The year was 2015. My boss, back then, called me into the cabin to tell me that they were downsizing and though I was a “performer,” they had to let me go. For a moment, the earth shifted beneath my feet. Unexpected and unprepared, as the news hit me. I had been killing it at work and I didn’t think such things happened to people who worked hard. I had a pile of debt and now I was suddenly jobless.
I fought back, moved, and eventually rebuilt from the scratch. This was my first brush with failure and trauma of any kind. But why am I telling you this? And what does that have to do with psoriasis and the ugly white scales and endless flakes of skin that I would shed everywhere I went?
A month after losing my job, something rather scary began happening to my body. The skin on my toes and palms began to itch uncontrollably and started falling off, layer after layer, with the innermost layers of skin turning reddish pink. The more it would itch, the more the skin peeled. It made me nervous. I started seeing skin specialists who prescribed tons of lotions and oils, but nothing solved my problem. A friend of mine suggested I see an Ayurveda physician, since allopathic medicine had nothing to offer for me to contain the spread, except steroids, which I was unwilling to take.
I started reading up more on the condition that I later came to know was called Psoriasis, a psychosomatic disorder, which means the roots of the condition cannot be found in physiology. It is triggered by emotional and psychological trauma (job loss in my case?!).
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where the skin cells regrow in 5 to 15 days, much faster than the normal 28-day cycle. So before the older skin cells have surfaced and died out, the new skin cells present themselves, jostling for space, and forming layers of dry flaky skin. This leads to the skin scaling off, flaking, itching, and becoming red, inflamed, and irritable—very irritable at its peak, so much so that it can bleed from the excessive itching. Scales can develop on elbows, knees, hands, feet, face, and scalp.
Types of Psoriasis
Psoriasis can manifest in slightly different forms for different age groups based on the underlying triggers. Here are the five main types:
- Plaque The most common form of psoriasis that can be identified by red and inflamed skin, covered in white scales in the knees, scalp or elbow region.
- Guttate This occurs in children in the form of pink spots on arms, legs or torso.
- Pustular This one differs from the other types in that, here the inflammation causes white blisters with pus, while the rest of the area is red and inflamed.
- Inverse Inverse Psoriasis can be found in the form of patches in red, inflamed areas; mostly under the armpits, genitals, or breasts.
- Erythrodermic This is a rare and a far deadlier type of Psoriasis that affects large areas of the skin, with red and white patches found all over the body.
Now, here is the thing with psoriasis and stress—stress can trigger more scaling in patients of psoriasis and more scaling and worsening of symptoms can in turn increase stress in the patients. For these reasons, it is imperative that psoriasis patients manage their stress levels and aim for emotional balance. Extreme emotional situations that produce anger, anxiety, stress, or trauma can be deeply detrimental in healing.
Powerful tools for eliminating stress from the body-mind complex are yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, pranayamas like Nadi Shodhana and Bhramari, and a rhythmic breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. These practices increase the supply of oxygen in the body, calm the mind, remove stress toxins from the body and boost immunity.
And for psoriasis patients, it is non-negotiable to listen to the urges of the body. When your body is telling you to go to the bathroom, DO IT! This will prevent toxins from accumulating in the body.
How does Ayurveda Help Manage Psoriasis?
A beautiful fact about the science of Ayurveda is that it does not just look at physiological symptoms to diagnose a condition, but it also brings in the mind in the process of diagnosis and healing. This is the reason why alternative treatments like Ayurveda are so successful in dealing with psychosomatic disorders that affect millions of Americans.
Ayurveda addresses psoriasis as Kithibha, a disorder caused by toxins in the blood that have root in emotional trauma and unresolved emotional matters, inappropriate diet, and chronic stress. Psoriasis can also reflect an imbalance in vata and kapha doshas. Vata vitiation causes the dryness, pain and scales, and pitta imbalance is responsible for the inflammation, burning and itching sensation.
Ayurveda looks at purifying the blood and balancing the doshas through specific targeted therapies individualized for each patient since each psoriasis patient is unique in her/her diagnosis, symptoms, and triggers. Some of the key Ayurvedic therapies employed in treatment of Psoriasis include
- Shodhana Chikitsa (detox)
The first stage is detoxification. For detoxification, Ayurveda experts take the patient through specific Panchakarma purgation therapies such as Rakta Mokshana, Vamana, or Virechana. Here, first the body is lubricated thoroughly both internally and externally, thus loosening up the toxins enough that they can move through the alimentary canal and out of the body. Many Ayurvedic practitioners focus on blood purification and balancing the doshas to treat the condition. Some important processes involved in this are
- Shodhana chikitsa (Detoxification) can be done through Panchakarma therapies like Vamana, Virechana, Raktamokshana, etc. Such treatments are carried out by lubricating the body both internally and externally. This helps soften the toxins and channel them into the alimentary canal.
- For internal oleation, fats like clarified butter are used, that suit most body types. For Abhyanga, various herbal medicated oils are used based on the patient’s Prakruti.
- Then patients are made to sweat as part of Swedana treatment, to further loosen the toxins and eliminate it from the body.
- Vamana or induced vomiting is an essential part of psoriasis treatment to reduce pitta vitiation.
- Shamana Chikitsa
This part of the treatment involves prescribing internal medicines and external herbal ointments to manage the dryness and scaling. Here the patients receive various Ayurvedic concoctions or tablets to detoxify blood and the lymphatic system, bring hormonal balance, improve metabolism, calm the mind, and balance the doshas.
In this part of the Shamana treatment, patients are asked to take rejuvenating and immunomodulating herbs like Ashwagandha, Guduchi, Haritaki, Triphala, Brahmi and Shatavari, rich in antioxidants to boost immunity and manage the autoimmune imbalance. This stage of the treatment is to first arrest the growth of the disease.
- Diet Management
An unavoidable and a very important part of psoriasis treatment is managing your diet. While some experts in modern medicine are skeptical about the role played by diet in managing psoriasis symptoms, a survey by University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine showed that psoriasis patients on vegan, paleo, or high-protein diets showed improvements in their symptoms.
Eating foods that aggravate itching, trigger the urge to peel off the skin, or increase vata or kapha, make it difficult to manage the symptoms. Ayurveda recommends that you avoid
- Food that is too sour, salty, sweet or pungent
- Acidic or sour foods like lemons and oranges, curds, buttermilk, pickles, or tomato
- Fermented food, baked goods, whey, and refined flour
- Fast foods and pizza
- Cold drinks
- Foods that contain preservatives
- Table salt
- Red meat
- Combining milk and fruits.
You can eat asparagus, beans, broccoli, soy, lentils, carrots—basically an alkaline diet is a good diet for psoriasis. Fresh aloe vera juice and coconut water are allowed, as well as cabbage juice. The only dairy that is acceptable is buttermilk.
Ayurveda Home Remedies
Here are a few quick Ayurvedic remedies for treating psoriasis symptoms:
- Make a paste out of jasmine flower essence and apply it to any inflamed and itchy areas.
- Take guggulu to reduce inflammation.
- Neem or margosa leaves purifies blood and boosts immunity.
- Use copious amounts of turmeric in your food to reduce inflammation.
- Apply the juice of cabbage leaves to the affected regions.
- Gently massage a mix olive and cold pressed coconut oil into the skin.
- Keep your skin as moisturized as possible at all times. If the skin starts drying, immediately apply some coconut oil or an herbal moisturizer to maintain skin moisture.
- Get as much Vitamin D from natural sunlight as you can.
And to end that story on a happy note, I’ve been symptom free for over a year after taking a beautiful journey with Ayurveda in dealing with the scars on my body and mind. Happy to report—recovered.