Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Psoriatic Disease

What the Research Says

Psoriatic arthritis

designer491/iStock/Getty Images

Complementary and alternative therapies for psoriatic disease are growing in popularity these days. In fact, a 2018 survey, published by the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, reports that when traditional treatment fails, people with psoriasis frequently seek out alternative therapies. 

Conventional treatment for psoriasis often provides limited effectiveness, while causing adverse reactions (side effects). This is one reason many people with psoriasis are looking to get symptom relief from natural products.

Overview of Alternative Therapies for Psoriasis

Because psoriasis is often triggered by stress, many alternative therapies involve prevention measures that reduce the body’s stress reaction. These include yoga and meditation, aromatherapy, relaxation techniques, physical exercise, herbal supplements and more. In addition, a weight loss diet is often recommended for those who are overweight or obese because being overweight can contribute to the severity of psoriasis.

Other types of natural/alternative treatment are pain-relieving modalities for various forms of psoriasis that cause pain—such as psoriatic arthritis. One such alternative treatment for pain is acupuncture.

Not all therapies are recommended for everyone with psoriasis. There are several different forms of the disease; the symptoms of each vary. For example, psoriatic arthritis features skin lesions accompanied by joint pain. People with this type of arthritis may be best suited for alternative therapies known to treat itchy, scaly skin patches and those that decrease pain and inflammation.

But which complementary/alternative therapies for psoriasis work best? Does traditional medication (such as cortisone cream and pain medication) work better to relieve symptoms? Find out what the research says.

Research Studies

A 2018 systematic review examined over 100 independent research studies on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for psoriasis. The study discovered that the most “robust evidence of efficacy for treatment of psoriasis,” included indigo naturalis, curcumin, fish oil, dietary modification, meditation and acupuncture. 

Indigo Naturalis

Indigo naturalis (also known as qing-dai) is an ointment made from an herb, used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

In the examination of five randomized controlled trials (RTCs) involving 215 study participants, those who used indigo naturalis showed significant improvement in the symptoms of psoriasis. 

Curcumin

Curcumin (also known as turmeric) is a spice commonly used in Indian cuisine; it is also available as a dietary supplement.

The supplementation of curcumin was evaluated in 118 study participants. Significant clinical improvements were noted in psoriasis plaques in those who took curcumin supplements.

Note, curcumin is not absorbed very efficiently by the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Studies have shown that when a medium chain fatty acid, (such as coconut oil) along with black peppercorn, is ingested with curcumin, the bioavailability of curcumin is increased 2,000 percent. The bioavailability of a supplement (or drug) refers to the portion that is absorbed into the blood circulation. This directly impacts the supplement’s ability to provide a therapeutic effect. 

Fish Oil

Fish oil is a dietary supplement with omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).

Another comprehensive review study, on the role of nutritional supplements in psoriasis treatment, found that fish oil with omega 3 fatty acids—when taken for three months or longer—improved symptoms of psoriasis (such as reddened skin, itching, scaling, and inflammation) in 12 out of 15 research studies. 

Not all fish oil is the same. It’s important to select a high grade (such as pharmaceutical grade) fish oil from a cold water, wild-caught source, with the correct amount of DHA and EPA. Be sure to consult with your health care provider when selecting a fish oil supplement for the treatment of psoriasis.

Dietary Modification

There is a well-established association between the severity of psoriasis and body weight. One reason is that excess body fat lends itself to inflammation. In addition, those with psoriasis, who are also overweight or obese, experience more severe symptoms, reduced response to treatment and more. Therefore, a hypocaloric diet—eating fewer calories—rather than by other means of weight loss (such as exercise, low fat, low carb diets, etc.) is often recommended for people with psoriasis who are overweight or obese.

Having a high body mass index (which is associated with being overweight or obese) early in life, has been linked with the development of psoriasis as a person gets older, according to Dr. Abrar A. Qureshi, vice chairman of dermatology at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

A 2018 systematic review study on dietary recommendations—as a complementary treatment for psoriasis—examined 55 independent research studies involving over 4,500 people with psoriasis. The study findings included:

  • A strong recommendation for overweight or obese patients with psoriasis to adhere to a weight loss diet.
  • A weak recommendation for a gluten-free diet (only for those who test positively for gluten sensitivity should eat a gluten free diet)
  • A weak recommendation for vitamin D supplements for those with psoriatic arthritis

The study authors stress that dietary interventions should be used in conjunction with standard treatment for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Meditation

When a person meditates, the focus of the mind is turned inward, while conscious thoughts are suspended. Meditation is believed to result in an alteration in the mental state of mind, namely, a high state of relaxation, mental calmness, and psychological balance.

In single blind, randomized controlled studies, involving 112 study participants, meditation and guided imagery were shown to have a modest effect in the treatment of psoriasis. But the results of meditation practice can be varied depending on many factors such as:

  • The length of practice: For example, when a person first begins meditation practice, there may be a high level of anxiety, as practice becomes more engrained, it may engender deeper states of relaxation and stress reduction.
  • The type of meditation: There are many forms of meditative practice, some work better than others for certain individuals because of personal preferences, spiritual beliefs and more.
  • Factors related to the practitioner: For example, health problems that interfere with sitting practice (such as discomfort from symptoms of psoriasis) or a belief system that doesn’t embrace Eastern practice.

Meditation results differ from person to person. The only way to discover if mediation works, is to try it. Then one must stick to it for a while, because the fruits of the practice usually take time.

Mindfulness

For those who are not interested in formal meditation, there are many other forms of practice that may work. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a structured program (backed by research) that offers a secular (non-religious), intensive mindfulness training aimed at helping to alleviate anxiety, depression, stress and pain.

A 2018 systematic review found that mindfulness practice improves pain and depression while improving the quality of life. But more studies are needed to definitively prove the efficacy of mindfulness for those with chronic pain. 

Yoga

Yoga is the act of combining consciousness of the breath, stretching and strengthening poses with meditation. This helps to alleviate stress in the body and mind, while increasing the blood flow to areas that are symptomatic.

According to Natalie E. Azar, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, yoga can result in improvement in strength and flexibility, better balance, and enhanced heart health—all of which are important factors to incorporate into an effective exercise for psoriatic arthritis.

Always check with the health care provider before starting yoga or any other physical exercise program.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a natural treatment involving gentle pressure on specific healing points in the body, using very small needles. This is known to lower pain, reduce stress and improve circulation in the body. Acupressure is also said to boost the body’s immune system.

In a review study of 13 randomized controlled trials, acupuncture treatment for those with psoriasis showed a significant improvement in symptoms, when compared to results from those who had a placebo treatment.

Herbal Remedies

Many herbal/natural supplements do not have enough clinical research data to prove safety or efficacy. Always consult with your health care provider before taking herbal remedies. Many have serious side effects and can interact with prescription medications. Also, most herbal supplements are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium or Mahonia aquifolium)

A topical cream made from a 10 percent mixture of Oregon grape bark extract is commercially made by a company named “Relieva, Apollo Pharmaceutical”

A 2018 study, published by the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology, reported that Oregon grape showed a significant improvement in symptoms of psoriasis and was considered a safe and effective treatment option for symptoms of itching, rash or burning sensation.

“There are extensive amounts of data supporting its use and efficacy in psoriasis,” wrote the study authors. They went on to explain that studies found “M. aquifolium [Oregon grape] was equal to or better than calcipotriol and tazarotene gel in all 33 patients.”

Although there’s been a lot of positive research results from studies on the use of Oregon grape to reduce itching and inflammation in those with mild psoriasis, some experts say there is not enough clinical research data to definitively prove that Oregon grape is effective in replacing conventional treatment.

Always consult with the health care provider before discontinuing the use of traditional treatment or starting complementary or alternative therapies for psoriasis. 

Aloe Vera

There are mixed results on the efficacy of aloe vera gel for the treatment of psoriasis. In a systematic review of clinical trials, aloe vera was well tolerated with no side effects. However, the results were mixed, aloe vera did help reduce scaling and redness of the skin, linked with psoriasis, but some studies were inconclusive.

Note, in clinical research studies, creams containing 0.5 percent aloe are recommended. The gel can be applied up to several times daily. 

Alternative Therapies Found Ineffective

Some complementary and alternative treatment modalities were not found to be effective, or do not have enough clinical research data to prove safe and effective treatment. Examples include:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D (ineffective when taken by mouth, although topical (on the skin) vitamin D was found to be effective for some people with psoriasis)
  • Tea tree oil
  • Avena sativa (oats)

A Word From Verywell

The medical research studies speak volumes about which complementary and alternative therapies for psoriatic disease were found to work best. But it's important to consult with a health care professional before implementing any natural treatment regimen.

Many experts recommend using alternative medicine along with traditional treatment. Alternative therapies such as herbal supplements may allow you to lower the dose of prescription or over the counter medication, thus, reducing side effects. In addition, taking drugs along with complementary therapies (such as acupuncture) could improve pain control. For optimal safety and best results, always work closely with the prescribing physician (or other professional health care provider) to identify the right natural supplement or treatment, as well as the best alteration in traditional treatment.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Murphy EC, Nussbaum D, Prussick R, Friedman AJ. Use of complementary and alternative medicine by patients with psoriasis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019;81(1):280-283. DOI:10.1016/j.jaad.2019.03.059

  2. Miroddi M, Navarra M, Calapai F, et al. Review of Clinical Pharmacology of Aloe vera L. in the Treatment of Psoriasis. Phytother Res. 2015;29(5):648-55.

  3. Gamret AC, Price A, Fertig RM, Lev-tov H, Nichols AJ. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies for Psoriasis: A Systematic Review. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(11):1330-1337. DOI: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.2972

  4. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its' Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017;6(10).

  5. Millsop JW, Bhatia BK, Debbaneh M, Koo J, Liao W. Diet and psoriasis, part III: role of nutritional supplements. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71(3):561-9. DOI:10.1016/j.jaad.2014.03.016

  6. The National Psoriasis Foundation. Psoriasis and diet: researchers examine the relationship between food and disease. Updated September 14, 2018.

  7. Ford AR, Siegel M, Bagel J, et al. Dietary Recommendations for Adults With Psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis From the Medical Board of the National Psoriasis Foundation: A Systematic Review. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(8):934-950. DOI:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.1412

  8. Hilton L, Hempel S, Ewing BA, et al. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Behav Med. 2017;51(2):199-213. DOI:10.1007/s12160-016-9844-2

  9. Janeczek M, Moy L, Lake EP, Swan J. Review of the Efficacy and Safety of Topical for the Treatment of Psoriasis and Atopic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(12):42-47.

  10. The National Psoriasis Foundation. Complementary and Alternative Therapy Updated June 26, 2019.

  11. Khan H, De feo V, Rehman NU, Najda A. Evidence Based Alternative Medicines in Pain Management 2016. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016. DOI: 10.1155/2016/7078351

Additional Reading