Urgh —what’s wrong with you?’ ‘What’s that on your legs?’ ‘Is it contagious?’
These are some of the comments psoriasis sufferer Wendy Hope had to face on a daily basis, not to mention all the pointing and staring, until she found an effective way to beat the distressing skin condition.
Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious disorder that causes cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin. The result is thickened, red or silvery, scaly patches on the body that are often itchy and painful.
For Wendy, from a village called Marshfield in South Gloucestershire, the condition first manifested shortly before her 40th birthday as a small patch of dry, itchy skin on her lower leg. But the psoriasis gradually spread—despite her using a variety of prescribed creams and ointments—and by the time she was 43, it covered her entire body. At this point, she was diagnosed with a rare, severe form of psoriasis called ‘erythrodermic psoriasis,’ which can make the skin look burnt and cause it to peel off in sheets.
“It was horrendous,” said Wendy. “I’d wake up each morning and there would be shed skin all over the bed. I had to vacuum twice a day.”
It got so bad that doctors had to wrap Wendy head-to-toe in bandages, and cover her scalp in coal tar. “I smelled disgusting,” Wendy recalls, “and I couldn’t leave the house for weeks.”
Although the drastic treatment provided some relief, Wendy’s psoriasis persisted and continued to make her life a misery for years.
“I was referred to a dermatologist,” said Wendy, “but he just kept giving me creams. I had cupboards and cupboards full of creams.”
Eventually, Wendy was prescribed ultraviolet (UV) light treatment—first UVB treatment and then UVA treatment combined with the drug psoralen, which makes the skin more sensitive to light. But neither treatment helped. The UVB light even ended up burning Wendy’s skin.
A life-changing find
After living with psoriasis for more than a decade, and trying nearly every conventional treatment around, Wendy had finally had enough. “I wasn’t getting any better,” said Wendy. “It suddenly clicked that I had to try a different approach.”
Her first instinct was to turn to the internet. She typed ‘psoriasis book’ into Google and after a couple of clicks, she came across Healing Psoriasis: The Natural Alternative (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), a book by the late Dr John Pagano, which outlined a drug-free treatment for the skin condition.
Dr Pagano was a chiropractic physician who had researched psoriasis for more than 40 years, Wendy discovered. The book had hundreds of positive reviews on Amazon, mostly from psoriasis sufferers, so Wendy wasted no time in ordering it.
“I thought: what have I got to lose?” said Wendy. “I took the book with me on vacation and read it from cover to cover.”
According to Dr Pagano, psoriasis is caused by a buildup of toxins, primarily from the food we eat. The goal of his approach, therefore, is to rid the body of accumulated toxins and to stop putting any more in.
“It is what you avoid putting into the body, combined with what you flush out, that helps the psoriatic patient the most,” his book states.
At the heart of Dr Pagano’s program is the avoidance of the ‘Deadly Seven’—seven factors he observed over the years to be key culprits in psoriasis. These are saturated fats, foods in the nightshade family, too many sweets, smoking, alcohol, junk food and fried food. The book also lists the ‘Glorious Seven’—foods and drinks that can spell success, including green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, olive oil and plenty of water.
Wendy had read on various ‘official’ psoriasis websites that diet had nothing to do with psoriasis,
but completely disillusioned with the conventional medical approach, she decided to give Pagano’s program a try.
“My diet wasn’t too bad to begin with,” said Wendy, “and I didn’t smoke, so I focused on avoiding alcohol, red meat and nightshades like tomatoes and white potatoes.”
Alcohol was the hardest thing to give up, Wendy found. “I wasn’t a big drinker, but at weddings and birthdays, it was hard work trying to explain why I wasn’t drinking.”
On one occasion, Wendy had to refuse a glass of champagne to toast her friend’s 60th birthday. “The book says it’s all about priorities,” said Wendy. “And my top priority was getting better.”
Bad to worse to better
Not long after starting Pagano’s program, Wendy began to notice a difference. But it wasn’t a good one. “My psoriasis was worse than ever. I had it in places I’d never had it before, like around my eyes and in my belly button. There was orange pus coming out of my skin in places.”
Still, Wendy persisted with the plan, as the book explained that this was all part of the process. “It’s the body clearing the toxins,” said Wendy. “Things have to get worse before they can get better.”
Fortunately, the old adage held true in Wendy’s case. After about three months of following the program, her skin started to improve and, by the six-month mark, it was completely clear. “I almost didn’t notice it,” said Wendy. “It was such a gradual improvement.”
People in her village certainly noticed, though. “My local butcher, the health shop owner, the girls in the clothes store—they all said how amazing the change in me was.”
Today, nearly two years after starting Pagano’s alternative approach, Wendy is still free of the painful, scaly lesions that plagued her for more than a decade. She does have a small patch of dry skin on her face, but it’s so tiny it doesn’t concern her. “I don’t like to say I’m cured,” says Wendy. “It could come back at any point. But I feel this is something that works for me.”
Wendy still follows Pagano’s principles, but has gradually introduced small quantities of certain foods back into her diet, like white potatoes and red meat, with no detrimental effects. It’s fine to try so long as your skin has completely cleared, Pagano says, but if a reaction occurs, he recommends reverting back to the original diet immediately.
Wendy is still sticking to the no-alcohol rule, although with her 30th wedding anniversary coming up, she’s tempted to have a drink to celebrate. “It would be nice. . . but I’ve more or less decided it’s not worth the risk. I’d rather enjoy some non-alcoholic wine and be psoriasis-free.”
Wendy Hope’s anti-psoriasis action plan
- Dr Pagano’s elimination diet (no red or processed meat; sugary, fried or junk food; nightshades; or alcohol)
- Plenty of leafy green vegetables, fresh fruit and filtered water
- A natural, aloe-vera-based face and body moisturizer, used twice a day
- Omega-3 fish oils every day
- Flaxseed oil daily
- Slippery elm bark powder (taken as a tea or tincture, or as capsules or lozenges)
Conventional vs. alternative
Exactly what causes psoriasis remains a mystery, but the conventional view is that it’s an immune-system malfunction as a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.1
Treatments focus on managing symptoms, but many of them actually make things worse. Topical steroids, for example, can cause wrinkling and thinning of the skin, delayed wound-healing, stretch marks, acne, spider veins and ulcerations.2
PUVA therapy (a combination of UVA light and the chemical psoralen) comes with an increased risk of skin cancer,3 while the systemic drug methotrexate can damage the liver, lungs and bone marrow.4
Although the mainstream view is that diet has little impact on psoriasis, promising evidence suggests the opposite. Low-calorie diets, vegetarian diets and diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts) can significantly improve psoriasis symptoms, as can a gluten-free diet and regular fasting.5
In a study of five psoriasis sufferers following a diet in line with the one that Wendy used (outlined in Dr John Pagano’s book), all showed improvement after six months.6
Nutritional supplements, especially vitamins B6, B12 and D, and fish oils, can also help.7 Psoriasis patients taking high doses of fish oil (10 g/day) for two months saw significant improvements in symptoms and in the amount of skin surface affected,8 while another study found that 3.6 g/day of purified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; found in fish oil) reduced the severity of psoriasis after just two to three months.9