Natural Remedies for Psoriatic Arthritis

Benefits and Risks of Complementary Therapies

In This Article

Natural treatments for psoriatic arthritis, such as apple cider vinegar, turmeric, and wintergreen, tend to garner a lot of interest for a couple of reasons. This inflammatory form of arthritis can be difficult to treat, opening people up to considering solutions beyond the conventional. In addition, typical treatments—topical, oral, and injectable drugs—can sometimes be costly and may cause side effects, especially if symptoms are severe.

However, and generally speaking, the research supporting these remedies is weak. Some natural solutions, like diet changes, may, in and of themselves, be low risk. But there's danger in using such options in place of standard medical care. Other natural remedies have associated risks that must be considered.

It is important, therefore, to speak with your doctor to fully understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of any natural therapy you intend to pursue. This is especially important if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a chronic condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, or a heart rhythm disorder.

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Diet

One of the risk factors for psoriatic arthritis is obesity. This is especially true of inverse psoriasis, a form of the disease that develops in skin folds (such as under the breasts, in the armpits, or between the buttocks).

Obesity is characterized by the excess accumulation of adipose (fat-storing) cells. These cells produce inflammatory substances called cytokines, which add to the inflammation already induced by psoriasis. As such, weight loss can't help but improve your symptoms by actively reducing the overall adiposity.

But, there is also some evidence that certain diets may improve psoriatic symptoms irrespective of weight. These include:

  • Anti-inflammatory diets, which restrict foods believed to be inflammatory (like red meat, dairy, margarine, and vegetable oil) while increasing antioxidant-rich foods like (berries, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, oily fish, and whole grains)
  • A gluten-free diet, which some believe may reduce psoriatic flares in the same way that it prevents celiac disease

Ice and Heat Application

Acute joint inflammation generally benefits from short-term ice application. It can help reduce pain and swelling, and can be used to treat all types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis ("wear-and-tear arthritis"), rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

Heat application can also help, especially if you have morning stiffness. But avoid electrical heating pads as the intense heat can actually trigger a flare. Instead, heat a towel in the dryer or in a bowl of warm (not scalding) water.

How to Ice a Joint Safely

When icing a joint, place a cloth barrier between the ice pack and the skin. Move the pack around constantly and continue to do so for no longer than 15 to 20 minutes to avoid frostbite.

Topical and Oral Remedies

Few natural medicines have any scientific evidence to back up their health claims. This is especially true with respect to psoriatic arthritis. As an informed consumer, it is important to critically evaluate any alternative treatment. In the absence of scientific proof, safety is far more important than potential efficacy.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Acid cider vinegar is a popular folk remedy but one with uncertain benefits. Some people claim that is can relieve the itchiness of psoriatic plaques, but the high acidity may cause intense burning and pain if the skin is compromised. Drinking apple cider vinegar has no known benefit to joint health or the treatment of joint diseases.

Aloe Vera

The gel from the aloe vera plant may improve the pain and redness of psoriatic skin plaques. Creams containing 0.5% aloe can be applied safely to the skin up to three times a day. Topical aloe vera has no actual effect on joint pain or stiffness. Aloe in tablet form is not recommended and may even be dangerous.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin—the substance that gives chili peppers their heat—is used to treat many muscle, joint, and nerve pain disorders. Available in topical ointments or patches, capsaicin may help reduce local inflammation and block nerve signals associated with joint pain. Evidence is lacking as to its effect in people with psoriatic arthritis, however.

Fish Oil

Fish oil, available in gel caps and oral preparations, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are the types of fat known to reduce inflammation and improve heart health (by lowering triglycerides and "bad" LDL cholesterol).

Taking fish oil on a regular basis is believed by some to improve arthritis pain. With that being said, the overuse of fish oil can lead to diarrhea, bleeding gums, low blood pressure, and acid reflux.

Turmeric

Turmeric is recognized for having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Test tube studies have shown that the active ingredient in turmeric, known as curcumin, can alter the function of an inflammatory compound called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is one of the substances known to induce psoriasis symptoms.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that 1.5 to 3 grams of turmeric per day is safe. Whether this dose is therapeutic in humans is unknown—and some say unlikely.

If consumed in excess, turmeric may cause nausea, vomiting, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Wintergreen

Wintergreen is a herbaceous plant native to the eastern United States. It is said to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to people with psoriatic arthritis, even though there is little to no research to evidence the claims.

As a salicylate, wintergreen can cause serious side effects if overused, including stomach pain, black stools, rash, and the vomiting of blood. This risk is even greater if an oral salicylate (like aspirin) is used.

Mind-Body Therapies

Stress is one of the most common triggers for psoriatic flares, affecting as many as 50% of people with psoriasis, according to a 2014 review of studies from Europe. While psychotherapy and antidepressants may be useful in treating psoriasis-related stress, mind-body therapies may be just as beneficial if practiced on an ongoing basis. These may include:

Even routine exercise can be a great stress reliever, allowing you to let off steam while keeping your joints strong and flexible.

Acupuncture is another alternative modality believed by many to reduce stress. There is even preliminary evidence that it can reduce acute pain associated with arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

You should never consider a natural therapy a substitute for standard medical care. As a progressive disease, psoriatic arthritis may cause irreversible joint damage if not treated appropriately by an experienced rheumatologist.

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Article Sources

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  1. Wang, L.; Yang, H.; Li, N. et al. Acupuncture for psoriasis: protocol for a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2015;5(6):e007526. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007526

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