Vitamins are important for keeping skin healthy, so could they be used to treat psoriasis?
What are vitamins anyway?
Vitamins are nutrients that our bodies need in small amounts to stay healthy. Some vitamins (like vitamin D) act like hormones; others are needed to help us to use the energy from food, or to keep skin, tissues and bones healthy.
Because our bodies don’t make vitamins, we have to consume them from food. There are 6 groups of vitamins – A, B, C, D, E, and K. Some are stored in body tissues, but others (like vitamin C) can’t be stored, so we have to make sure we get enough of these on a daily basis.
How do vitamins help skin?
Some vitamins play a vital role in keeping our skin healthy1. For example, Vitamins A and C are concentrated in the outer layers of the skin, where they work together to help to protect against sun damage2 3.
Vitamin C is also essential for collagen production (a protein that gives skin elasticity and structure). It acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent too, helping to protect the skin from damage.
We know that diet and vitamin intake affect the skin, because vitamin deficiencies lead to changes in the skin health.
For example, a lack of B vitamins can lead to dermatitis, and without enough vitamin C wounds don’t heal properly.
Do vitamin deficiencies cause psoriasis?
There isn’t any research that shows a direct link between vitamin deficiencies and psoriasis, but we do know that people with psoriasis tend to have lower vitamin levels than healthy populations.
People with psoriasis also have lower levels of antioxidant vitamins in their skin. These include vitamins A, C and E – sometimes called the ACE vitamins6 7. Some experts think that low levels of antioxidants may contribute towards inflammation in psoriatic skin.
It’s not clear if these vitamin imbalances are linked with the development of psoriasis, or whether they happen after psoriasis develops. It’s possible that people with psoriasis need more vitamins than healthy populations, but we don’t know enough to be sure.
“Aim for 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 1-2 in each meal and snack.”
Can vitamin supplements be used to treat psoriasis?
A small number of studies have found that vitamin D supplementation can help to improve psoriasis severity, reducing the scaling and thickness of plaques. Experts think this is because vitamin D controls the way skin cells grow.
Artificial forms of vitamin A have also been used to treat psoriasis since the 1970’s. Vitamin A is effective because it can slow down how quickly skin cells grow, reducing scaling, and plaque thickness.
Studies looking at combinations of antioxidant vitamins C and E supplements have been inconclusive. Some have shown positive effects, others haven’t found them to be beneficial.
What about vitamins from diet?
There aren’t any studies that have looked specifically at increasing vitamin intake from diet.
Some case studies have found that increasing fruit and vegetable intake as part of an overall change to diet (along with more omega-3 and less red meat and processed food) has positive effects on psoriasis8.
We also know that people with psoriasis tend to eat less fruits and vegetables than healthy control groups. There is also some evidence that fruit and vegetable intake is linked to a reduced risk of psoriasis9.
How can I increase my vitamin intake?
In one study, volunteers experienced improvements in their antioxidant and vitamin C levels after eating five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day for 2 weeks10. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants – berries, dark leafy greens, squash, and tomatoes are good examples.
There are 8 types of B vitamin. Most can be found in wholegrain foods, milk, eggs, poultry, meat and leafy green vegetables. A healthy balanced diet should provide enough B vitamins, unless you exclude all meat and dairy. If you do, taking a supplement is helpful.
Not many foods contain Vitamin D. Our main source is through exposure to sunlight. Because we don’t get a lot of sunshine in the UK, taking a supplement during winter months is helpful.
Are there any risks of increasing vitamin intake?
Increasing your vitamin intake from fruits and vegetables is considered safe11 and has lots of benefits – studies show eating more fruit and vegetables can even improve your mood and sense of wellbeing.
Although there’s no guarantee that eating more fruits and vegetables will improve your psoriasis, it may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, which is raised in people with psoriasis.
Because vitamin supplements are classed as foods, not drugs, they aren’t regulated in the same way that medicines are, so it’s advisable to buy from a good quality brand.
If you combine several supplements you may end up taking more than the recommended safe amount – multivitamins tend to have safe levels, but it’s best to discuss with your doctor before taking any high doses.
Tips to increase vitamin intake
- Aim for 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 1-2 in each meal and snack
- Lots of vitamins are destroyed by heat and light or exposure to air, so steaming or grill for a short time only, or use the cooking water from vegetables make soups.
- Start your day with a smoothie containing frozen berries – they contain as many vitamins as fresh
- Serve leafy green salads with a small drizzle of olive oil – this will help your body to absorb the fat soluble vitamins
- Add vegetables to your lunch plate instead of crisps – baby tomatoes and peppers are naturally sweet and tasty
- Use vegetable noodles in place of pasta – butternut squash and courgette work well
- Carry a bag of nuts for snacks
- Slice bananas and freeze – you can blend them to make instant banana ice-cream for a healthy dessert
- Sprinkle a tablespoon of seeds onto salads or soups
- Add chickpeas, lentils and beans to salads, soups or mash with olive oil and lemon for a dip
- Keep frozen peas and edamame beans in the freezer to add to stir fries,
- Add fresh herbs to salads, soups and even fruit – coriander works well with pineapple and basil with strawberry
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