(LifeWire) - Conventional medicine works to discover new drugs and procedures that can treat an illness. However, even in the presence of such conventional medicine, individuals frequently explore complementary or alternative therapies to help address what ails them. For psoriasis sufferers, this search can include anything from massage to tea tree oil.
But what do these alternative remedies do? Are they safe? Do they even work?
What Are Complementary and Alternative Therapies?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies include a number of healthcare practices that are considered outside the scope of conventional medicine. Some doctors, however, do practice a combination of approaches, referred to as integrative medicine.
Complementary therapies are used in addition to conventional medicine; alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medicine; and some treatments can be complementary or alternative, depending on how they are used. In either case, the use of CAM therapies should be discussed with your doctor to be sure that what you have chosen to try is safe for you.
CAM Therapies for Psoriasis
Yoga and meditation are popular complementary therapies for many chronic conditions. These types of therapy may help provide relief from both the physical and emotional pain associated with living with an illness. Many individuals believe that massage can be particularly helpful in alleviating the pain of psoriatic arthritis. No clinical studies have evaluated the effect of mind-body practices on psoriasis, however.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in flaxseed oil and fish oil supplements, are said to decrease inflammation and itching. However, studies evaluating the utility of omega-3s in the treatment of psoriasis have proved inconclusive.
A variety of topical remedies have been used by psoriasis sufferers:
Fluid squeezed from the leaves of this common houseplant has long been a favorite natural remedy for burns and cuts. Its effectiveness in fighting psoriasis has received mixed results in clinical trials.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Prized for its disinfectant qualities, apple cider vinegar is available at any grocery store. Individuals who use apple cider vinegar say that it can soothe psoriasis flare-ups when added to bathwater or moisturizer, or applied directly to the skin. There is no clinical evidence to support or refute this claim, but it remains popular among patients.
Extracted from cayenne peppers, capsaicin acts to block pain and itch sensations from reaching the brain. It is often used by sufferers of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. It is sold over the counter in lotions, creams and patches. Studies have shown that it can decrease redness and scaling in psoriasis patients, but care must be taken to keep it away from the eyes, nose and mouth.
Dead Sea Salts
Israel's Dead Sea is situated 1,200 feet below sea level, the lowest point on the Earth's surface. Its remarkably high salt content is said to give the water curative properties and has made the area a haven for clinics that cater to psoriasis sufferers. For those who cannot visit Israel, products containing Dead Sea salts and mud have been imported for use at home. However, studies indicate that the benefit of a Dead Sea visit is in the exposure to the area's sun and climate, rather than the water.
This oil is made from the fat of the emu, a large bird native to Australia, and is found in many products that claim to protect and soften skin. The oil and the products that contain it can be relatively expensive, and no clinical research in humans has been performed to determine its worth.
Evening Primrose Oil
This oil is usually found in capsule form as a dietary supplement, but the oil inside each capsule can be applied directly to the skin. It has been found to be successful in treating eczema, another skin condition. However, two studies performed to determine the effectiveness of this oil in treating psoriasis found no benefit.
Derivatives of the oat plant have been used for years in bath preparations to soothe irritated and itchy skin. They can be found in a number of commercial products or added with oil directly to a bath. While no clinical research has been done to specifically address the effect of oats on psoriasis, anecdotal evidence suggests that they temporarily relieve dryness and itching.
Tea Tree Oil
Native to Australia, the tea tree produces an oil that is said to have antiseptic qualities. It has been used in everything from dentistry to dermatology, and may be particularly helpful to sufferers of scalp psoriasis. However, it may cause allergic reactions in some individuals and should be used with care. Additionally, no clinical studies have examined the effectiveness of tea tree oil in the treatment of psoriasis.
A Word to the Wise
Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying any of these products. Even the most harmless-sounding plant may cause an allergic reaction or interact dangerously with conventional drug treatment. For example, evening primrose oil can cause seizures when taken with certain medications used to treat schizophrenia, and flaxseed oil may increase the risk of dangerous bleeding in patients taking blood thinners.
Also remember that herbal supplements do not undergo the same rigorous testing as conventional medications, which must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before hitting the market. A product that is highly praised by one patient may not work at all for another, or it may have downright irritating side effects. Good judgment is essential when evaluating whether any of these CAM therapies are right for you.
National Institutes of Health staff. "What is CAM?." NCCAM.NIH.gov. Feb. 2007. National Institutes of Health. 22 May 2008. <http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/>.
National Psoriasis Foundation staff. "15 Herbal/Essential Nutrient Remedies Used to Treat Psoriasis." Psoriasis.org. Dec. 2005. National Psoriasis Foundation. 22 May 2008. <http://www.psoriasis.org/publications/advance/200506_herbchart.php>.
National Psoriasis Foundation staff. "Alternative Approaches." Psoriasis.org. Nov. 2006. National Psoriasis Foundation. 22 May 2008. <http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/alternative/disciplines.php>.
National Psoriasis Foundation staff. "The Dead Sea." Psoriasis.org. Jun. 2007. National Psoriasis Foundation. 22 May 2008. <http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/sun/deadsea.php>.
University of Maryland Medical Center staff. "Evening Primrose Oil." University of Maryland Medical Center. 31 Jan. 2007. University of Maryland Medical Center. 22 May 2008. <http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/evening-primrose-000242.htm>.