Psoriasis comes from the Greek word psora, meaning fine bran like scaling. Psoriasis afflicts 1% – 4% of the general population, and is a type of chronic skin condition where itchy scaly red or white flaky patches form on the scalp (in approximately 40% of cases), elbows, forearms, knees, groin, and legs or lower back. For many it is a condition that seems to “come and go,” and may appear as a few spots or involve large areas. It is not contagious, either to other body parts or other people. It is characterised by thickening of the skin (epidermis), which reveals bleeding points upon removal of the scale.
The cause of psoriasis is uncontrolled skin-cell growth. In its topical manifestation, untreated psoriasis forms a thick and crusty silvery or whitish, dry, scaly layer of lots of dead skin cells called “plaques”. A plaque comes about because the mass of these dead skin cells and because of their decay. The skin of a psoriasis sufferer will divide (differentiate) around a thousand times faster that the skin of a normal person, or somebody who does not have psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis accounts for 90 percent of all people who present with psoriasis, and join disease is associated with psoriasis in a significant proportion of all those who have psoriasis, in one study it was reported as high as 13.8 percent.1
Some people don’t understand how come they bleed when psoriatic lesions are scratched. What happens is that the redness of inflammation underneath this crusty layer of cells is the build up of blood in the circulation, blood that is sent to the area to nourish the mass of rapidly dividing cells. When a person scratches away the plaque it will be noted that there are dilated capillaries underneath, and with excessive scratching there will be bleeding as well, something that is common with many patients who have chronic psoriasis.
I have noticed that some patients with psoriasis complain of excessively itchy skin, whereas others don’t seem particularly bothered with their skin itching. Maybe the climate has something to do with it, or perhaps it has to do with a person’s internal temperature regulation. Some cases I have seen are quite severe, and can be quite physically and emotionally traumatic for the person involved. In most cases however, psoriasis is confined to a few spots, and seems to affect many people on the sides or at the back of the head.
Many patients visit naturopaths with psoriasis, and we are often the ‘last port of call’ when it comes to chronic conditions affecting the skin. Long-standing psoriasis patients often have been to a skin specialist (Dermatologist) and tried many creams, tar solutions, been prescribed pharmaceutical drugs and various other lotions and potions along the years. Natural medicine does have a big role to play in helping alleviate psoriasis however. Skin eruptions are generally curable to a large extent if the patient perseveres with their treatment long enough, however, skin irritants such as the sun, anxiety, stress, and various other triggers take their toll over time, and the person relapses again.
It can help sufferers to identify their individual triggers, to eat a more ‘psoriasis-friendly’ diet, and to learn about the effects of stress and nervous tension on psoriasis. Psoriasis is a stubborn and difficult condition to treat, both from a practitioner as well as patient’s perspective. Successful treatment requires patience, diligence and long-term treatments with detoxification to observe any true lasting benefits.