Psoriasis is an all embracing term which defines a condition that ranges from a mild itch to severe lesions covering the trunk and limbs. In simple terms, psoriasis occurs when the rate at which cells live and die is quickened, sometimes by as much as 10 times; the silvery flakes on the skin that can often be seen on sufferers are the dead cells. The most common kind is plaque psoriasis, which affects 95 per cent of all sufferers. Medicine defines the condition as generalized when there are more than five lesions on the scalp or body.
Other types include flexural (where plagues appear around joints like knee and elbows), guttate (where small spots appear all over the body, usually after a sore throat or tonsillitis), nail and palmoplantar psoriasis (which is characterized by thickened plaques on the palms and soles of feet which can become cracked and painful). Nail psoriasis often affects sufferers of psoriatic arthritis; 5 per cent of psoriasis sufferers have some form of arthritis and 5 per cent of arthritics have some form of psoriasis.
Its cause is not so easily defined. Medicine claims not to understand why the condition occurs, although one study suggests that interferon (a cell protein that induces immunity to infection) could be a trigger (Dietmar Fuchs, Institute of Medical Chemistry, University of Innsbruck, Austria, The Lancet, 21 September 1991). Some scientists believe it to be genetic, while others say it can be caused by too much cholesterol in the blood, by hormonal changes or by an allergic reaction to certain drugs or foods. Yet others say it can be triggered by a respiratory infection, by physical or chemical damage to the skin, or by psychological stress. It has been noted that the condition can take up to two years to develop after the trauma. One study in the British Journal of Dermatology (1990; 123, 319-323) found a marked zinc deficiency in 16 patients with psoriasis compared to normal controls. Indeed, it's too early to know how this drug wrks and whether it is the wonder cure it is being touted as.
On a more personal note, former psoriasis sufferer Sandra Gibbons, who went on to write Beat Psoriasis (Thorsons, 1992), and to set up the Alternative Centre in London which has treated 10,000 sufferers, had her own way of describing the condition. "Psoriasis sufferers are victims of not letting anything in or out. The horny layer of skin becomes like a suit of armour, acting as a protection from anyone we perceive may hurt us."
>From that, it would seem there are almost as many triggers or causes as there are treatments. It is probably safe to say that psoriasis is the result of a natural predisposition coupled by an environmental trigger. In other words, while nothing can be done with our genetic coding, much can be done to avoid the trigger or at least understand what the trigger is.
For Sandra Gibbons, the trigger seemed to be either diet related or, more accurately, the trigger was squeezed by diet. After suffering from psoriasis for 14 years, and religiously trying the latest cream treatments, she consulted a naturopath who recommended a regime of salads, fruit and mineral water with dried apricots and almonds. Within 10 weeks, her psoriasis had cleared. "It proved to be a simple case of raw foods eliminating the toxins from the body, as with the process of fasting," she recounts in her book, although she emphasizes that none of the diets should be undertaken without professional advice. "The next task was to readjust the diet to suit my personal needs and lifestyle and remain clear of psoriasis. I succeeded six years later just by eliminating dairy foods from my normal, less restrictive diet. It was that simple."