According to experts, the reason that psoriasis trigger foods exist is due to the gut-skin connection. “We are increasingly aware of the relationship between the gut and skin, and more specifically, the microbiome in the gut and its ability to influence skin health,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. “It’s thought to be related to gut inflammation, the gut barrier, and the alteration of gut flora in patients with psoriasis compared to healthy individuals.”
To understand what’s going on here, it’s first important to understand how the gut microbiome works—and why keeping it healthy can have a real impact on your skin. “The gut microbiome is a community of over a trillion microorganisms that live in the large intestine. It’s charged with so many important roles in the body from gut health to brain health but most notably it massively influences our immune health through reducing inflammation and modulating the immune response,” says Christina Manian, RDN. “This is important to note as psoriasis is an autoimmune response, so the more we can support a healthy immune system, the better.”
Dr. Nazarian notes that the understanding of psoriasis trigger foods is still evolving—especially because many psoriasis patients have underlying health conditions that have nothing to do with what they eat—but there are a few things pros know for sure thanks to emerging research in this space. While it’s important to know that there’s no “one size fits all” diet that can keep psoriasis at bay, there are a few things everyone should keep in mind when it comes to crafting a flare-up-friendly diet.
4 key psoriasis trigger foods that can cause skin inflammation
“Psoriasis trigger foods are thought to be more ‘inflammatory,’ or have the potential to trigger inflammation when consumed,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “In the context of psoriasis, which is an inflammatory skin condition, the thought is to be more mindful of dietary choices that may worsen flares.”
1. Simple sugars
Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, recommends avoiding foods with high amounts of sugar, because “simple sugars may also increase inflammation in psoriasis.” When sugary snacks (like candy and soda) or simple carbohydrates (like refined bread and highly-processed food) spike your blood sugar, it can lead to an inflammatory response. According to a 2017 survey conducted on 1,206 psoriasis patients, 14 percent of respondents reported that their psoriasis flared as a result of consuming more sugar (10-18 extra teaspoons a day), outranking the other food groups on this list as the most common dietary trigger.
In that same study, alcohol clocked in at a close second among psoriasis trigger foods (drinks included), with 13.8 respondents reporting psoriasis flares after adding more of the stuff to their diets. More notably, 54 percent of respondents saw a “full clearance or improvement of psoriasis” when they halted alcohol intake entirely.
“Alcohol increases pro-inflammatory cytokines in psoriasis,” explains Dr. King. Cytokines are small proteins that trigger the body’s inflammatory response, which can cause psoriasis to flare.
3. Saturated fats
According to a 2023 study, consuming high amounts of saturated fats—like those found in red meat and margarine—can increase the concentration of interleukins in the gut. Interleukins’ main job is to communicate to your body that something is wrong, which causes an inflammatory response that (as you’re now well aware) triggers psoriasis.
4. Dairy, gluten, and citrus (… for some)
There are some food groups—like dairy, gluten, and citrus—that have a reputation for causing psoriasis flare-ups, but there’s no conclusive research to support these claims. It’s also worth noting that none of the experts we spoke to for this piece even mentioned them. Though these may be psoriasis trigger foods in the sense that they cause inflammation for some people, particularly if they have allergies or sensitivities to them, there isn’t evidence that they’re problematic for everyone with psoriasis. If you think one of these things may be the culprit behind your fluctuations, consult a dermatologist or dietitian before you self-treat.
“Alcohol increases pro-inflammatory cytokines in psoriasis.”
—Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist
How to tweak your diet to improve psoriasis symptoms
While experts caution that there aren’t foods that can “prevent” psoriasis, there are certain things you can add to your diet to help keep flare ups at bay. “There are certainly foods that will help reduce inflammation in the body and support a healthy immune system which could help reduce psoriasis symptoms or potentially may make them less likely to appear,” says Manian. As you might expect, the key word here is “anti-inflammatory.”
“Foods such as those rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are recommended for psoriasis,” says Manian. “Other anti-inflammatory compounds are also recommended, including dietary fibers, polyphenols, vitamins A, E, C and D, and minerals like copper, manganese, zinc and selenium.”
Generally speaking, this translates to eating what pros refer to as a balanced diet that includes plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, heart-healthy oils, herbs and spices, fish, and other nutrient-dense protein options. Per the 2017 study, respondents found that adding all of these elements to their diets, as well as fish oil and vitamin D supplements, had positive effects on their skin. “These foods provide all the nutrients we need to stay healthy, including macronutrients like complex carbs, protein, and healthy fat as well as micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, and trace elements,” says Manian.
Additionally, adding prebiotics and probiotics to your diet can help keep your gut microbiome balanced and decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines. “Probiotics have been considered and successfully used to improve some cases of psoriasis, likely due to their ability to adjust gut flora to mimic that of healthy people,” says Dr. Nazarian.
All of that said, “It’s important to note that no perfect diet guarantees any reduction in psoriatic disease, and conversely, having an ‘unbalanced’ diet in no way guarantees that you will experience flares in your psoriasis,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Proper evidence-based therapeutic options should be discussed with your board-certified dermatologist, along with other lifestyle changes that may be useful. Given the ability of psoriasis to affect cardiac health and even joint disease, it should be taken quite seriously and addressed properly with your physician.”
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- Afifi L, Danesh MJ, Lee KM, Beroukhim K, Farahnik B, Ahn RS, Yan D, Singh RK, Nakamura M, Koo J, Liao W. Dietary Behaviors in Psoriasis: Patient-Reported Outcomes from a U.S. National Survey. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2017 Jun;7(2):227-242. doi: 10.1007/s13555-017-0183-4. Epub 2017 May 19. PMID: 28526915; PMCID: PMC5453925.
- Saalbach A, Seitz AT, Kohlmann J, Kalweit L, Vogt L, Selig L, Engel KM, Simon JC. Modulation of Dietary Fatty Acids in an Open-Label Study Improves Psoriasis and Dampens the Inflammatory Activation Status. Nutrients. 2023 Mar 30;15(7):1698. doi: 10.3390/nu15071698. PMID: 37049538; PMCID: PMC10097201.