Inflammation is one of the underlying causes of psoriasis, and research has shown that anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent flare-ups. A registered dietitian explains how to incorporate these foods to help manage your condition.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your skin. When skin cells get inflamed, they grow more quickly than usual. Skin cells build up, leading to thick scales that can be discolored, itchy, and painful.

Treatments to manage psoriasis help by lowering inflammation. Diet is another approach that may help reduce inflammation. It won’t replace medications but can be used along with other treatments. An anti-inflammatory diet may reduce inflammation in your body. Here’s more about an anti-inflammatory diet, along with some expert advice.

Inflammation is the underlying cause of many health conditions, including autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune conditions develop when your immune system attacks otherwise healthy parts of your body. We don’t yet understand why this happens. The ongoing inflammation in psoriasis causes skin damage. Psoriasis can also affect your nails and joints.

There is ongoing research on links between psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes.

An anti-inflammatory diet pattern includes foods that may reduce inflammation in your body. These foods are typically less processed and closer to their original state, so they retain more fiber and antioxidants than foods that have been through more processing.

The main elements of anti-inflammatory foods are:

  • Healthy fats: A diet higher in healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids is associated with reduced inflammation. Healthy fats come from fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and plant oils such as olive oil.
  • Fiber: Much of your immune system is in your digestive tract. Supporting a healthy balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract may reduce inflammation. Foods high in fiber feed those healthy bacteria to help them thrive. You can get fiber from vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
  • Antioxidants: Free radicals are compounds found in your body that increase inflammation. Antioxidants reduce inflammation by lowering the levels of free radicals in your body. Foods that are less processed contain more antioxidants. Sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and some teas and spices.

Research has shown that a Mediterranean-type diet is associated with less severe psoriasis. This eating pattern is high in many anti-inflammatory foods. A Mediterranean diet includes plenty of healthy fats from fish and seafood. Plant foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are staples in a Mediterranean diet. These foods are high in fiber and antioxidants.

Emma Schillings (she/her) is a registered dietitian. She works in primary care and private practice in Ontario, Canada. She supports patients with a variety of health conditions. Here’s her take on anti-inflammatory eating, how it might help your psoriasis, and how to get started.

“Inflammation is a normal response to heal and repair tissue,” said Schillings. “If you’ve had a red, hot sunburn or an itchy cut, you’ve experienced inflammation.”

Inflammation is also known as oxidative stress. “This is when free radicals damage the small blood vessels of the body,” she explained.

When inflammation continues, it can cause problems. “Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of certain diseases. These include psoriasis, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, cancers, depression, arthritis, and dementia.”

“This way of eating emphasizes foods and nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties,” said Schillings. “An anti-inflammatory diet may help manage an existing condition or for disease prevention.”

“Psoriasis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the skin. An anti-inflammatory diet may lead to a less active disease with fewer or less severe symptoms,” explained Schillings. “For some, this may look like milder skin reactions or less frequent flare-ups.”

People with psoriasis may be at an increased risk of other inflammatory conditions. An anti-inflammatory diet may help prevent or manage other conditions too.

“An anti-inflammatory diet is generally recognized as a healthy, well-balanced diet,” said Schillings. “It can improve your nutritional status and reduce heart disease or diabetes risk.”

Schillings often recommends that her clients follow a Mediterranean eating pattern. This way of eating includes a variety of anti-inflammatory foods. “A Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, olive oil, legumes, whole grains, and fish. It includes smaller amounts of foods of animal origin, such as dairy, eggs, and beef.”

“Plant-based foods are high in antioxidants and fiber,” she said, adding that fruits and vegetables are especially high in them. “Antioxidants protect your body’s cells from damage caused by oxidative stress. And plant foods are rich in fiber and prebiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome.”

Healthy fats, especially omega-3s, are important as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. “Fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines, or mackerel are great sources,” said Schillings.

Some herbs and spices also have anti-inflammatory properties. “Choose a variety. Try turmeric, rosemary, garlic, onion, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, pepper, sage, parsley, and ginger,” suggested Schillings.

“I like to focus on what foods to add, rather than what needs to be limited,” said Schillings.

Some foods may be more likely to increase inflammation in your body. “Some things to limit include red meat, processed meats, and ultra-processed foods such as soda, candy, chips, fast foods, and ice cream,” suggested Schillings.

Schillings is quick to point out that all foods can fit. “In a healthy diet pattern, some processed or high sugar foods are acceptable. Moderation is a very personal thing, and there is no one-size-fits-all here.”

It’s smart to make gradual changes. You don’t have to do it all at once.

“I would encourage taking small steps towards the Mediterranean style of eating,” said Schillings. “Start by choosing one or two types of foods that you aren’t eating regularly. Make a plan on how to work them into your diet and eat them more frequently.”

Here are some of Schillings’ recommendations:

  • Have at least one fruit or vegetable with every meal.
  • Try to eat the rainbow: Eat something blue, green, and orange every day.
  • Plan a weekly meal made with plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, or soy.
  • Snack on unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Make your own dressings with olive oil, vinegar, herbs, and spices.
  • When eating out, order fish or seafood dishes rather than red meats, when possible.
  • Make water your beverage of choice instead of soda.

She also recommends asking for help if you need it. “If making changes feels overwhelming or you feel stuck, consider working with a registered dietitian.”

An anti-inflammatory diet is one tool among many that can help you manage an inflammatory condition.

“The cause of chronic and autoimmune diseases is highly complex. It involves both genetic and environmental factors,” explained Schillings. “Anti-inflammatory eating may help to manage your symptoms. It can help you fuel your body and prevent other conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. It’s not designed to replace medical treatments.”

Inflammation is the underlying cause of many autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet that contains a healthy amount of omega-3 fats, fiber, and antioxidants can help you manage psoriasis symptoms and reduce the chances of flare-ups.

But because psoriasis is a complex condition, reducing inflammation by following an anti-inflammatory diet is only one way to manage it. It’s important to continue your medical treatments and follow up with your doctor about your condition.