In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Herbalist Chanchal Cabrera and medical doctor D. Paul Barney responded for this issue.
I am fifty-three and have severe psoriasis, which first started about five years ago. I was first treated with topical creams and then with baths and UBV treatments. After three months, I was all cleared. Unfortunately, it’s back, and worse than ever. My dermatologist won’t let me take any more UBV treatments because of the risk of skin cancer, and I don’t want to start using the topical ointments and creams anymore because of the side effects. Is there an answer for me using natural herbs?
Depew, New York
Psoriasis, a flaky, itchy skin condition, is due to various causes. If it is genetic (often associated with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease), no herb or any other treatment is going to make a lasting improvement. Other cases of psoriasis are due to food allergies, especially to dairy and wheat, and most cases are aggravated by stress.
Even if yours is the genetic type, it is still worth addressing possible food allergies. I suggest undergoing proper allergy testing with an alternative medical practitioner using Vega or some other diagnostic method. Do not use the skin-prick testing as it is only about 40 percent accurate for food allergies. Simply avoiding wheat, dairy products, refined sugars, and coffee may make a great deal of difference.
It is often useful to undergo a good cleansing and detoxification program when beginning treatment for psoriasis. This is best done under the supervision of a qualified herbalist, and you should be prepared for a slight worsening of the symptoms as stored toxins get moved out of the body.
Herbs used to treat psoriasis include: blue flag (Iris versicolor), burdock (Arctium lappa), yellow dock (Rumex spp.), and celandine (Chelidonium majus) for liver support; stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) to cleanse and detoxify blood; cleavers (Galium aparine) for lymphatic support; and the topical use of gotu kola (Centella asiatica) and marigold (Calendula officinalis) to heal the skin.
As you know, psoriasis is a chronic problem that can be very difficult to treat. Some feel that psoriasis may have its basis in abnormal immune system function; therefore, taking the herb astragalus may be helpful.
Other herbs that can make a difference are milk thistle (Silybum marianum), Jamaica sarsaparilla, and gotu kola. These are often combined with burdock root and yellow dock, horsetail, bladderwrack, and kelp. A preparation of pyrithione zinc can be used topically. Oils of borage seed (Borago officinalis) and flax (Linum spp.) and vitamin E may also be useful.
—D. Paul Barney
Chanchal Cabrera, an herbalist and clinical aromatherapist, has been a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 1987. She is associate editor of Medical Herbalism newsletter and is a member of the advisory board in botanical medicine for Bastyr University in Seattle.
D. Paul Barney is a family practice and emergency-room physician in Layton, Utah. He also is an adjunct professor at Weber State University and author of Clinical Applications of Herbal Medicine (Woodland Publishing, 1996).
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.