There's a chance it might, based on anecdotal evidence, but as of now there's no solid scientific evidence, says April Abernethy, ND, a former associate director of medical programs for the National Psoriasis Foundation.
So should you give it a try?
"I think one of the challenges with all genetic diseases is that our response tends to be individual," says Dr. Abernethy, who is now director of development for The Next Door in Hood River, Oregon — an organization that provides community youth, family, and health services. "Certainly anecdotally, we do see that there are patients who respond well to the Paleo diet."
The Paleo diet is based on the way our ancestors ate before the development of agriculture. In those days, people lived on wild meat and fish, eggs, fruit, berries, vegetables, and nuts, and they rarely ate seeds or beans. They didn't know how to grow grains, so foods like bread and cereal are not included in this diet. Items like dairy products, refined fats, and processed sugar were unheard of, so they're not part of the Paleo plan, either.
The Paleo Diet and Psoriasis Treatment
How might following a Paleo diet help ease psoriasis symptoms? "The cornerstone is the basis that psoriasis is an inflammatory disease," Abernethy says. "Anything you can do to eat whole foods and get away from processed foods may improve your outcome of doing better with the inflammatory disease."
Foods heavy in saturated fats or loaded with processed sugar are believed to increase inflammation and contribute to all manner of chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. "Those are diseases we know are comorbid conditions with psoriasis," she says.
Eating a healthy diet along the lines of the Paleo diet may reduce inflammation as well as help with weight control. "There is some evidence linking diets that are low in processed foods and rich in monounsaturated fats and healthy fats with improving someone's ability to lose weight and sustain weight loss," Abernethy says.
She adds that those interested in trying to follow the Paleo diet for psoriasis treatment would do well to focus on the parts of the diet that call for:
- Dark, leafy, green vegetables
- Foods rich in natural oils, like avocados
- Lean meats and fish
- Cutting back on dairy
- Cutting back or eliminating grains
"You're eating what would be in your habitat if we still foraged for food," she says. "Really, that means buying local, and eating those nice fresh fruits and veggies you find at the farmer's market."
Why You Should Proceed Cautiously
Before you dive into the Paleo diet for psoriasis, consider consulting a registered dietitian, and plan to proceed in a deliberate fashion, suggests Heather Mangieri, RDN, owner and nutrition consultant for Nutrition CheckUp in Pittsburgh, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Diets like Paleo eliminate entire food groups, which can keep you from getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy. "The idea is to be working with somebody to recognize any nutritional deficiencies," Mangieri says.
"Particularly in the Paleo diet, I'd be concerned with calcium and vitamin D. There are certainly ways to meet your nutritional needs without dairy, but it's difficult. Let's make sure foods that are going to provide calcium and vitamin D are put back into that diet so we don't suffer a long-term deficiency," she says. "Too many people just start eliminating things."
Mangieri did agree that there are potential benefits from following the Paleo diet if you rule out foods that trigger inflammation and you lose weight, which has been shown to improve psoriasis symptoms.
"When you start removing all these foods, it's likely you're going to be eating fewer calories and losing weight," she says. "Maybe it's not Paleo that's helping with symptoms. Maybe it's the weight loss. And there are certainly many ways to lose weight besides the Paleo diet."