Alcohol’s Effects on Psoriasis

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alcohol's effects on psoriasis

by Dr. Gregory Wilmoth of Southern Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center

Psoriasis, it’s an autoimmune disease with no exact known cause, though psoriasis may be linked to genetic factors. It causes the body to overproduce skin cells, and symptoms can include thickened, red, scaly and itchy patches of skin.

Normal skin cells reproduce every 28 to 30 days; once the new skin cells have been produced, the body sheds the old to make room. With psoriasis, the body produces new skin cells every three to four days, and the body is unable to shed the old skin cells this rapidly. The buildup of skin cells is what causes the skin to appear thick and red and feel itchy.

While the exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, we do know there are several triggers that can cause a patient’s psoriasis to be exacerbated. Patients with psoriasis may find their condition flares up in response to:

  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Dietary factors, such as alcohol consumption
  • Weather changes
  • Infections, such as step
  • Injury to the skin such as a sunburn or vaccination

How Alcohol Affects Psoriasis

There are a number of skin problems that have been linked to excessive alcohol use – dry skin, premature skin aging, rosacea flare-ups, bacterial and fungal infections and more – due to alcohol’s tendency to cause damage in various organ systems. The skin is our largest organ of the body, so it makes sense that alcohol can do some serious damage to it.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism noted that alcohol can seriously affect psoriasis, especially among men. Research hasn’t confirmed the link yet, but there is evidence that people who consume alcohol also have a greater likelihood of having psoriasis than the general population.

A 2011 study by researchers from Texas, conducted over the course of 14 years with 82,869 women, found that women who consume more than two to three alcoholic beverages in a week are more likely to experience psoriasis. The consumption of “non-light” beers appeared to exacerbate the risk among the women.

In the same study, it was found that men who consume more than 100 grams per day of alcohol were more likely to develop a new case of psoriasis or experience a worsening of symptoms. For both men and women, heavier drinkers tended to see the backs of their hands and fingers affected the most.

The NIAAA postulates that alcohol may increase the production of inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle activators, pushing the skin cells to regenerate faster than normal.

Treating and Preventing Flares

There are three primary ways to treat a psoriasis flare.

First, is topical treatments. These can include corticosteroid lotions, vitamin D creams and solutions. Next, patients can undergo light therapy, otherwise known as phototherapy. When being treated with light therapy, psoriasis patients sit under an ultraviolet light, either artificial or natural, to help treat the flare. For persistent problems, both oral medication and self-administered subcutaneous injectable medications are available. The most common medications include: retinoids, methotrexate, cyclosporine, apremilast, or biologic drugs which can suppress the immune system.

Patients can take one treatment at a time or a combination.

For prevention, avoiding triggers can be a huge step in the right direction, such as avoiding alcohol. Consuming alcohol, even in small amounts, can increase the harmful and serious side effects of some psoriasis medication, especially in women who are pregnant. It can also reduce your immunity and alter your immune system, increasing your risk of infection and flare up.

Patients who drink alcohol and have psoriasis should speak with their dermatologist. Their doctor can best advise them on whether there truly is a safe amount of alcohol they can drink or not, depending on their treatment.