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Is it true that becoming vegetarian (or even vegan) can help reduce flares?

Nutrition

Synopsis

In itself, following a vegetarian (or vegan) diet has not been shown to help in any way with psoriasis. However, any change in eating habits that can help reach or maintain a healthier weight, or avoid alcohol and excessive sugar intake, have the possibility to enhance general health outcomes.

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Expert Answers

Dr. Marc Bourcier:

If you are not a vegetarian and you decide to adopt this type of diet, it could possibly affect positively your psoriasis.

The reason is mainly associated with loss of weight. There is a good chance that if someone changes his or her diet, they will be more careful about what they eat. It can often lead to loss of weight. Fat cells – and in particular the fat cells located in the abdomen – produce substances that cause inflammation in the body. Thus, a reduction in fat cells can positively affect psoriasis.

It is important to note a few things: there are no statistics that show that becoming a vegetarian can significantly help with psoriasis. We are really talking here about a loss of weight that could be associated with adopting a new healthier diet.

In the case of people who do not have to lose any weight, the effect of becoming vegetarian may not have a dramatic effect on their psoriasis.

In the case of psoriasis, countless diets have been tried and tested. There are of course some anecdotal reports of benefits associated with certain changes in diet, but there is no statistical evidence that one diet in particular will be significantly helpful.

Limiting sugar and alcohol can probably be helpful not only for people with psoriasis, but for most inflammatory diseases. People who have a reaction to gluten or to dairy products should of course avoid them if possible, and it is advisable to reduce the consumption of red meat. As a general rule, I would defer to the recommendations outlined in Canada’s Food Guide. Anyone has access to those recommendations, and it promotes a balanced diet, without any excesses.

At the moment, there is a certain trend about diets that are reported to boost the immune system. Up to now, none of those diets have been shown to deliver on their claims.

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Brooke Stewart:

Psoriasis is considered an inflammatory skin disease. For this reason, certain type of medications used to treat psoriasis work by suppressing the immune system and combating this inflammation. One theory is that vegetarian or vegan diets may be helpful in psoriasis, because they can also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Inflammation in our bodies is normal, and is a very positive – even life-saving – response in some situations. It can alert immune cells to fight off bacteria that are causing an infection, or start the process of tissue repair after an injury. This type of acute inflammation happens quickly after the body’s cells are damaged, and resolves quickly as well. However, sometimes inflammation becomes chronic and immune cells begin attacking the body’s healthy cells in a way that is not helpful. This chronic inflammation may play a role in the risk and severity of some diseases.

What we eat is important in both promoting and inhibiting inflammation in our bodies. Some nutrients increase inflammation, such as excess calorie intake, animal products, and trans fats found in many processed foods. Others dietary factors are anti-inflammatory, such as a diet high in vegetables and fruits (4-5 servings of each daily), and omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, as well as in some plant sources (chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil and flax). The type of omega-3 fat from fish seems to be more effective in reducing inflammation.

Some small studies have shown that a vegetarian diet can improve psoriasis symptoms. As well, there have been studies looking at fish oil supplements and psoriasis, but the results haven’t been clear and the best dosage isn’t known. More evidence supports the benefits of eating at least two servings per week of omega-3-rich fish to reduce inflammation, and also to lower the risk of heart disease and possibly other chronic illnesses as well. 

A diet that is mainly plant-based with few processed foods, but includes fatty fish (such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring) may help to lower inflammation and improve psoriasis symptoms. 

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Carolyn Whiskin:

Although individuals often think that what they eat affects their psoriasis, to date, there is no proven scientific connection between particular foods and psoriasis. What current studies suggest is that being overweight can make psoriasis worse and possibly interfere with how medications work. Overall, research suggests that it is important to eat a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables and to avoid alcohol. This is because there is a higher rate of obesity in people with psoriasis and fatty liver disease is also higher in people with psoriasis than the general population. At a recent rheumatology conference, one rheumatologist shared his experience of asking patients with psoriatic arthritis to remove gluten from their diet for one month. He was greatly surprised with improvement of their skin. These types of anecdotal reports have not been well published. Some patients also report decreased flares with the elimination of inflammatory foods which tend to be high in acidity, such as tomatoes and night shade plants. Others have reported that their symptoms improved after they cut back on foods like sugar, white flour, and caffeine. Still, we can’t make a generalized statement on the need to restrict diet in psoriasis as each person’s response is so individual. If you find that your psoriasis worsens after eating certain foods and beverages then eliminate them to see what happens. 

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