Increasing your vitamin D intake can be a valuable step toward controlling your psoriasis symptoms. The nutrient can be obtained naturally from certain foods and from sunlight exposure, as well as from oral supplements and creams. Vitamin D is best known for its role in calcium absorption, which is vital for healthy bones and teeth. However, it’s also important for supporting the health of other systems — notably, the immune system and skin.
If you have psoriasis, you know that it’s caused by an overactive immune response that leads to inflammation and itchy skin buildup. Treatments for psoriasis work by targeting the immune system’s response or helping to relieve symptoms.
Vitamin D — which is often made in a layer of the skin called the epidermis — plays an important role in skin health. Research shows that people with psoriasis tend to have lower levels of vitamin D and more vitamin D deficiencies. Low vitamin D levels can increase skin-cell proliferation, which can contribute to psoriasis lesions and inflammatory skin diseases. On the other hand, high doses of vitamin D have been shown to reduce skin-cell proliferation and inflammation.
Vitamin D treatments may be taken orally or applied directly to the skin.
Topical vitamin D has been used to treat psoriasis since the 1980s. Several clinical trials have found that topical vitamin D can help psoriatic skin lesions as effectively as corticosteroids.
Vitamin D analogs are drugs designed to act very similarly to natural vitamin D. The topical vitamin D analog calcipotriene (Dovonex) has been in use since the early 1990s and is shown to reduce psoriasis symptoms. It may be applied to the affected skin alone or in combination with topical corticosteroids. Other vitamin D treatments are also available for topical use.
Many MyPsoriasisTeam members have reported that applying vitamin D benefits their skin. “Topical vitamin D helps keep my flaking down and is inexpensive!” wrote one member.
“Try liquid vitamin D at 5,000 units,” a second member recommended. “It goes on a little greasy, but your skin sucks it up really quick. In about 10 minutes ... it’s all gone, and a little goes a long way.”
A benefit of treating psoriasis topically is that vitamin D targets the skin lesions, so any potential side effects are usually limited to the skin. Talk to your dermatologist if you’re interested in trying a topical vitamin D treatment for your psoriasis.
Oral vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is less potent than D3, but both can efficiently increase vitamin D levels. Vitamin D3 is available as an over-the-counter supplement. However, you should use vitamin D supplementation only under the guidance of a health care provider, because it can interact with other medications and cause side effects.
The benefits of taking oral vitamin D supplements versus a topical treatment are less clear. Large research studies have measured the severity and intensity of psoriasis in people who took oral vitamin D supplements. Although some participants showed improvement after six months, the researchers did not find a significant improvement overall. Another clinical study showed that oral vitamin D increased vitamin D levels in the blood and reduced psoriasis severity compared with a placebo (an inactive substance).
Given the mixed evidence, it’s best to follow your doctor’s recommendations. Some MyPsoriasisTeam members report benefiting from taking vitamin D tablets. “My internist has told me to increase my vitamin D3 to 10,000 milligrams. I was on 2,000 milligrams and had increased it to 5,000 milligrams,” one member shared. “My blood work shows that it is working and helping. For some people, it can be helpful under a doctor’s care.”
When bare skin is exposed to sunlight, the body makes vitamin D. Outdoor sun exposure can be an important source of vitamin D for the body. However, sun exposure can also increase the risk of skin cancer, so sunscreen use is recommended — even though it reduces the body’s production of vitamin D.
Phototherapy offers an alternative source of UV light, which comes in two forms: UVA and UVB. Research has found that vitamin D production is maximized with UVB exposure given at low doses that don’t burn the skin. Dermatology offices often have phototherapy equipment they can offer.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, food is the safest source of vitamin D. Some foods naturally contain this nutrient, while others are fortified with it, meaning vitamin D is added to them. Fatty fish — such as cod, salmon, trout, mackerel, and tuna — have some of the highest levels of natural vitamin D. Cheese and egg yolks can provide a small fraction of the daily recommended amount. Foods that are often fortified with vitamin D include milk, plant-based milks, orange juice, yogurt, and cereals. Including these foods in your diet can help you maintain a healthy level of vitamin D.
Getting too much vitamin D can have negative side effects. Although you’re unlikely to get an unsafe amount of the nutrient from food or sunlight, you could get too much from supplemental sources.
High levels of vitamin D can cause damage to your kidneys, blood vessels, and heart and — in extreme cases — cause death. More often, excess vitamin D can lead to high levels of calcium in the blood due to increased calcium absorption. High calcium can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dehydration, confusion, weakness, and kidney stones.
For safety, consult with your health care provider before taking over-the-counter vitamin D supplements. They may check your vitamin D levels via blood work before recommending a supplement.
MyPsoriasisTeam is a community of more than 111,000 people living with psoriasis. Members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
Have you used vitamin D to manage your psoriasis symptoms? What tips do you have to share? Leave a comment below, or start a conversation on your Activities page.