psoriasis? Share your experiences in the comments below or start a conversation on MyPsoriasisTeam.