A Nurse Shares Nutrition Do’s and Don’ts for Those With Psoriasis

About 7.5 million Americans live with psoriasis, and 80 to 90 percent of them have plaque psoriasis. The autoimmune condition causes skin cells to build up and form raised, reddish patches covered with silvery-white scales. While there are medications that can help, nutrition can also play a role in managing psoriasis.

In her nine-and-a-half-year nursing career, Julie Bird has worked with psoriasis patients, often in charge of their dietary needs. She went into nursing after witnessing her mom’s six-year battle with cancer. Julie was repeatedly surprised by the negative treatment her mother received as a patient. Oftentimes, medical professionals were short with her mom, even in her weakened state. Julie came from a world of customer service where “you treat the customer like gold.” Even though her mom lost her fight with cancer, Julie was determined to become a nurse who would treat patients the way they deserve to be treated.

Julie can relate to her patients on a deeper level, too, as she faces an autoimmune disease of her own—one that has drastically changed the way she eats.

Here, she shares how nutrition can help tame the flame of psoriasis and other autoimmune conditions.


Whole Health Blog: Do you mind telling us about your autoimmune condition?

Julie Bird, RN: I have discoid lupus erythematosus. As of now, I have no trace of systemic lupus. Systemic affects your internal organs, and discoid manifests more externally. It affects the skin with different skin rashes and patches. Of course, I still get the typical symptoms: joint pain, fever, fatigue, etc.


WHB: So, you understand, like with psoriasis, having to really take care of your skin. How has that affected how you live and how you eat?

JB: It does affect my life in that it can be really limiting. I cannot eat on the go. I have to prepare snacks ahead of time and make sure I eat at home. If I don’t preplan, then I may not be able to eat until I come back home. I can’t just pull in a drive-through and order something because of how it will affect me later. Unfortunately, most fast food restaurants have had processing done to their fresh foods as well, so sometimes ordering a salad can cause issues. Like I said, it can be limiting at times, but if you get into a routine with it and learn to preplan, it’s easier.


WHB: What kinds of snacks do you pack?

JB: Carrots, celery, cherries, strawberries, blueberries. Just snack stuff that I can get to real quick.



WHB: What foods should someone with psoriasis avoid?

JB: Anything that would produce a lot of inflammation in the body—high-fat, over-processed foods, high-fat dairy and refined sugar. Gluten can also contribute [to inflammation], so monitor your gluten intake as well. Limit alcohol consumption. Also, there is a theory [that you should] avoid nightshade fruit and vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, etc.), but there are no scientific studies that prove this is beneficial.

You want to avoid anything that’s overly processed, such as white bread, white pasta [and] simple carbs. If you’re going to have bread or pasta, make sure it is wholegrain.

Overall, you really want to increase your whole foods, raw foods, and limit processed foods.


WHB: What are five foods you’d recommend for someone with psoriasis?

JB: Cherries actually are one of the best—cherry juice or cherries. Brightly colored berries, leafy green vegetables and lean protein (fish or chicken) [also reduce inflammation]—any type of raw fruits and vegetables. Turmeric has been shown to reduce inflammation, as well.




WHB: Any other nutrition tips up your sleeve?

JB: Increasing fiber helps to reduce CRP, your C-reactive protein. It is used as a marker to help indicate when entering a “flare-up” of an autoimmune condition, because CRP levels rise as inflammation levels increase in the body. Increasing fiber has been shown to lower CRP levels, which indicates reduction of inflammation.


WHB: Are there any specific foods that you would recommend to boost fiber intake?

JB: A lot of raw vegetables have fiber in them. Also, whole grains. That’s why we want you to stay away from white [processed foods], which would increase [inflammation], where wholegrain bread would reduce it. You don’t have to be totally in fear of carbs, but you’re going to get the most benefit from natural fibers. Bread is still a processed food.



WHB: How much water do you recommend?

JB: I recommend drinking lots of water—half your body weight in ounces [each day]. If you weigh 150 pounds, you would drink 75 ounces of water.

I drink strictly water to reach my recommended ounces for fluid intake. Then, after I have reached that amount, I will have additional drinks like coffee or tea.


WHB: It seems like getting that much water would help your skin’s appearance, too.

JB: It’s hydrating. … You want to prevent [your skin] from getting dry. Adequate water intake and staying moisturized all goes hand in hand.

What you put in your body reflects on the outside of your body.


WHB: Do you have any advice for someone who’s used to eating processed foods who is transitioning to eating whole foods?

JB: Just stick with it. You will get used to it. Your taste buds will get used to it. You’ll get to the point where the processed foods are no longer appealing. The desire to feel healthy will outweigh your desire to eat junk. You will actually enjoy feeling “good” over any enjoyment you would get from eating those processed foods. You just have to stick with it. … Give it two or three weeks, and pretty soon your body will actually start to prefer whole foods. I know that sounds like a long shot, but that really is the truth.


WHB: Do you let yourself have any little treats?

JB: Don’t get me wrong; every once in a while, I crave salt, so I will have chips or something. I just avoid chips with gluten in them, and it helps. You’re human; you have to have treats.


WHB: Do you know of any food you can use on your skin to help soothe it naturally?

JB: Not topically; that would be something you would want to check with your dermatologist. Depending on what it is and how it’s made, it could actually cause a reaction or a flare-up.

I would check with your dermatologist first, but it has been reported that limited sun exposure is beneficial for people with psoriasis. The rationale behind it is that sunlight exposure slows the reproduction of skin cells, which in turn would slow plaque development in psoriasis. Basically, the sun exposure slows this “overproduction” process down, helping to treat it. However, you do not want to overexpose your skin. I believe the recommendation is 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure daily to a few times a week. Again, check with your dermatologist to get a recommendation that fits your personal situation.



WHB: So, whole foods, reduced fats and processed foods, lots of water and daily sunshine. Am I missing anything?

JB: Reduce stress. Stress is a known to exacerbate all autoimmune conditions. Really, if you can limit stress, you are managing a big contributor to flare-ups.


WHB: How do you reduce stress?

JB: I get enough sleep. Sleep is a big stress-reducer.

I also recommend doing some form of exercise, too. Take some time for yourself, daily, to relax, reconnect, collect your thoughts—some focus time where you’re decompressing.

Honestly, most of us are going to be under some type of stress; it is the world we live in. I have a full-time job, three children, a husband, and we’re involved in other areas in our life, so it’s go, go, go. Often, our body will let us know when we need to take a break, but you want to try to take a break before that occurs.


WHB: As a nurse, do you know of any medications that affect psoriasis?

JB: There are certain medications that can aggravate psoriasis: some antipsychotics, some beta blockers and antiarrhythmics. A beta blocker is used for blood pressure. Antiarrhythmics work on the electrical conduction of the heart to regulate your heart rhythm. Something in that class, that family [of medication] affects psoriasis.

If you’re on a beta blocker strictly for blood pressure, your doctor may be able to switch you to a different class of blood pressure medication. The antiarrhythmics—that class is a little bit smaller, so there may not be much you can do. … You may or may not be able to switch. If you can’t, you can’t; there’s nothing you can do, but you can try to help control symptoms in other ways, which would be diet, exercise [and] managing stress.


WHB: What’s your advice for someone who begins eating well and then falls off the wagon?

JB: Just get right back on the wagon. That’s all you can do. Just get right back on it. There’s nothing really you can do or take to push that out of your system. You just have to let it clear itself naturally and get right back on and start all over again.

Just do it again. Start all over again.




The information herein may not be construed as medical advice. The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. It should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. It is best to obtain medical recommendations from your physician.