Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that produces red, scaly, itchy patches on the skin, particularly on areas like elbows or knees. In mild cases, it can be treated with sunshine or controlled ultraviolet light. Corticosteroid creams are often used as well. But many people would like to find a more natural way to ease the suffering from psoriasis. Could they take turmeric for psoriasis?
Turmeric Treats a Young Woman’s Suffering from Psoriasis:
Q. My daughter’s psoriasis was quite severe. She had a red rash and scaling on both arms from shoulders to wrists. When I read your column about turmeric helping psoriasis, she started taking this spice in gel capsules.
The rash has cleared almost completely, responding better than to any prescription medicine or salve. Is there any information on long-term effects or tolerance to turmeric? It has made a significant difference in her skin condition and consequently her self esteem.
A. When a reader told us that taking a teaspoon of turmeric (Curcuma longa) each day cleared up his psoriasis, we were intrigued. This spice is an ingredient in curry powder.
How Does Turmeric Affect Psoriasis?
We discovered that researchers are looking into the potential health benefits of curcumin, a key component of turmeric. One group found that curcumin inhibits an enzyme called PhK associated with overactive cell growth in psoriasis (Br. J. Dermatol. Nov. 2000). A study in mice with a condition similar to psoriasis found that curcumin inhibited the overactive T cells that are associated with psoriasis and reduced the levels of inflammatory markers (Biochimie, April, 2016).
A review of the effects of curcumin on skin health found promising indications that it may provide therapeutic benefit, though more and better studies are needed (Phytotherapy Research, Aug. 2016). An intriguing study in rats found that curcumin given together with methotrexate, a standard medication for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, was able to reduce the negative side effects that methotrexate has on the blood vessels (Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Jan., 2016). Of course, any human who wanted to use curcumin for that purpose would be well advised to work closely with the prescribing physician.
A study in Iran found that people who drank a turmeric tonic twice daily got much better control of scalp psoriasis than those drinking placebo tonic (Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, June 2018). In addition, a review of nutritional strategies to help control psoriasis found that turmeric is among the handful of herbs that can be helpful (European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, Dec. 2018).
Curcumin is not the only compound in turmeric that may be helpful for psoriasis. Scientists have found that a different compound, aromatic-turmerone (Ar-turmerone), eases skin inflammation in mice that have a condition resembling psoriasis (Inflammation, online Nov. 26, 2019). Ar-turmerone accomplishes this feat by inactivating a gene known, somewhat quirkily, as sonic hedgehog. Alas, this basic research on the mechanism does not provide us with useful information on dosing or precautions.
Do People Develop Tolerance to Turmeric?
We don’t know of any long-term studies on whether people develop tolerance to turmeric. Millions of people in South Asia consume it daily for much of their lives. Whether it would be safe and effective for ongoing psoriasis suppression, however, remains to be determined. A systematic review suggested that it may be helpful, but pointed out that further studies are urgently needed (Phytotherapy Research, Aug. 2016).
Additional Stories from Readers:
Other readers offer their own experience with turmeric (and its active ingredient curcumin) for psoriasis.
Turmeric to Replace Soriatane:
Q. My doctor prescribed Soriatane for my psoriasis, but I had to quit taking it. I developed every side effect that was listed in the warnings I got with the medication: hair loss, blisters and blurred vision, among other things.
After I stopped the Soriatane, I began taking a turmeric capsule twice a day. Within a few weeks, my psoriasis patches were gone. The prescription was very expensive, but the turmeric was very inexpensive.
A. Soriatane (acitretin) is a powerful chemical cousin to vitamin A, and the side effects resemble those of excess vitamin A. They include dry eyes, dry mouth, hair loss, joint pain, dry skin, nail problems, rash and elevated liver enzymes, among many others. Soriatane can cause birth defects and must be avoided by women who might become pregnant.
Soriatane is for treating severe psoriasis. We hope that you consulted with your physician about stopping the drug.
Turmeric, the yellow spice in curry powder, contains curcumin. This compound is being studied as a possible treatment for autoimmune diseases, including psoriasis (Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol. 595, 2007).
Although turmeric has fewer apparent side effects than Soriatane, we have heard from several readers that it can increase the effects of the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin).
Tell Your Doctor You Take Turmeric for Psoriasis:
Q. I read about using turmeric for psoriasis in your column. I was having an outbreak at the time and decided to try it. I am absolutely amazed at the results. My psoriasis comes and goes, but when it hits it drives me crazy with itching. I scratch until my skin bleeds.
I bought 300 mg turmeric capsules and started taking four spaced throughout the day. After the first day the redness, heat, and itching started to abate. It has been five days since I started taking it and the symptoms are gone! Over the last 30 years I have used a couple of prescribed medications, but they didn’t work nearly as well as the turmeric.
A. Turmeric is the yellow spice in curry and yellow mustard. It has anti-inflammatory properties and has long been used in both Chinese and Indian traditional medicine (Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, April, 2008). Many other people with psoriasis have reported similar success, though we don’t know how long the benefits will last.
We suggest you inform your physician about this treatment. New research suggests that regular use of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, could have a significant impact on other medications (Annals of Pharmacotherapy, June, 2010). Some of the drugs that could be affected include acetaminophen, Ambien (zolpidem), melatonin and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). We have also heard from people who found turmeric interacted with warfarin (Coumadin) to make bleeding more likely.
Safety Concerns About Treating Psoriasis:
Q. For a year and a half, my dermatologist has treated me for psoriasis. First I took cyclosporine and then CellCept. Like another reader stated, I too developed every side effect listed in the warnings I got with the medication: hair loss, blisters, dry skin and scalp, and blurred vision. Worst of all, I got no permanent relief from psoriasis!
I then tried a turmeric capsule twice a day (one in the a.m. and one at bed time), following your reader’s example. Within two weeks, all my psoriasis patches disappeared and my hair loss has all but stopped! I don’t even have the 24-hour heartburn I had on both cyclosporine and CellCept.
I cannot believe that with all the possible side effects of the two pricey prescriptions I was taking, such as lymphoma, liver failure and even death, my dermatologist did not suggest turmeric. Maybe it is because this spice found in curry powder can be purchased without a prescription at any health food store. I have not experienced any adverse side effects with the turmeric capsules.
A. Many people with psoriasis find that turmeric or its presumed active component curcumin can be helpful. Not everyone gets benefit, however, and some people develop a severe rash. Keep in mind, too, that turmeric used topically will dye the skin bright yellow.
No one taking the anticoagulant Coumadin (warfarin) should take turmeric medicinally. We have received several reports of excessive bleeding or high INR values from people combining these therapies. INR is a measure of bleeding susceptibility.