March 11, 2024

What Is Psoriasis? How Does It Work?

What Is Psoriasis? How Does It Work?
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Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition characterized by inflammation and the rapid overproduction of skin cells, resulting in thick, scaly patches on the skin.

Psoriasis is characterized by red, raised patches of skin covered with silvery scales called plaques.

These can occur anywhere on the body but commonly affect elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back.

Symptoms include itching, discomfort, dryness, and sometimes pain or bleeding. Psoriasis can also affect nails, causing thickening, pitting, and discoloration.

Inflammation leads to redness, while rapid skin cell turnover results in scaling and flaking. Some may experience psoriatic arthritis, with joint pain and swelling.

Symptoms can vary in severity and may come and go in cycles.

The exact cause of psoriasis is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune system factors.

Pathophysiology of Psoriasis

Current Model Of The Pathophysiology Of Psoriasis Il 23 Bridges The Innate And Adaptive
Image 1: Pathophysiology of Psoriasis
  1. Genetic Factors: Psoriasis has a strong genetic component, as it tends to run in families. Certain genetic variations, particularly in genes related to the immune system, are associated with an increased risk of developing psoriasis.
  2. Immune System Dysfunction: Psoriasis is considered an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, in this case, skin cells. In psoriasis, there is an abnormal activation of immune cells, particularly T cells, which release inflammatory cytokines. These cytokines trigger inflammation and stimulate the rapid growth of skin cells.
  3. Inflammation: Inflammation plays a central role in the development and progression of psoriasis. The inflammatory response in psoriasis involves various immune cells, including T cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages. These cells produce cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-17 (IL-17), and interleukin-23 (IL-23), which promote inflammation and contribute to the characteristic features of psoriatic plaques.
  4. Hyperproliferation of Keratinocytes: Normally, skin cells (keratinocytes) grow, differentiate, and shed in a controlled manner. However, this process is disrupted in psoriasis, leading to excessive proliferation of keratinocytes and thickened skin patches. This hyperproliferation is driven by the inflammatory cytokines produced by immune cells.
  5. Vascular Changes: Psoriasis is also associated with changes in the blood vessels within the skin. Increased blood flow to the affected areas leads to redness and warmth, characteristic clinical features of psoriatic plaques.

The pathophysiology of psoriasis involves a complex interplay between genetic predisposition, immune system dysfunction, inflammation, and abnormal skin cell growth.

Understanding these underlying mechanisms is crucial for developing targeted treatments for psoriasis.

Factors Predisposing to Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a complex condition influenced by genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Here are some key factors that predispose individuals to developing psoriasis:

Genetics: Family history plays a significant role in psoriasis. Having a close relative with psoriasis increases the risk of developing the condition. Certain genetic variations, particularly in genes related to the immune system and skin barrier function, are associated with an increased susceptibility to psoriasis.

Immune System Dysfunction: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by an abnormal immune response that targets healthy skin cells. Dysregulation of the immune system, particularly involving T cells and inflammatory cytokines, contributes to the development and progression of psoriasis.

Environmental Triggers: Various environmental factors can trigger or exacerbate psoriasis symptoms in susceptible individuals. Common triggers include stress, infections (such as streptococcal throat infections), injuries to the skin (including cuts, scrapes, or sunburns), and certain medications (such as lithium, beta-blockers, and antimalarial drugs).

Lifestyle Factors: Lifestyle choices can influence the risk and severity of psoriasis. Factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, and a poor diet high in processed foods and sugar have been associated with an increased risk of psoriasis and worsened symptoms.

Stress: Psychological stress is known to exacerbate psoriasis symptoms in many individuals. Stress can trigger inflammatory responses in the body, which may worsen the underlying inflammation associated with psoriasis.

Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those occurring during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, can affect psoriasis symptoms in some individuals. Changes in hormone levels may influence the immune system and inflammatory responses, potentially triggering or exacerbating psoriasis flare-ups.

Skin Trauma: Skin injuries, such as cuts, burns, or friction, can trigger the development of psoriasis lesions in susceptible individuals. This phenomenon, known as the Koebner phenomenon, occurs when psoriatic plaques develop at the site of skin trauma.

Image 2
Koebner phenomenon Source

Medications and Infections: Certain medications, such as beta-blockers, lithium, and antimalarial drugs, have been linked to the onset or exacerbation of psoriasis symptoms. Additionally, certain infections, particularly streptococcal throat infections, have been associated with developing or worsening psoriasis in some individuals.

Understanding these predisposing factors can help individuals with psoriasis manage their condition more effectively by avoiding triggers and adopting lifestyle modifications that may help reduce symptoms and flare-ups.

5 Figure2 1
Image 2: Predisposing Factors of Psoriasis

Can Diet Help You Manage Psoriasis?

While no specific diet universally cures psoriasis, certain dietary changes may help alleviate symptoms and reduce inflammation in some individuals.

Here are some nutritional recommendations that may benefit people with psoriasis:

Anti-inflammatory Foods: Incorporate foods rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and polyphenols. Examples include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, fruits (berries, cherries), vegetables (leafy greens, broccoli, carrots), and green tea.

salmon dish on a ceramic plate
Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Pexels.com

Healthy Fats: Choose healthy fats over saturated and trans fats. Include sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds, in your diet. These fats may help reduce inflammation and support overall skin health.

photo of person holding fork
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

Limit Trigger Foods: Some people with psoriasis find certain foods can trigger flare-ups or worsen symptoms. Common trigger foods include processed foods, refined sugars, red meat, dairy products, gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye), and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers). Consider keeping a diary to identify potential trigger foods and minimize their intake.

Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity and excess body weight are risk factors for psoriasis and can exacerbate symptoms. Aim to maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise. Losing weight, if necessary, may help improve psoriasis symptoms and overall health.

Hydration: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Adequate hydration supports skin health and may help alleviate dryness and itching associated with psoriasis.

woman drinking on black tumbler while looking up and placing her left hand on waist
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

Vitamin D: Some research suggests that vitamin D may have anti-inflammatory effects and could benefit individuals with psoriasis. Include vitamin D-rich foods, such as fatty fish, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, and mushrooms. Additionally, consider spending time outdoors in sunlight to boost vitamin D production in the skin naturally.

Probiotics: Probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso, contain beneficial bacteria that may help support gut health and modulate immune function. Some evidence suggests that probiotics may positively impact psoriasis symptoms, although more research is needed.

red strawberry and raspberry on white ceramic bowl
Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: Excessive alcohol consumption and caffeine intake may exacerbate psoriasis symptoms in some individuals. Limit alcohol consumption and opt for caffeine-free beverages or herbal teas as alternatives.

It's important to note that individual responses to dietary changes can vary, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you have specific dietary concerns or medical conditions.

Additionally, dietary changes should complement, not replace, medical treatment for psoriasis.

Concluding Remarks

Psoriasis treatment typically involves a multifaceted approach tailored to individual needs. It aims to reduce inflammation, alleviate symptoms, and improve quality of life.

Topical treatments such as corticosteroids, vitamin D analogs, retinoids, and coal tar preparations are commonly used to target affected areas directly.

Phototherapy, including UVB and PUVA therapy, exposes the skin to ultraviolet light, slowing skin cell growth and reducing inflammation. Systemic medications such as methotrexate, cyclosporine, acitretin, and biologic agents target the immune system to control inflammation. 

Living with psoriasis is tough, as it can affect an individual's mental and emotional well-being as well as their physical health. Support and comfort are equally important in providing individuals affected by psoriasis with a happy and fulfilling life.

References

  1. Image 1: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323159612/figure/fig3/AS:613973053431823@1523393991717/Current-model-of-the-pathophysiology-of-psoriasis-IL-23-bridges-the-innate-and-adaptive.png
  2. Image 2: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Plaque-Psoriasis%3A-Understanding-Risk-Factors-of-B%C3%A9langer-Oliveira/4b1937e9f7d6bbff64291021824e0cf26d3b334b
  3. https://ard.bmj.com/content/64/suppl_2/ii30
  4. https://www.psoriasis.org/dietary-modifications/

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