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How To Treat Psoriasis With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

 

Psoriasis often flares up on elbows or knees.
Psoriasis often flares up on elbows or knees.

Rash, scaly skin, itchy skin? These could be signs of psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that causes skin to form in thick, scaly, discolored patches, especially on the elbows and knees. Acupuncture and TCM treatment can help relieve psoriasis and address the root causes of this autoimmune skin disease. 

Autoimmune disorders stem from the body’s immune system malfunctioning. In the case of psoriasis, the body produces too many skin cells, forming thick scales, known as “plaques,” or  a bumpy rash

As with other conditions that involve skin rashes or other skin problems—like vitiligo, eczema, dermatitis, scleroderma, celiac disease, and lupus—psoriasis tends to flare up periodically, becoming worse for a few weeks or months at a time, and then improving. A psoriasis flare up happens because of widespread inflammation.

 

What Causes Psoriasis Flare Ups?

 

Getting a cut or burn on your skin can trigger a psoriasis flare up.

So can infections like a staph infection, strep infection, helicobacter pylori bacterial infection (which can also cause stomach ulcers), or chlamydia. 

Viral infections like HIV and hepatitis C can trigger psoriasis. Fungal infections like candida, or yeast infections, can also trigger a psoriasis flare up.

Psoriasis affects millions of people, of all ages. Psoriasis rash can cause intense itching (pruritus), so much so that it can affect a person’s ability to concentrate in daily life and can also have a negative impact on sound sleep.

Medical research has not yet discovered exactly what causes psoriasis, but it may be partly due to genetics and partly due to environmental factors. It is not uncommon for a person to have psoriasis and also have another autoimmune condition, such as lupus, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), multiple sclerosis (MS), or autoimmune thyroid disease.

Acupuncture and TCM are excellent modalities for helping to relieve the symptoms of skin conditions like psoriasis and many autoimmune disorders. Acupuncture and herbs can help relieve itchy rashes and also help to improve the functioning of the immune system. Acupuncture treatment can also help with the emotional and psychological toll of dealing with psoriasis.

Top 5 Types of Psoriasis

Plaque psoriasis is by far the most common type of psoriasis, accounting for about 80% of cases. Other types of psoriasis are more rare and can be very serious.

 

  1. Plaque psoriasis or Psoriasis vulgaris – the most common type of psoriasis; thick scales that are red or pink with a silvery coating on them. These patches, or plaques, can itch intensely. 
  2. Guttate psoriasis – small red or pink bumps that appear suddenly, covering the torso, arms, and/or legs. This condition sometimes clears up and does not return. In some cases, though, it can keep coming back, or later turn into plaque psoriasis. Guttate psoriasis may be triggered by infections, like strep throat.
  3. Pustular psoriasis – this is a rash of painful bumps that are filled with pus. Generalized pustular psoriasis is an extreme version of this condition, which can quickly cover the whole body and be accompanied by other symptoms like fever, headache, and muscle weakness. Generalized pustular psoriasis is a serious condition requiring medical care.
  4. Inverse psoriasis or Intertriginous psoriasis – develops in areas where skin folds upon itself, like armpits and around the genital area
  5. Erythrodermic psoriasis – usually develops as a more severe condition after a person has already been struggling with psoriasis. The skin becomes very red and appears to be burned. The person will feel very ill, with fever and chills and a rapid heart rate. Requires immediate medical attention.

Psoriasis is not only intensely uncomfortable, but the scaly skin can also have a significant impact on a person’s confidence in their appearance. These factors can mean that having psoriasis can have a negative effect on a person’s mental health and emotional health. 

Acupuncture, when used as an adjunct therapy for psoriasis and other autoimmune conditions can help address anxiety, depression, and mood disorders, as well as helping with physical symptoms.

 

Medical Treatments for Psoriasis

scaly rash psoriasis
Psoriasis causes a scaly, intensely itchy rash.

Conventional treatment for psoriasis aims to help slow down the overproduction of skin cells and relieve pain and itching.

Topical Medications for Psoriasis

Topical products are applied directly to the skin.

  • Corticosteroids: Frequently prescribed for mild to moderate psoriasis, available in various forms like oils, creams, lotions, etc.
  • Vitamin D Analogues: Synthetic forms of vitamin D that slow skin cell growth, used alone or with corticosteroids.
  • Retinoids: Available as gel or cream, they reduce skin cell growth and may cause skin irritation and sensitivity to light.
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors: Calm the rash and reduce scaly buildup, useful in areas of thin skin.
  • Salicylic Acid: Reduces scaling of scalp psoriasis and prepares the scalp to absorb medication more easily.
  • Coal Tar: Reduces scaling, itching, and inflammation, available in various forms like shampoo, soap, cream, and oil.

 

Oral or Injected Medications for Psoriasis

Systemic medications may work on the immune system or on skin cell production to help relieve psoriasis.

  • Steroids: Injection of triamcinolone into small, persistent psoriasis patches.
  • Retinoids: Pills to reduce skin cell production, not recommended during pregnancy.
  • Biologics: Injected drugs that alter the immune system to improve symptoms in moderate to severe psoriasis.
  • Methotrexate: Weekly oral dose to decrease skin cell production and suppress inflammation.
  • Cyclosporine: Oral calcineurin inhibitor for severe psoriasis.
  • Treatment approach based on needs and psoriasis severity.
  • Start with milder treatments and move on to stronger ones if necessary.
  • Pustular or erythrodermic psoriasis may require stronger systemic medications.

 

Phototherapy exposes the skin to ultraviolet light under a dermatologist’s supervision. UVB can help slow down cell production. Light therapy may use lamp units with bulbs, or a laser may be used to target very specific areas of affected skin.

 

Can Acupuncture Help Psoriasis?

 

acupuncture treatment
TCM can help many types of skin conditions and autoimmune disorders.

In TCM, elemental factors like heat, wind, dampness, dryness, and so on, are considered to act as pathogens, having a negative effect on bodily systems when they are either in excess or deficient. 

According to TCM theory, the root causes of psoriasis may be related to pathogenic factors of excessive heat and dryness. Heat, as a pathogen, can cause redness and itchy skin. Wind can cause dryness of the blood. These conditions in combination can lead to stagnant blood and a fiery heat building up. TCM classifications for diagnosis related to psoriasis would include:

  • Blood heat
  • Blood stasis
  • Blood dryness
  • Blood deficiency

An individual, depending on their specific presentation of skin rash and other symptoms, may be diagnosed with a combination of these factors.

In Chinese medicine, the skin and the lungs are connected, with the skin being the outward presentation of what is going on in the lungs. So, acupuncture treatment for psoriasis may focus on strengthening lung Qi. 

In other cases, the large intestine may be related; because of dryness, it may not be receiving enough fluid to be able to do the job of moving toxins out of the body.

In some cases, it may be that intense emotions are affecting the liver, causing blood stagnation due to stress. Liver Qi stagnation can cause overheating and for blood to “overflow” from vessels, causing red bumpy rashes.

Thus, herbal remedies and acupuncture treatment will often aim to clear heat, cool the blood, and improve circulation. Many herbs are helpful for this, as well as for helping to reduce inflammation and soothe dryness and itching.

Chinese medicine herbal preparations have been shown by modern scientific studies to inhibit immune-inflammatory reactions, regulate Th cells, and mediate the formation of skin lesions.

Review of scientific studies of TCM for psoriasis have shown that it can be effective for reducing the severity of skin lesions and help prevent recurrences of flare ups.

 

Acupuncture Near Me for Psoriasis in West Los Angeles

 

Psoriasis is a painful skin condition that requires special treatment. As an autoimmune condition, psoriasis needs to be addressed on a deeper level, as opposed to simply trying to relieve the itchy, scaly rash on the skin’s surface. TCM offers a holistic way of treating both skin diseases and autoimmune disorders that can bring deep relief. Consider seeking acupuncture as an adjunct treatment for psoriasis.



 



*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.




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