According to the majority of people in the health industry, psoriasis is still incurable. But is psoriasis really a mysterious disease without any effective treatment? Dr. Trevor Erikson, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has a particular interest in the treatment of skin conditions, such as psoriasis. OptiDerma Magazine interviewed him to get more answers…
Psoriasis is known as a stubborn and virulent skin disease. Whereas some people claim psoriasis is incurable, others believe it is curable by using the right natural treatments. What is your point of view?
I agree that Psoriasis is a very stubborn and virulent disease, but I have seen it completely resolve using Chinese herbal medicine.
In fact, my teacher Dr. Mazin Al Khafaji noticed through his 30 year experience that something like 65% of patients clear completely and, after a 3 year follow up, 60% of them are still clear.
So yes, I do believe psoriasis to be curable.
Do you believe in products that promise to treat psoriasis?
The Chinese medicine approach in treating psoriasis is on an individualistic basis. One herb or combination of herbs that treat one persons psoriasis may be totally different than another persons.
So in terms of “products that promise to treat psoriasis”, I do not believe in such a thing. I actually think that products with such claims to be very misleading to the public.
The range in which psoriasis can manifest is very large, as is the individual that is manifesting it, meaning that the treatment has to change to match the individual.
Standardized generic products promising cures are like playing Russian roulette, sometimes they may work, but most often I think they probably don’t.
How difficult is it to find a treatment that works for an individual?
A qualified Doctor of Chinese medicine who has direct training and experience with dermatology should be able to figure out a proper treatment that works without too much difficulty.
The real trick is finding these Doctors, as the basic 5 year diploma program to become a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine really only offers about 14 hours of dermatology, and I doubt that psoriasis is even a major component of that training.
I know of many Doctors who cannot even properly identify psoriasis, let alone treat it. So finding a Doctor of Chinese medicine who has gone on to receive extra training in regards to dermatology is very important, and is really the true gauge of how much the treatment offered will work.
I would actually say this not only of Chinese medicine, but for all health fields whether it be Naturopathy, Homeopathy, or even western Allopathic medicine. It is always good to ask what the Doctors experience is, before spending hundreds of dollars on their treatments.
What is Chinese Medicine and how can it help people with psoriasis?
Chinese medicine stems from the oral and scholarly medical traditions of Asia, which have an unbroken history of 4000 or so years. It is holistic in that the body is viewed as a whole unit, rather than just isolated parts.
So not only is the look of the skin problem itself taken into account, but the state of the digestion, quality of sleep, urination, thirst levels, ability to sweat, menstrual history, etc are also investigated.
In terms of treatment, herbal medicine that is drunken as a tea is the primary method to treat psoriasis. Externally applied herbal ointments, creams, and poultices are also commonly used as well.
Chinese medicine relies on what is called pattern differentiation to determine a correct diagnosis and treatment course. Once a skin lesion has been identified as psoriasis, the mechanism behind what is causing it is figured out.
Patterns that contribute to psoriasis in Chinese medicine are things like; fire toxin, heat in the blood, stasis of blood, deficiency of blood, etc.
All of these patterns will have differing characteristics to each other and are the determining factors for the types of herbs that are picked for the prescription.
This is why Chinese medicine believes there is no “one size fits all” approach to the treatment of disease. As it is the pattern behind the disease, and not the disease itself, which is important for treatment.
Do Asian and Western cultures have different ways to treat psoriasis?
Both Western and Asian medicine have diagnosed psoriasis as a disease entity for at least 2000 years ago.
Traditional names for psoriasis have included terms like Bai Bi- White crust and Song Pi Xuan- Pine Skin Dermatosis.
In the modern world, for both Western and Asian medicine, the practice of dermatology is very similar in its initial investigations, whereby they both rely on morphological changes visible on the skin to make a proper diagnosis.
Both systems will differentiate psoriasis from other skin disorders like nummular eczema, tinea or fungal disease, pityriasis rosea, lichen simplex, lichen planus, seborrheic dermatitis, etc.
It is after this initial labeling of the disease, that the two systems separate. Western medicine will usually look at the severity of the psoriasis, using this as the determining factor of whether to use internal steroids or just an external cream involving something like the combination of a cortico-steroid with a Vitamin D derivative.
Asian medicine will go a bit further by figuring out differing patterns unique to a particular individuals psoriasis.
As mentioned in the above question, it is the pattern that determines the type of herbal treatment to be used. Basically Chinese medicine is more interested in the person’s individual presentation, than just the disease label.
The Chinese herbal approach to treat disease, which can involve anywhere from 2 to 20 different herbal ingredients all cooked together into a tea, has actually gained a lot of credit in many Western medical circles.
Systems biology, which is a field that focuses on the “interactions between the components of biological systems, and how these interactions give rise to the function and behavior of that system”, seems to be the closest western medical model to share a similar viewpoint to the holistic viewpoint of Chinese medicine.
In a 2006 publication of the prestigious British Journal of Pharmacology, it is stated that, “The development of systems biology has led to a new design principle for therapeutic intervention strategy, the concept of ‘magic shrapnel’ (rather than the ‘magic bullet’), involving many drugs against multiple targets, administered in a single treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers an extensive source of examples of this concept in which several active ingredients in one prescription are aimed at numerous targets and work together to provide therapeutic benefit.”
This obviously differs from the reductionist western medical model, in which one or two chemical compounds are designed to affect only one part of the body, and is why I think that Chinese medicine can actually get better results in the treatment of psoriasis.
What do you take into account when using Chinese Medicine to treat psoriasis?
Many things are taken into account when using Chinese medicine to treat psoriasis. The look of the individual lesions; colour, size, and the thickness of both plaque and scale: the distribution and location of the lesions, if they are in the groin, armpit, scalp, or elbow tips, and how widespread they are; how easily an auspitz sign can be induced and/or the presence of a kobner phenomena.
The presence of, or lack of, itching is also important for proper treatment and diagnosis.
On top of visualizing the actual lesions, the state of ones digestion/ elimination, thirst levels, quality of sleep, menstrual history, ability to sweat, energy levels, etc are also all taken into account.
Again, all this information helps the Doctor of Chinese medicine to determine the pattern behind the disease and it is this pattern that determines the herbal treatment used.
How long does it usually take for the skin to clear when the treatment is appropriate?
With the right diagnosis and treatment approach, using both internal and external herbal remedies that match the individual, I like to see some type of change/ clearing within 3 to 4 weeks.
If I do not see anything change by the 7 week mark, then my sense of prognosis for that individual is poor and I may not have them continue on a treatment with me.
If it looks like some clearing is progressing, then anywhere from 4 to 8 months is a pretty normal time frame for complete clearing to occur.
Obviously not everyone completely clears and some may need treatments that last even longer than 1 year.
If you find the right treatment, is it possible that your body will never show signs of the disease again?
Although I have now personally help dozens of individuals overcome their psoriasis, I have actually only been trained to treat psoriasis properly since the beginning of 2007, so my experience is limited to this time frame.
Knowing what happens to a patient years later is still to be determined. I can say though that my teacher, Dr Mazin Al Khafaji, who is considered to be one of Europe’s most respected Chinese medical dermatologists, found in his 30 years of experience that about 65% of people with psoriasis treated with Chinese herbal medicine cleared completely.
Then on a 3 year follow up, 60% of those were still clear, 20% had a minor flare up, and the last 20% had more significant flaring. To me these stats are pretty darn good!
Do diet and lifestyle play a major role in the disease?
I would say so. Obviously it is very important that a well balanced, whole foods, diet be incorporated to ensure proper nourishment.
Adequate regular exercise to ensure cardiovascular health is also important, particularly since psoriasis has been linked to heart disease. Proper diet and exercise is also very important in helping obese people lose weight, as they have a much higher incidence of psoriasis.
Good stress management skills are also very important, as it seems many individuals experience their first flare of psoriasis after some type of stressful event in their lives.
I am not convinced of certain foods, like dairy or wheat, being major aggravators to psoriasis. These foods tend to be black listed by many health care practitioners, but my teachers and my own experience would dictate otherwise.
I have seen many an individuals skin clear very well without too much dietary restriction while using chinese herbal medicine. Of course if the digestion is obviously suffering with much gas and bowel irregularities then avoidance of these foods may do them well.
Out of anything, excessive alcohol intake is the worst for psoriasis, as it is for most inflammatory conditions, and I generally encourage my patients to reduce or stop its intake.
Can you give us an example of a patient you treated successfully and a case for which the treatment did not succeed?
Hmmm, lets see. I can think of two women of about the same age, 40, who both developed psoriasis when they were about 12 years of age, and who both had it widespread over most parts of their body.
One of them cleared about 99% over a 6 month period, with only a minor bit left on her elbows. Upon returning to Ontario for Christmas, her mother broke down in tears seeing her clear for the first time in 28 or so odd years. That was a pretty good feeling for all of us.
The other women, who was actually an MD, tried Chinese medicine for just over one year, but probably only saw about 15% clearing. One big plaque on her forearm that had been static for years, cleared completely, but areas like her scalp saw very little clearing. She was a big believer and was very dedicated, but no matter how much I tweaked her formula, we could not see clearing above 15% or so. Obviously a big disappointment to both of us.