The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Flaxseed Save Nails Damaged from Psoriasis?

People with psoriasis may have pitted or crumbling nails. A serendipitous discovery has us wondering: might supplements of flaxseed save nails?

Many people assume that ugly nails indicate a fungal infection of the nail bed. While this is frequently a reasonable conclusion, psoriasis can also cause nails to become discolored, crumble or separate from the skin beneath. While doctors may prescribe corticosteroids, tazarotene, methotrexate or other potent medications for people with psoriatic nails, one person wonders could flaxseed save nails.

Could Flaxseed Save Nails Separated from the Nail Beds? 

Q. I started giving my husband 1200 mg of flaxseed daily to improve his general health. Several months later we were very surprised to notice that his fingernails–which had been separated from their nail beds for over 25 years due to a psoriatic condition–had mended entirely. Is this a known remedy?

A. You may have stumbled onto something unique. We searched the medical literature and could find nothing linking flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) to the treatment of psoriasis.

On the other hand, scientists have found evidence that both ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil have anti-inflammatory properties (Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, Oct. 2017).  One small study in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology (online Nov. 18, 2011) reported that supplementation with flaxseed oil led to decreases in skin sensitivity, roughness and scaling.

Psoriasis and Metabolic Syndrome:

We won’t know whether flaxseed supplementation would translate into symptom improvements for people with psoriasis until a clinical trial is conducted. Researchers may not ask the question: could flaxseed save nails damaged by psoriasis? They might want to study flaxseed and its impact on psoriasis for a different reason, however. Some scientists have found that psoriasis and metabolic syndrome share clinical features and inflammatory pathways (Clinical Dermatology, Jan-Feb. 2018).

Other researchers conducted a controlled trial with 44 volunteers who had metabolic syndrome (Phytotherapy Research, Aug. 2016). They found that participants who consumed 30 g of flaxseed daily and got lifestyle advice lost more inches around their waists than those who merely got lifestyle advice. In addition, fewer of the volunteers eating flaxseed met metabolic syndrome criteria by the end of the study. They also improved their response to insulin significantly more than those in the control group.

A brand-new study suggests another possible connection. Japanese investigators report that people with psoriasis are prone to elevated blood sugar (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June 2019). If flaxseed supplements can help reverse high blood sugar and metabolic syndrome, they might help calm the inflammation of psoriasis. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Rafieian-kopaei M et al, "The analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity of Linum usitatissimum in Balb/c mice." Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, Oct. 2017. doi: 10.1177/2156587217717416
  • Neukam K et al, "Supplementation of flaxseed oil diminishes skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition." Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, online Nov. 18, 2011. DOI: 10.1159/000321442
  • Gisondi P et al, "Psoriasis and the metabolic syndrome." Clinical Dermatology, Jan-Feb. 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2017.09.005
  • Yari Z et al, "Flaxseed supplementation in metabolic syndrome management: A pilot randomized, open-labeled controlled study." Phytotherapy Research, Aug. 2016. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5635
  • Ikumi K et al, "Hyperglycemia is associated with psoriatic inflammation in both humans and mice." Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jid.2019.01.029
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I want to try the flaxseed for my nail dystrophy (as one dermatologist diagnosed it), possibly psoriatic, of about 3 years. I had psoriasis on my fingers about 20 years ago. I was surprised at the low dosage (1200 mg) the reader used compared to the recommendation on the flaxseed bag. Was that why you suspected oil? Do you think I should exchange this ground flaxseed for the oil? If so, how much should I take daily?

You could try following the dosing recommendations on the package you have. We don’t know whether it would work the same as oil.

How much flax meal can be safely consumed in a day? Are there any side effects?

Isn’t it true that flax seed must be ground to be digested and absorbed?

Yes. It should be ground.

Would flax meal work as well as flax seed ? ?

Flax meal is ground flax seed, so it should do fine. We suspect the reader who wrote us was giving her husband flaxseed oil, however.

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