Gluten-Free Diet Benefits Psoriasis

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Allie Lemco Toren

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It seems like everyone is trying out a new diet these days—some cut out dairy, others push aside sugar, and many extoll the virtues of a plant-based regimen.

And while it may be easy to dismiss these as “fad” diets, medical research has proven that some of them can truly benefit people suffering from various diseases.

This seems to be the case with psoriasis, the most common autoimmune disease in the United States, especially in regards to following a gluten-free diet.

Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition in which the body produces too many new skin cells too quickly; this results in red, scaly patches on the skin called plaques that can be itchy and painful. Treating psoriasis can be tricky—patients begin by trying topical creams and ointments, and then if those don’t work, they may move on to more systemic medications: prescription drugs that affect the whole body. Most psoriasis treatments, both topical and systemic, attempt to stop the skin cells from growing so rapidly, thus decreasing inflammation and the development of plaques. Inflammation plays a big role in psoriasis, and many patients try different diets with the goal of reducing this inflammation. Studies have shown, for psoriasis patients with a sensitivity to gluten, a gluten-free diet can greatly lower levels of inflammation and vastly improve symptoms.

There are many treatment options for psoriasis, and they all come with risks and benefits. Ultimately, whether you treat with topical creams, light therapy, or medications, you and your doctor will decide the best treatment path together.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 13, 2016

2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Gluten and Psoriasis: What the Research Tells Us

Recent studies have found up to 25% of people with psoriasis may benefit from cutting gluten from their diet. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt and sometimes oats. Some people have an autoimmune disease called celiac disease, where ingesting gluten results in inflammation of the small intestines; this inflammation damages the intestines and causes discomfort, pain, gastrointestinal problems and cognitive challenges. Other people may have a sensitivity to gluten without celiac disease, called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which causes similar, but less severe, problems. Following a gluten-free diet is the one and only treatment for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and after cutting out gluten, patients can resume their normal lives and feel much better.

For people with celiac or sensitivity, their immune systems perceive gluten as an intruder, and synthesize special molecules called antibodies to fight gluten particles; this battle ignites inflammation and causes damage to occur. And research suggests that psoriasis and celiac disease share several common genetic and inflammatory characteristics. A 2015 analysis of peer-reviewed studies looking at this connection found psoriasis patients are significantly more likely to be sensitive to gluten than people without psoriasis, and they’re twice as likely to have celiac disease.

To be clear, not all psoriasis patients will benefit from a gluten-free diet. But those who have a sensitivity to the protein may greatly benefit from avoiding it. One study out of Sweden tracked 33 psoriasis patients with a known gluten sensitivity as they followed a gluten-free diet. After three months, 73% of patients saw a nearly 50% improvement in their psoriasis symptoms. However, once the patients began eating gluten again, their psoriasis returned to previous levels. Three case studies have been presented in peer-reviewed journals examining the experiences of patients who saw a rapid clearing of their psoriasis plaques after following a gluten-free diet, and another clinical trial studying 28 patients found a significant decrease in their plaques as a result of avoiding gluten, as well.

These studies provide a foundation, but since they look at small sample sizes, more research is needed to discover the true relationship between gluten and psoriasis. Until further information is published, patients can see for themselves whether this diet will benefit them.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 2, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Medical References

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