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The typical American diet is full of things that taste great but destroy the body — things like saturated fats, refined sugars and processed foods. There’s barely any fiber, fruits or vegetables to be found — at least in an identifiable state. Eating this way increases the risk for all sorts of chronic diseases, including psoriasis.
So it’s not surprising to learn that new research has connected the Standard American Diet with inflammatory diseases of the skin and joints, conditions like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
And, like so many other illnesses, this one starts in the gut.
The standard American diet throws your gut out of balance
The community of micro-organisms that lives in our intestines is known as our gut microbiota or gut microbiome.
Gut dysbiosis is a fancy term for the imbalance within the microbiota that comes from eating a diet heavy in processed foods, sugars (often hidden) and unhealthy fats, and void of nutrients, like fiber.
Knowing that gut dysbiosis plays a key role in causing inflammation, researchers from the University of California Davis School of Medicine set out to test whether it specifically affected skin and joint inflammation.
They injected mice with Interleukin-23 (IL-23), an inflammatory protein produced by the immune cells that cause many autoimmune reactions, including psoriasis. Then they began feeding the mice a diet high in fat and sugar.
It didn’t take long for the gut imbalance to make itself known.
“There is a clear link between skin inflammation and changes in the gut microbiome due to food intake,” said Dr. Sam T. Hwang, the study’s lead author.
“The bacterial balance in the gut was disrupted shortly after starting a Western diet, and worsened psoriatic skin and joint inflammation.”
Reverse gut damage and improve psoriatic arthritis
The researchers then wanted to find out whether switching back to a more balanced diet could restore the gut microbiota, even while the inflammatory proteins were still present.
They started again, this time feeding mice a Western diet for six weeks, then inducing psoriatic arthritis by injecting them with IL-23.
Then, they randomly divided the mice into two groups: a group that continued the Western diet for another four weeks and a group that switched to a balanced diet for the same four weeks.
The mice that ate a diet high in fat and sugar for a total of ten weeks were more prone to skin and joint inflammation.
On the other hand, those that were switched to a balanced diet had less scaling and reduced ear thickness.
“It was quite surprising that a simple diet modification of less sugar and fat may have significant effects on psoriasis,” said Zhenrui Shi, lead author of the study.
“These findings reveal that patients with psoriatic skin and joint disease should consider changing to a healthier dietary pattern.”
A healthier way to control skin and joint inflammation
Considering the risks of some medical treatments for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, the possibility of living symptom-free with simple dietary changes is a game-changer.
Steroid creams are usually the first treatment prescribed for milder cases of psoriasis. But if continued for any length of time, even this topical treatment can work its way into your bloodstream and can elevate your blood pressure.
To reduce the inflammation of psoriatic arthritis, methotrexate is the most commonly prescribed drug, along with a class of drugs known as biologics. But these drugs carry a hefty price tag.
Methotrexate causes mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, hair loss, and liver inflammation. And biologics, while developed to be an improvement over older drugs, have caused neurological problems, congestive heart failure and malignant tumors.
Why not start with improving your diet?
But if you feel like you have trouble following diets, here are some tips:
- Avoid all fast food and junk food
- Don’t eat anything that comes in a box
- Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Become a label reader and if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it
- Avoid processed grains and sugar
- Eat more fermented foods to keep your gut balanced
- Look for certified organic products
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Short-Term Western Diet Intake Promotes IL-23‒Mediated Skin and Joint Inflammation Accompanied by Changes to the Gut Microbiota in Mice — Journal of Investigative Dermatology
Rheumatoid Arthritis: How to Treat — Cleveland Clinic