There are many different types of psoriasis, and according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), each one has a slightly different cause.
In TCM, there are internal and external causes of disease. The internal causes include mental stress and pent-up emotions which, over time, affect the circulation of qi and blood within the body. The external causes include what are known as the six evils: heat, summer heat, cold, dampness, dryness and wind. These can penetrate the body from outside and affect the way in which the organs work, leading to disease.
Psoriasis can be caused by either internal or external factors. Clinically it is common to see a combination of both. First we will take a look at the internal cause, stagnation of qi and blood. Then, we will quickly review the external causes.
If you are suffering from psoriasis, have a look at these pattern descriptions and see if any of them apply to you!
Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis
TCM practitioners believe that good health is dependent on the free flow of qi and blood throughout the body. These vital substances flow through the vessels like rivers, nourishing every cell and tissue as they go. If they become blocked or stop flowing for some reason, that is when disease occurs.
One major cause of qi and blood stagnation is emotional stress. Stress causes the muscles of the chest to become tight and tense. This in turn restricts Lungs, Liver, and Heart, preventing qi and blood from circulating normally.
Qi stagnation and blood stasis can cause many different symptoms, and psoriasis is just one example. If you have psoriasis due to qi stagnation or blood stasis, your symptoms will likely include:
- Psoriasis plaques which are dark or purplish in color
- Psoriasis plaques which are fixed in size and shape and do not change much over time
- Psoriasis symptoms which are worse during periods of stress
In addition, you may have other symptoms such as:
- Aches and pains
- Headaches or migraines
- Digestive problems
- Irregular or painful periods in women
The best way to keep your qi and blood flowing freely, and to prevent stagnation, is to try and stay on an even keel emotionally. This may be easier said than done, but relaxation techniques, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can all help.
Acupuncture, massage and other therapies like cupping all benefit the circulation and can help to prevent stagnation. These treatments can be combined with Chinese herbs which are known to regulate qi and blood flow to further enhance their effects.
Dampness and heat are two of the six evils, and are considered an external cause of disease. Dampness causes swelling and thickening of tissues (in the case of psoriasis, it thickens the skin), and heat causes inflammation and bleeding.
If your psoriasis is due to damp-heat, your symptoms may include:
- Psoriasis plaques which are raised, thick and hard
- Plaques which are bright or dark red with white scales
- Scales are easily shed
- Plaques appear suddenly and spread fast
- Plaques are itchy and tend to bleed
- Plaques are usually found on the inside of knees and elbows, torso, neck, and scalp
- Psoriasis symptoms are worse in summer
Other symptoms you may have include:
- Excessive thirst
- Dark, scanty urine
- Heavy periods in women
Acupuncture and herbs can help to disperse dampness and heat and relieve the psoriasis symptoms. However, it is also important to make dietary changes and eliminate any foods which may be contributing to the problem. Foods which cause damp-heat include greasy, fried and spicy foods and these should be cut out if you are suffering from psoriasis. Keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum, and if you smoke, you should stop as soon as possible.
One special treatment for this type of psoriasis is called plum-blossom tapping. This therapy uses a small hammer-like tool with tiny needles to tap the skin. This releases a few drops of blood, which according to TCM, will have a cooling effect on the body. It is especially useful if you have psoriasis with severe itching.
Damp-cold is another external cause of psoriasis. It differs from damp-heat psoriasis because, although the skin is still thickened, it is less red and not as likely to bleed.
The symptoms of damp-cold type psoriasis include:
- Psoriasis plaques which are raised, thick and hard
- Plaques are light red with fine, silver scales
- Scales are constantly shed but improve temporarily after a hot bath
- Plaques may appear after an illness or infection
- Plaques do not itch
- Plaques are usually found on the outside of knees and elbows, lower back, ears and scalp
- Psoriasis symptoms are worse in winter
Other symptoms of damp-cold include:
- Aches and pains
- Loose stools
- Painful periods in women
Like damp-heat type psoriasis, damp-cold psoriasis can be improved with a combination of acupuncture and herbs, but dietary changes may also be necessary. The main foods which contribute to damp-cold are raw food or foods which are eaten cold. From a TCM perspective, it is always best to cook food lightly to aid digestion, so choose stir-fries over salads and avoid iced drinks and frozen desserts altogether.
One treatment which may be especially helpful for damp-cold type psoriasis is something called moxibustion. This involves burning an herbal product made from the mugwort plant (called moxa in TCM) on, or close to, acupuncture points. This has a warming and drying effect, and also benefits the qi and blood.
The final cause of psoriasis which we will look at is blood deficiency. Blood deficiency does not fit neatly into the categories of internal or external causes of disease, as it can happen for a number of different reasons. Extreme blood loss due to injury or childbirth, and excessive menstrual bleeding can all lead to blood deficiency. However, the most common cause by far is a diet which is lacking adequate nutrition.
In TCM, the blood is far more than just a red liquid that runs through our veins. It is responsible for nourishing, moistening, and providing a physical anchor for the spirit or mind.
If your psoriasis is due to blood deficiency, your symptoms may include:
- Psoriasis plaques which are pale in color
- Plaques do not change much over time
- White scales which are difficult to remove
- Dry, cracked skin
- Dry hair and nails
Other symptoms of blood deficiency include:
- Pale skin
- Scanty periods in women
Acupuncture and moxibustion can be combined with blood building herbs to nourish the blood and moisten the skin. Diet is another important way to nourish the blood and some of the best foods are red meat, liver, leafy greens, beets, and seaweed.
Getting enough sleep is also important. This is because at night, the blood is said to return to the Liver to be replenished and stored. According to TCM, the Liver functions best between 1am and 3am, and making sure that you are tucked up in bed at this time ensures that your blood is being regularly renewed.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a condition which can be difficult to treat, and although acupuncture and herbs can help, progress may be slow. Acupuncture will not work as quickly as the steroid creams which your doctor may prescribe, but it does have the advantage of treating the root cause of the psoriasis rather than just suppressing the symptoms. Anyone with psoriasis can tell you that once you stop using the steroid creams the problem comes right back. Successful treatment with acupuncture and herbs will lead to a more sustainable outcome.
If you would like to try acupuncture for psoriasis, it is important to be patient, and to follow your practitioner’s advice on diet and lifestyle closely. This will give you the best possible chance of relieving your psoriasis symptoms and keeping them at bay in the long run.