Psoriasis? Find answers in Ayurveda

What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic, recurring disease that causes one or more raised, red patches that have silvery scales and a distinct border between the patch and normal skin.

Psoriasis – What Happens?
Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune disease. Normally, skin cells grow gradually and flake off every 4 weeks. New skin cells grow to replace the outer layers of the skin as they shed. But in psoriasis, new skin cells move rapidly to the surface of the skin in days rather than weeks. They build up and form thick patches called plaques
The patches of psoriasis occur because of an abnormally high rate of growth of skin cells. The reason for the rapid cell growth is unknown, but a problem with the immune system is thought to play a role. It occurs when the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of skin cells. It probably occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes healthy cells for dangerous substances.
Psoriasis is a very common condition. The disorder may affect people of any age, but it most commonly begins between ages 15 and 35.The disorder often runs in families. Psoriasis is common and affects about 1 to 5% of the population worldwide. Light-skinned people are at greater risk, whereas darker people are less likely to get the disease.

What causes psoriasis?
Psoriasis may flare up for no apparent reason or as a result of a variety of circumstances. Flare-ups often result from conditions that irritate the skin, such as minor injuries and severe sunburn. Sometimes flare-ups follow infections, such as colds and sore throat. Flare-ups are more common in the winter and after stressful situations. Certain medicines, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antimalarial drugs, beta-blockers and medicines used to treat high blood pressure or certain mental illnesses, may trigger an outbreak or make your psoriasis worse.

In general, psoriasis may be severe in people who have a weakened immune system. This may include persons who have AIDS, Autoimmune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis), cancer chemotherapy, smoking and alcohol makes you more likely to get psoriasis and can make it worse if you already have it. Psoriasis is not contagious. It cannot be spread by touch from person to person.

It usually starts as one or more small patches on the scalp, elbows, knees, back, or buttocks. The first patches may clear up after a few months or remain, sometimes growing together to form larger patches. Some people never have more than one or two small patches, and others have patches covering large areas of the body. Thick patches or patches on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or skinfolds of the genitals are more likely to itch or hurt, but many times the person has no symptoms. Although the patches do not cause extreme physical discomfort, they are very obvious and often embarrassing to the person. The psychologic distress caused by psoriasis can be severe. Many people with psoriasis may also have deformed, thickened, and pitted nails.

Psoriasis persists throughout life but may come and go. Symptoms are often diminished during the summer when the skin is exposed to bright sunlight. Some people may go on for years between occurrences.

How is psoriasis diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose psoriasis by looking at the patches on your skin, scalp, or nails. Sometimes, doctors have to rule out a fungal infection. But otherwise, special tests are usually not needed.
What treatment can Ayurveda provide for psoriasis?
· Panchakarma treatments – These treatments are meant to flush out the toxins
· Samana Therapies – internal medicines
· Rasayana therapies – Nourish the body, to bring the doshas back to balance and to regenerate the body.

Panchakarma for psoriasis aims at the detoxification of the body or elimination of toxins from the body. Panchakrama prevents reoccurrence of the disease.

Pre-purification therapies are the first ones applied to loosen the toxins, open up the circulation channels and get the body ready for discarding these wastes. These methods are highly relaxing for the body and mind.

The following pre-purification methods are usually adopted for treating psoriasis.

a) Snehapanam: It is the oral intake of specially prepared medicated ghee. Ghee lubricates the body channels including the skin and forces out the toxins from them into the digestive tract for further elimination. Medicated ghee usually contains herbs like neem, Guduchi, tribhala etc. which hasveanti-inflammatory properties and skin healers. Its vata shamaka decreases scaling and dryness of the psoriasis.
b) Abhyangam: Involves oil massage of the body; liquefies the impurities of the body to prepare for the elimination of toxins. It also decreases dryness and scaling of psoriasis.
c) Swedanam: Involves active sweating of the whole body using medicated steam. It dilates and softens the channels of the body allowing the impurities to move out through the skin.
d) Takradhara: Medicated buttermilk is uninterruptedly poured on to the forehead. It relaxes the mind, and reduces stress and anxiety, which is a major cause of psoriasis. This therapy is very good for scalp psoriasis. Buttermilk is medicated using gooseberry, an excellent cooling agent.

Main purification therapy for psoriasis

The main purification therapy is the phase of elimination of toxins that were loosened at the pre-purification treatment stage. These therapies are highly potential methods. Depending on the type and intensity of the ailment, one is advised to undergo one, two or three of these therapies.
The commonly adopted Panchakarma treatments for psoriasis are Vasti, Virechanam and Vamanam.
Virechanam: It is the cleaning and evacuation of the bowels through the use of purgative medicines. It eliminates excess toxins from the body. When the digestive tract is clean and toxin-free, it benefits the entire body. Virechana is the main course of treatment for kushta skin diseases. It has a Pitta dosha, nashaka property and it also suppress Vata and Kapha dosha.
Vamanam: It means induced vomiting using herbal medicine. The toxins of the upper parts of body, which were freed into the digestive tract during Snehapanam, are completely eradicated.
Vasti: This is a medicated enema. All the toxins that were brought into the digestive tract during the pre-purification phase are now washed out. Since medicines reach the bowels directly without enzymatic actions, its effectiveness is very high for vata predominated psoriasis.
Rasayanam: Psoriasis is an auto-immune disorder so rasayanas having immunomodulation properties are very effective eg., guduchi , amla, etc.

Oral medicines for psoriasis
Herbal, oral medicines prescribed for psoriasis are prepared specifically to help restore the lost balance of dosas. They usually include kashayam – herbal decoctions, arishtams – herbal fermentations, lehyams and other herbal formulations.

Dr K Gowthaman, Medical Director, rVita (rVita Ayurveda Centers)
Image: Flickr Creativecommons Smoobs