Understanding Psoriasis, Common Triggers & How Acupuncture Can Help
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that usually involves periods when the symptoms are severe, responding to common triggers and periods when the symptoms are mild or disappear.
Psoriasis occurs when skin cells are replaced more quickly than usual.
The body produces new skin cells in the deepest layer of skin. These skin cells gradually mature as they move up through the layers of skin until they reach the outermost level. Then they die and flake off. This whole process normally takes about three or four weeks.
When people have psoriasis this process only takes about three to seven days. As a result, skin cells that are not fully mature build up on the surface of the skin, causing red, flaky, crusty patches covered with silvery scales.
These patches normally appear on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, but they can appear anywhere on the body. They are usually small patches and sometimes they are itchy or sore.
What causes psoriasis?
It is not known exactly what causes psoriasis but research suggests that it’s caused by a problem with the immune system. It can run in families, with around 30% of people having a family history of the disease. Psoriasis starts or becomes worse when a certain event or ‘trigger’ causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy skin cells by mistake. Knowing these triggers can help to avoid a flare-up.
Common triggers include:
- an injury to the skin such as sunburn
- emotional stress
- hormonal changes e.g. menopause
- drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- certain medicines e.g. ibuprofen and betablockers
- throat infections
Can acupuncture help psoriasis?
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit stress and anxiety by acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress. It also promotes relaxation and deactivates the analytical brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry. It is thought that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system which creates the stress reaction, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response. Therefore if stress is a trigger for the imbalanced immune system to cause psoriasis, this may explain why people report improvement of their symptoms with treatment.
Further to this, research looking at menopausal symptoms found that there is benefit in the of use of acupuncture, particularly for hot flushes and anxiety. For women who experience a flare up of psoriasis during the menopause, treatment may help restore balance and well being.
Many people identify mental and emotional causes of their symptoms as well as environmental factors. Others feel that it is a mixture, or an interaction between external and internal factors. It can be frustrating for some suffers to be diagnosed with ‘idiopathic psoriasis’ which means that ‘it just happens’ or ‘we don’t know what causes it’. Traditional Oriental medicine is based on the simple but profound belief that symptoms are merely alarm bells that the system as a whole is out of balance, and that a skilled practitioner would be able to assess what is needed to restore balance and by doing so eradicate the symptoms. There is no doubt that each year many people have acupuncture on this more general basis and experience very encouraging results.