Heart Health

If you have the autoimmune disease psoriasis, you’re familiar with the red, raised skin lesions, silvery scales, and itchy, dry skin caused by an abnormally fast turnover of skin cells. You know your immune system is responsible for the havoc wreaked on your skin and that it’s a chronic condition that can be managed, but not cured. You’re not quite sure, however, how this connects to your heart health.

Everyone should take steps to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. However, people with psoriasis should be extra vigilant due to a link between the chronic skin disease and an increased risk of heart attack (American Academy of Dermatology, 2011).

The Connection

The basics of psoriasis, like other autoimmune diseases, is that your immune system overacts to a perceived threat, triggering inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation can take form in many ways, including reddened patches of skin on your body and psoriatic arthritis symptoms can include conjunctivitis, the inflammation of the lining of your eyelids (Mayo Clinic, 2011). 

Your blood vessels can also become inflamed, a condition that contributes to the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of a fatty substance called plaque, inside your artery walls. Plaque slows or interrupts the flow of blood to your heart, which can heighten your risk of heart disease and heart attack.

People who have severe forms of the skin disease and are under the age of 60 are more likely to develop heart disease, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 2006). 

Don’t panic if you have psoriasis and fall into the appropriate age group. There are plenty of ways to strengthen your heart through diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

Reducing the Risks

Exercise

Make lifestyle adjustments such as quitting smoking and incorporating daily exercise into your life to increase your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends exercising for 75 to 150 minutes weekly, depending on the intensity level of your workout (AHA, 2012). As far as the type of exercise, anything goes. Dance, walk, swim, jump rope, play soccer or do whatever makes you happy—as long as you get your heart rate pounding.

Vigorous, high-intensity workouts elevate your heart rate to a faster rate for longer periods of time, so you do not need to exercise for quite as many minutes daily. Aim for 30-minute periods of aerobic exercise, but don’t worry if you aren’t able to reach that goal. Shorter walks and jogs benefit your heart health if done on a regular basis.

Stress

Stress reduction and exercise can go hand in hand and benefit your cardiovascular system. Stress causes you to tense up and can intensify symptoms of many chronic conditions, including heart disease and psoriasis. Physical activity can release physical and mental tension effectively in many people. 

Stress-busting in other ways may lower your risk of heart attack and psoriasis flares:

  • Think positively about events and people.
  • Laugh and have fun.
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
  • Practice relaxation through deep breathing and visualization.

Diet

Diet plays a role in improving heart health, and may have a positive effect on psoriasis too. A heart-healthy diet cuts down on fat and sodium, while eating healthy fats, and whole grains.

Consider making these changes to your diet to improve how you look and feel:

  • Switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Choose whole grain or brown rice, pasta, and bread.
  • Limit fried food and fat-laden baked goods.
  • Concentrate on lean proteins such as fish, chicken, and beans.
  • Cook with healthy fat, which can be found in olive and flaxseed oils.

Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for people who have psoriasis and the increased risk of heart disease. Your body can’t make these essential nutrients, so you need to get them through food.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are an example of a “healthy fat” that may lower your cholesterol levels and improve your cardiovascular system.  Omega-3 fatty acids are building blocks in the production of hormones that help regulate a series of bodily functions.  Increasing Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet may lower triglyceride levels, meaning your blood vessels are less likely to accumulate the plaque that can leads to heart disease (Harvard, 2012). 

Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in fatty types of fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. Shrimp and scallops contain what is sometimes referred to as marine omegas. 

Plant food sources of Omega-3s include:

  • leafy vegetables
  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • soy products such as tofu and miso
  • walnuts

Fish oil supplements are another way to increase omega-3 intake if you are not getting enough through your diet. Your doctor may advise you to include fish oil supplements in you daily routine if you have a risk factor for heart disease and psoriasis.

Taking It Seriously

Heart disease is no joke, and learning that you have an increased risk due to psoriasis can be an intimidating wake-up call. Take the risks seriously by “health-ifying” your lifestyle, but don’t let it stress you out. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about your chronic skin condition or cardiovascular health.