Natural Remedies for Psoriatic Arthritis

Benefits and Risks of Complementary Therapies

In This Article

Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory form of arthritis linked to the autoimmune disease psoriasis. There is no cure for psoriatic arthritis. Current treatments are mainly focused on alleviating the inflammation that causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformity.

Especially in the early stages of the disease, treatment options may be limited to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), or Celebrex (celecoxib) or lifestyle modifications such as exercise, weight loss, and physical therapy.

It is not uncommon, therefore, to want to explore complementary therapies to support those provided by your rheumatologist. Generally speaking, the research supporting these remedies is scant (due in part to the high cost of conducting double-blind trials).

With that said, there is evidence that certain natural therapies can help relieve arthritic pain and inflammation associated while reducing the risk of acute flares.

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Overview

In order to understand how certain therapies can improve psoriatic symptoms, it is important to grasp the biological mechanisms that drive the disease.

At its heart, psoriatic arthritis is an extension of psoriasis. In fact, around 40 percent of people with psoriasis will eventually develop psoriatic arthritis, according to a 2014 review of studies in the journal Drugs. On the flip side, 85 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis will also have psoriasis.

Psoriatic arthritis is essentially caused by the "spill-over" of inflammation from psoriasis. With psoriasis, the immune system will attack normal cells in the outermost layer of skin. The resulting inflammation will cause the skin cells to divide at an accelerated rate, leading to the formation of dry, scaly patches known as plaques.

Over time, the persistent inflammation will begin to affect other organ systems, including the nails, eyes, brain, and heart. Psoriatic arthritis the direct result of the inflammatory effects of psoriasis on the joints, most especially the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and lower back.

The goals of psoriatic arthritis therapy are threefold:

  • Reduce the inflammation that causes joint pain and swelling
  • Avoid or mitigate triggers that lead to flares
  • Preserve the function and range of motion of affected joints

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 evidence that certain diets may improve psoriatic symptoms irrespective of weight. These include:

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.

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.

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.

Topical and Oral Drugs

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 take a jaundiced view when evaluating any alternative treatment. In the absence of scientific proof, safety is far more important than even efficacy.

Aloe Vera

The gel from the aloe vera plant may improve the pain and redness of psoriatic skin plaques. Creams containing 0.5 percent aloe can be applied safely to the skin for 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 as a topical ointment or patch, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Mind-Body Therapies

Stress is one of the most common triggers for psoriatic flares, affecting as many as 50 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 anecdotal evidence that it can reduce acute pain associated with arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

Before trying any alternative remedy for psoriatic arthritis, speak with your doctor to fully understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of treatment.

This is especially important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have a chronic condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or a mood disorder. By doing so, you will be better able to avoid drug interactions, side effects, or toxicities.

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.

If in doubt about a doctor's recommendation, it is far better to seek a second opinion than to self-treat any chronic medical condition. Use your best judgment, and don't be swayed by health claims that may or may not be true.

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