She is an Autoimmune Coach Dietitian & Yoga Teacher
Happy Psoriasis Awareness Month! When were you first diagnosed with psoriasis?
I was first diagnosed by a dermatologist in 2018, but I already knew for a while before then that I had psoriasis.
What do you think caused it?
A common saying in the medical field is that “genetics loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger,” and I find this to be very accurate for psoriasis. When I first started developing psoriasis, there were many environmental triggers.
I was in college and chronically stressed (ironically, while getting a degree in nutrition to become a Dietitian-Nutritionist, which would later be the saving grace in healing my psoriasis naturally). Even though I was eating a decent amount of healthy food, I was also eating a decent amount of junk food and too much sugar. I was sleep-deprived and overworked. I had been living in NYC for a few years, which has pretty high levels of air pollution – and I was doubling down on breathing in this pollution by regularly biking around the city.
I also know that the genes of autoimmune diseases run in my family. While no one that I know of in my family has also been diagnosed with psoriasis, I suspect one parent and their parent, my grandparent, had undiagnosed psoriasis. I have other relatives with other autoimmune diseases, too.
This all set the stage. Before 2014, I would get little flare ups that would come and go. Then, in 2014, I took a round of antibiotics and my psoriasis flared up like never before. I believe these antibiotics allowed a fungal overgrowth of Candida albicans yeast to overgrow in my intestinal tract.
I suffered from psoriasis constantly since 2014, until just recently when I finally went into remission! It’s taken me 6.5 years to recover from a Candida infection, heal my intestines and microbiome, get ahold of my stress levels, prioritize my sleep schedule and self-care routines, and learn how to avoid enough air pollution that my immune system seems now to be content and functioning properly.
What foods do you avoid?
I say I follow a gluten-free diet, but I have found that I can tolerate 1-2 slices of spelt and rye bread per day (which have gluten). So, it’s more accurate to say that I follow a wheat-free diet!
I also eat very little added sugar, about 3-5 teaspoons per day maximum, except when I’m celebrating like on my birthday. Although, I’ve found that I seem to tolerate real maple syrup better than any other sweetener, so I can be more liberal with that.
I definitely avoid alcohol and artificial sweeteners, as both give me brain fog and are bad for intestinal microbiome health in general.
I try to eat as little junk food as reasonably possible, which by extension helps me to cut down on inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
What foods do you eat to heal?
One huge key for me has been incorporating more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids into my diet. I regularly eat hemp seeds, chia seeds, and wild caught salmon for the omega-3s. Whenever my psoriasis aches or my joints hurt, I take several omega-3 pills. I try to consume only higher welfare animal products (organic, local, grass-fed, pasture raised, wild caught, etc), which are also higher in omega-3 fatty acids while lower in inflammatory omega-6.
I try to get in lots of veggies and fruit regularly, plus whole grains and other good sources of fiber to support a healthy intestinal microbiome.
Food-based probiotics are also very important. I try to eat at least one fermented food per day. Finding ways to incorporate more yogurt (dairy or non-dairy), miso soup, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, natto, jun, tempeh, or any other natural fermented foods you can find is key.
This helps to support a healthy intestinal microbiome, which in turn supports a healthy immune system. Go try some of these foods if you’ve never heard of them before. Also, there are infinite examples of fermented foods across the globe – so explore different food cultures to find even more fermented goodies!
I also highly recommend consuming foods that are naturally high in digestive enzymes, such as pineapple, kiwi, papaya, yogurt, and unsweetened aloe vera juice. These foods help you to digest your food better, which helps keep your intestinal health in balance. Since about 80% of your immune system lies in your intestinal tract – and psoriasis is an autoimmune disease – it’s a great idea to take the best care possible of your digestive system.
Do you avoid gluten and what do you think about gluten sensitivity in psoriasis?
As I mentioned before, I follow mostly a gluten-free diet (with rye and spelt as exceptions), and know from personal experience that following a gluten-free diet can be a huge game changer for some psoriasis sufferers.
From the research I’ve read, it seems that gluten can promote “leaky gut (also known as “intestinal permeability” or even “intestinal barrier function” in research articles). When leaky gut happens, basically gluten shreds up the lining of your small intestinal tract which then allows partially digested food plus microbes to escape into your bloodstream.
This sounds the alarms for your immune system, and it must constantly work to try and protect you from whatever is being absorbed into your blood that shouldn’t be. If your immune system is constantly overworked like this, it can start making mistakes and begin attacking your skin, causing psoriasis.
There’s now new research showing that leaky gut can even contribute to infections in other organs, such as the liver. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is seen in higher rates in people with psoriasis, so all of these pieces are starting to fall together to paint a clearer picture of the problem.
However, everyone is different, and other people may find that a different food triggers their psoriasis more. I often see sensitivities to dairy or nightshade vegetables when I work with autoimmune clients in my nutrition private practice. There is no one-size-fits-all psoriasis diet, but diet is often key in naturally healing psoriasis for many people.
Let’s talk Breakfast
I have two all-time favorites breakfasts.
My first favorite breakfast is a yogurt, oat, and fruit parfait:
- – ~1/3 cup of plain whole milk yogurt (local or organic; substitute with cashew or coconut yogurt for non-dairy folks)
- – ~1/3 cup of plain oats or oatmeal cooked with water
- – a sprinkle of hemp seeds
- – a sprinkle of cacao nibs
- – a handful of any type of berry (I like blueberry and strawberry best)
- – a dash of cinnamon
- – a dash of cardamom
- – topped with a drizzle of maple syrup, and eat!
My second favorite breakfast is toast with kimchi and fried eggs. It might sound odd, but I find it to be entirely delicious and it’s been a breakfast staple of mine for years:
- – 1 slice toasted of sourdough spelt bread (I love Berlin Natural Bakery brand) – OR – 1 slice toasted of a rye/spelt bread (I love Mestemacher brand) – OR – gluten-free bread (I love Trader Joe’s gluten-free bagels)
- – a schmear of coconut oil on the toast
- – a sparse layer of kimchi
- – 2 fried eggs
- – top with a sprinkle of salt, and eat!
Personally, I have never felt any adverse health effects after consuming dairy, nightshades, or eggs – but everyone is different. I recently heard that sensitivity to eggs (beyond a simple food allergy) may be more related to those who have chronic underlying Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV, also known as “mono” – you know, the kissing disease from middle school!). If you’ve ever had mono or suspect you might have, then maybe you will find cutting out eggs to be helpful. For me, it never made a difference.
Name your top 3 triggers
Stress, winter, and air pollution!
I don’t suggest going overboard with this, but mild fasting can definitely be helpful. Limiting the times, you eat your food into a 12-hour window for the day, or going 12 or 24 hours while only drinking liquids can really expedite the healing process after a flare-up.
As I mentioned before, I swear by omega-3 pills. They have pulled me out of so many achy and painful times.
CBD oil is incredible, used both orally and topically. It’s been really great when my joints hurt. It also helps to reduce stress levels.
Meditation has helped me to reduce my stress levels from inside myself. I highly recommended guided meditation, if you haven’t tried meditation before. Buddhify is an incredible app for this.
Getting regular exercise – but NOT overexercising! This is another thing I see a lot in my autoimmune private practice clients. Are you training for a marathon? Are you working out almost every single day? Are you exercising for hours on end, or multiple times in one day? Then you are doing your immune system a disservice. Exercise suppresses your immune system, and overexercising can exacerbate autoimmune diseases. While under-exercising is bad for our health, so is overexercising.
Yoga! Not for the exercise, but for the stretching and mindfulness practice. It should be a peaceful experience of turning inwards, not a stressful or straining one.
If you’re like me and live in a polluted city, then it may be wise to purchase a HEPA air filter for your apartment. I greatly reduced my psoriasis by using the above techniques, but it wasn’t until I got an air purifier and started running it every night in my bedroom that my psoriasis FINALLY disappeared.
What would you tell those who are newly diagnosed and looking for answers?
Psoriasis is just a symptom. What’s really going on with your body is that your immune system is malfunctioning, and then attacking you. The question you should be asking yourself over and over is: “What in my life is stressing out my immune system so much that it can’t function properly?”
It’s important to look at what was going on in your life when your psoriasis first flared up. This will give you clues as to what your triggers are. Listen to medical providers – but do your own research too and get multiple opinions.
Also – there is research correlating increased rates of eating disorders among autoimmune disease sufferers. So, yes, while changing your diet will likely help you improve your psoriasis, don’t waste your time on diets that cut out huge lists of foods. You could trigger an eating disorder. Eating disorders are the mental illness with the lowest recovery rate and highest death rate, so they are VERY serious. Likely you just need to clean up your diet (cut down on the junk, increase the fruits/veg/whole grains, reduce sugar and alcohol) and identify 1-2 foods you’re sensitive to. Don’t go over the top with diet restrictions – it is DANGEROUS.
Caylee Clay, RDN CDN
Follow Caylee for more healing tips and dietary information:
Instagram account: @eat_yer_veggiesand and her blog: www.eatyerveggies.com