Why I Turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine for My Psoriasis

After being unsuccessfully prescribed steroid creams and immunosuppressants by GPs, Günseli Yalcinkaya decided to reframe his understanding of his body and health

My first encounter with psoriasis was during my university studies, at the age of 20. This isn’t particularly surprising, as stress is a major trigger for those with an underlying tendency toward illness. (With cold weather, hot weather, dry weather, smoking, alcohol, infections such as strep throat, and even certain medications.)

But it wasn’t until last year (when I was 26) that I had my first real flare-up of psoriasis. Appearing a few weeks after my second Covid vaccination – a fact that is not directly correlated, but my dermatologist tells me it is probably related – my body broke out in small reddish spots. I initially assumed it was an allergic reaction or, maybe worse, bed bugs. But, as the symptoms got worse, I went to see my GP, who told me I had guttate psoriasis and prescribed me a series of thick (and deeply unpleasant) steroid creams ).

About 1.1 million of us in the UK are affected by psoriasis and 7.5 million in the US, but it’s hardly ever talked about. An autoimmune disease that manifests visibly on the skin, psoriasis is not a skin condition but a chronic genetic condition that appears as red, scaly patches on the body. Beyond the physical symptoms, those who suffer from it usually feel its psychological and social impact: anxiety and depression triggered by flare-ups are common, while underlying social anxiety related to showing skin in public is a constant.

“When exploring holistic treatments for psoriasis, it was important to reframe my understanding of health.”

Aside from short term relief – steroid cream did making the plaques disappear until a few days later they reappeared on different parts of my body with a vengeance – the psoriasis got worse as the winter went on. At its peak, it covered 95% of my body. Since psoriasis is triggered by stress, the stress caused by a flare-up is likely to further aggravate the condition. It’s a vicious circle.

So I returned once again to the doctors who prescribed me UVB phototherapy and methotrexate, an immunosuppressant that reduces inflammation but requires regular blood tests and can damage the liver and kidneys. Worried about this and increasingly skeptical of the westernized approach to medication, I embarked on a journey to find alternative treatments to treat my psoriasis. Here is what I found.

CHINESE MEDICINE

When exploring holistic treatments for psoriasis, it was important to reframe my understanding of health from a Western perspective, which focuses on eliminating symptoms but fails to address adverse effects on the body, to a Chinese perspective, which considers the principles of balance within the body, and to see it as an interconnected biosystem.

Speaking to specialists at the London Acupuncture Clinic and 180 Health Club, I was told that Psoriasis treatment involves analyzing each symptom, relating it to disharmonies, deficiencies, excesses and organ changes in energy flow to finally get to the root of the problem. In this understanding, psoriasis can appear due to an invasion of external wind in the body, as well as stagnation of blood and Qi (energy). This leads to internal heat and liver stagnation, which in turn unbalances your Yin (structure).

ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture is one of the most popular ways to treat psoriasis in Chinese medicine. Fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points to trigger specific body responses. “Acupuncture presents the combination of specific points for such a treatment, always thinking of dispersing where it stagnates and tonifying where it is deficient,” explains Renata Nunes, therapist at 180 Health Club. “Cool where it is too hot and warm where it is weak and cold – and always think about creating harmony in the body.”

As well as being a great stress reliever, acupuncture helps untangle Qi blockages in the body, while boosting your immune system by focusing on pressure points related to the kidneys and liver. It’s not a magic bullet – therapists recommend a minimum of eight weeks of treatment – ​​but I found the experience left me feeling more relaxed and energized. Also, it feels good to tackle the problem by exploring the triggers in the body, rather than mindlessly slathering yourself in heavy, greasy creams. Would I recommend? Definitively.

Where to go: London Acupuncture Clinic, 180 Health Club

CHINESE HERBS

According to Chinese medicine theory, herbs can be prescribed to treat psoriasis. The mix of herbs depends on the individual, with the practitioner examining your skin and asking questions about your energy level, menstrual cycle and bowel movements, as well as a tongue exam to check your general health ( the tongue is believed to be connected to the organs of the body through meridians, or energy pathways). My treatment was in the form of a powder to be mixed daily with hot water. I’ve only been using the herbs for a week, but I’m already starting to see thathang in my skin.

Where to go: London Acupuncture Clinic, The Institute of Chinese Medicine

INFRARED SAUNA

Since the onset of psoriasis is the result of skin cells growing too quickly, studies have shown that infrared saunas can help improve circulation, slough off dead skin cells, deliver nutrients to the epidermal layer of the skin, and boost the immune system. Why infrared? Unlike traditional steam saunas which make you sweat 95% water, infrared goes one step further, activating a “deep sweat” which eliminates toxins in the body, such as heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium , ammonia, uric acid and fat-soluble toxins. . Plus, it’s super relaxing!

Where to go: 180 Health Club, light bar

CONCLUSION

While none of these treatments are a silver bullet, exploring these alternatives has given me a better understanding of my body and the importance of external factors – stress, diet, weather – in managing my symptoms. Moving away from a strictly Western perspective has made me more forgiving of my body, helping me pinpoint triggers and stressors, instead of slathering myself in creams and ointments and hoping for the best. . It’s hard to pinpoint which treatment was most helpful, but there are definitely benefits. My skin becomes clearer, I feel less stressed and more positive.