Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition marked by abnormal patches of thick, red and scaly skin. This chronic condition affects the immune system which changes the life cycle of skin cells. At present, around 7.5 million Americans are affected with this disease.
A fact worth mentioning is that psoriasis also has significant economic impact on the country. According to a study published by JAMA Dermatology, direct costs in the US related to this autoimmune disease reach $63 billion a year, while indirect costs, such as loss of working hours, are estimated at $35 billion. Other $35 billion are spent on related health issues, including heart diseases and depression. Everything summed up, the annual costs associated with psoriasis equaled $112 billion in the US in 2013.
Psoriasis is not only a topical skin condition
As mentioned earlier, psoriasis is an autoimmune condition although there’s still common misconception that’s it’s only a skin condition. Psoriasis is linked to improper function of T cells, a type of white blood cells, which attack healthy skin cells by mistake.
When T cells become hyperactive, they trigger a number of immune responses, all of which speed up the development of skin cells, making them accumulate on the outer skin layer within several days rather than weeks, as they normally do.
This accelerated process of skin cell growth prevents the normal elimination of dead skin cells, which start accumulating as well forming thick patches — the most prominent sign of psoriasis. 60% of people affected with psoriasis are at an increased risk of many other skin problems.
To start with, the affected skin becomes so inflamed that it begins to crack and bleed. Often, psoriasis turns into psoriatic arthritis, which damages joint. People suffering from psoriasis are at a higher risk of other chronic diseases, including vision problems, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases.
Psychological distress is also an issue. There’s general misconception that psoriasis is an infectious rash, which is why many people suffering from thus condition are often avoided and socially excluded. This in turn leads to depression, socially isolation, low self-esteem, and problems at work.
Vitamin D is essential for all autoimmune diseases, including psoriasis
Having your vitamin D level tested is crucial when dealing with this skin condition. In fact, your vitamin D levels should always range between 50-70 ng/ml throughout the year. As this vitamin is a powerful immune modulator, it plays critical role in the prevention of autoimmune diseases.
Research reveals that “vitamin D could have important immunomodulatory effects in psoriasis.” However, 80% of psoriasis patients showed vitamin D deficiency in winter, and 50% of the patients in summer.
Vitamin D can help treatment of psoriasis on several levels. First, it keeps keratinocyte growth and differentiation under control. Next, it affects the immune function of the T lymphocytes and other cells in the body. This vitamin stops cytotoxic T cells and controls skin cell growth. Last, but not least, vitamin D byproducts are commonly used in topical treatments of psoriasis. Phototherapy is also an effective treatment.
As opposed to vitamin D supplementation, conventional therapies are both expensive and unsafe. Many psoriasis patients still suffer from the condition even after taking prescription drugs for psoriasis.
Raptiva, which is commonly prescribed for treatment of psoriasis, has just been removed from the market because it has been linked to a higher risk of life-threatening brain infections. Although effective in the treatment of psoriasis, Stelara, another prescription drug, has only given temporary results as the symptoms returned 5 years later. And, a 5-year long therapy costs about $250,000.
One of the most common psoriasis treatments is Psoralen combined with UV light exposure (known as PUVA). Namely, Psoralen makes the skin sensitive to UV light, but in fact, it’s combined with UVA exposure, and UVA rays can cause skin damages, whereas UVB light stimulates production of vitamin D in the skin.
Increase the vitamin D intake if you have psoriasis
Many health experts recommend direct exposure to sunlight as the most efficient treatment for psoriasis because this optimizes vitamin D levels in the body.
Dr. Michael Holick, a professor of dermatology, discussed this topic in his 2004 book, The UV Advantage, where he recommends getting enough sensible sun exposure. He was awarded the American Skin Association’s Psoriasis Research Achievement Award for his research on the connection between vitamin D and psoriasis.
“As a result, I was in the department of dermatology, continuing to do psoriasis research. But once I began recommending sensible sun exposure for vitamin D, which is counter to what the American Academy of Dermatology’s message was, I was asked to step down as professor of dermatology back in 2004…
The American Academy of Dermatology still recommends: you should never be exposed to one direct ray of sunlight for your entire life.”
As contradictory as it may sound, the research found vitamin D to be extremely effective in the treatment of psoriasis. This is due to the fact that exposure to sunlight gives amazing results because UV sunrays and other specific types of artificial light can destroy activated T cells in the skin. This in turn slows down the cell turnover thus reducing scaling and inflammations.
Adequate exposure to sunlight will provide enough vitamin D not only to counteract the overactive skin T cells, but also to improve other body functions. This is extremely important if you take that most psoriasis sufferers often lack vitamin D, and are at an increased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and metabolic syndrome, both of which are commonly linked with low vitamin D levels.