Psoriasis affects 2-3% of people in the UK and 120 million people worldwide, making it the most common autoimmune disease. Its exact cause has never been pinned down, but new research suggests the gut might have a key role to play…
What is psoriasis?
It is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system mistakenly launches an attack against the body’s own tissues, triggering an inflammatory response.In psoriasis, this response causes skin cell production to go into overdrive. Excess skin cells build up in patches called plaques. Plaques are usually red, flaky, crusty and covered in silvery scales. They’re often sore and itchy, too.The condition can also affect the joints, causing swelling, stiffness and pain (known as psoriatic arthritis).
What does the gut have to do with it?
Scientists think that the microbes or bacteria that live in the gut play a key role in keeping the immune system in order, telling it when and when not to attack. Some microbes seem to promote inflammation, while others suppress it.People with psoriasis tend to have fewer different kinds of gut bacteria – with lower levels of anti-inflammatory bacteria and higher levels of pro-inflammatory bacteria. A 2016 study found higher levels of E. coli (which has been blamed for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease) and lower levels of F. prausnitzii (thought to be crucial to intestinal and general health). The study’s author suggested that ‘the skin might function as a mirror of the gut’ in people living with psoriasis.
Can bacteria help?
Could ‘good’ bacteria be the answer? Research suggests that introducing ‘good’ bacteria can help restore the gut’s balance of anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory bacteria. In a 2013 study, the bacterial strain, B. infantis 35624, reduced measures of inflammation in those with this autoimmune disease.Conventional treatments for this condition work by suppressing the immune system’s anti-inflammatory response. However, this can impair the body’s ability to fight real infections and is not always effective.A 2012 study reported on the case of a woman with treatment-resistant pustular psoriasis who was given ‘good’ bacteria Lactobacillus supplements three times a day. Her symptoms began to improve within two weeks and within six months, the marks on her skin were gone. If in doubt: go with your gut.