Vitamin B3 (niacin or nicotinic acid) is also touted as a cure for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. If only that were true! Unfortunately, this B vitamin is toxic in high doses and may harm rather than help psoriatics. This has been the sad experience of those taking 100 milligrams or more daily.
"Troublesome side effects often occur, most commonly the 'niacin flush' - intense reddening and itching of the face and upper body that usually diminishes after several weeks. High dose niacin can also cause gastrointestinal upsets, abnormal liver function tests, elevated blood-sugar levels, and, rarely, atrial fibrillation (rapid beating of the heart)," revealed Dr. Stephen Barrett, a psychiatrist, consumer advocate, and board member of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) in Health Schemes, Scams and Frauds.
"The flush is not considered dangerous but the sort of doses that produce it (greater than 100 milligrams) can, in a few individuals, produce other unwanted side effects, including nausea, headache, cramps and diarrhea. Still larger doses of nicotinic acid (in excess of two grams daily) have been reported to produce skin discoloration and dryness, decreased glucose tolerance, high uric-acid levels, and aggravation of peptic ulcers and even symptoms that resemble some of those that accompany hepatitis," according to Dr. Sheldon Saul Hendler in The Doctors Vitamin and Mineral Encyclopedia.
Regular exposure to sunlight has helped patients with psoriasis. Since vitamin D is made in our skin when we are exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays, quacks claim that oral doses of the same vitamin will benefit psoriatics.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Oral doses of vitamin D are not recommended. Excess amounts are dangerous and can cause headache, fatigue, muscle weakness, blurred vision and kidney stones among others.
"High doses of vitamin D can be toxic. The major effects of vitamin D toxicity are hypercalcemia (high levels of blood calcium] and soft tissue calcification. Symptoms of hypercalcemia include anorexia, nausea, vomiting, constipation, tiredness, drowsiness and, when more severe - confusion, high blood pressure, kidney failure and coma," Hendler said.
"The margin of safety between the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D and the level which is toxic in some people is very small; the smallest for any vitamin. Some people develop toxic symptoms three to four times the RDA. Thus the practice of supplementation with this vitamin should be discouraged," concluded Dr. Myron Winick, director of the Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in The Columbia Encyclopedia of Nutrition.
Quack cures for psoriasis
Because of his or her appearance, the person with psoriasis may be tempted to try a number of questionable cures.
While most of these quack remedies are probably harmless (except to your wallet), some of them are dangerous and should be avoided.
A few may appear to work mainly because psoriasis is characterized by flare-ups and remissions. A quack cure may be credited with helping a patient when, in fact, the disease has long periods of inactivity.
The psoriatic patient must bear in mind that there is no cure for the disease. But that doesn't make the person helpless. Many effective therapies are available (which I will discuss later in this series).
Consult your physician or dermatologist regarding treatment options. In the meantime, stay away from people who promise to cure psoriasis with the following:
Nutrition - Like other people, the psoriatic patient must follow the golden rule of good nutrition: he or she must eat a variety of foods everyday. No special food or diet will clear up the scales but that hasn't stopped enterprising salesmen from pushing phony diets.
"Diets low in calories, proteins, tryptophan and taurine are apparently of no benefit, though they have been advocated for more than 60 years," according to Kurt Butler of the Quackery Action Council in Hawaii and Dr. Lynn Rayner of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, in The Best Medicine.
In 1976, French researchers who believed that psoriasis may be an allergic condition, suggested a gluten-free diet to help patients. They advised psoriatics to avoid wheat, rye, barley and oats.
However, the role of gluten sensitivity in psoriasis has not been established. If you're one of those contemplating a dietary change because of psoriasis, forget it! Stick to a normal diet instead unless your doctor says so.
Herbs - Various herbs have been promoted as cures for psoriasis. The problem with herbal concoctions sold in health food stores is that many aren't potent enough to do any good. Others are marketed for dubious purposes. Among the many herbs psoriatics may encounter are comfrey and goldenseal.
The roots and leaves of the comfrey plant (Symphytum officinale) have been used as a folk remedy for thousands of years. Their healing properties supposedly come from allantoin which is used in treating wounds. Herbalists claim that allantoin also works for psoriasis and they recommend soaking the scales in a strong solution.
But this is unlikely since allantoin stimulates cell growth which could make matters worse for psoriatics. Besides, most of the "evidence" related to this matter is anecdotal; there are no hard studies to support comfrey's use in psoriasis.
While the external use of comfrey is safe, don't make the mistake of taking it internally. This herb may contain small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver cancer.
"An herbal tea manufacturer recently issued a nationwide recall of its comfrey tea because of a poison found in the mixture. Comfrey is widely used in herbal preparations and teas. It contains a dangerous group of chemicals which can cause liver damage. Although an occasional cup of comfrey tea is not harmful, frequent consumption as a tea or home remedy may cause buildup of the dangerous substances in the body leading to long-range damage. Experts believe the liver damage happens slowly and may never be connected with comfrey use, which is why there are few documented reports of comfrey poisoning," revealed Annette Natow and Jo-Ann Heslin in Megadoses: Vitamins as Drugs.
"Because of the potential adverse effects of comfrey, it is no longer available in Germany and in 1987 Canada banned the sale of certain types of comfrey leaf. It is, however, still widely available in other countries," added Dr. Sheldon Saul Hendler in The Doctors' Vitamin arid Mineral Encyclopedia.
More phony psoriasis cures
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is another herb said to control psoriasis flare-ups. Its active components are the alkaloids hydrastine and berberine.
Unfortunately, the same substances can lead to digestive problems and other toxic symptoms. Common side effects of goldenseal are diarrhea, convulsions, abortion and hypertension.
"High doses may cause nausea, vomiting, a decrease in the white blood count and feelings of pins and needles in the hands and feet," according to Dr. Sheldon Saul Hendler in The Doctors' Vitamin arid Mineral Encyclopedia.
Below are other quack cures for psoriasis that you should avoid:
Vitamins and minerals - Many people take vitamins in the mistaken belief that they will prevent and treat serious diseases. But the facts say otherwise: The only people who need vitamins are those suffering from vitamin deficiencies which are unlikely to occur if you eat a balanced diet, that is, a variety of foods everyday.
In spite of this, vitamin salesmen like to tell people that they need vitamins even if they don't. What they fail to tell their customers is that a vitamin deficiency is extremely rare except in severely malnourished individuals.
Psoriatic patients are not spared from all this nonsense. In their effort to get rid of the disease, they may fall prey to the unfounded claims of vitamin hucksters in the medical marketplace. One of the vitamins promoted for psoriasis is vitamin E which is said to help if taken orally or applied to the skin.
This myth is an extension of yet another false claim, namely, that vitamin E is good for the skin, can prevent scars and stop wrinkles from developing. None of this has been scientifically demonstrated.
"Vitamin E has no value when applied to the skin's surface or the hair. Vitamin E does not penetrate the skin's outer layers, and all of its claims for healing powers are without scientific foundation. In fact, there is evidence that when vitamin E is forced through the layers of the skin (as with spray-on preparations), it can cause severe allergic reactions," according to Deborah Chase in The No-Nonsense Beauty Book.
"Claims of favorable effects on skin remain purely anecdotal. So do claims that vitamin E promotes healing of burns and cuts and minimizes scar tissue," added Hendler.
Vitamin E supplements are equally worthless for skin conditions like psoriasis. The problem with taking too much is that you can suffer from side effects like nausea, headache, increased blood clotting time, increased blood pressure, fatigue and muscle weakness. This can occur with daily doses of 600 international units (IUs) or more.
"The assumption that more vitamin E is likely to be better than less is a naive and dangerous one. Vitamin E has proved time and again just how complex and sometimes unpredictable it is," Hendler added.