A Final Thought: The heartbreak of psoriasis


By Mitch Allen

I have suffered with psoriasis for my entire life. It’s an autoimmune disease that manifests itself as red, scaly patches on the skin. And when I say “my entire life,” I mean it. My parents first noticed my psoriasis when I was just a few weeks old. Mom took me to the doctor where she declared, “Look, his little balls are on fire!”

Of course I don’t remember this rather crude description of my symptoms when it happened, but I do recall many times during my childhood when Mom would tell this story to family and friends. Finally, driven by a sudden burst of testosterone-fueled, pre-pubescent courage, I did what any proper Southern boy would do when being similarly disrespected.

I pitched a hissy fit.

“Mom!” I screamed. “NEVER use the word ‘little’ to refer to any part of my body, particularly not my, well, you know.”

I felt like Donald Trump defending my manhood during a live, nationally televised debate. Thankfully, Mom relented. She never again referred to details regarding my genitals, at least not in front of me.

Fortunately, for most of my childhood, the disease’s symptoms were limited to my knees and elbows with occasional flare-ups on my torso and scalp. I was called “lizardman” and a “leper,” and was once asked to leave a public swimming pool. I tried creams, lotions, ointments, tar baths, sunlamps, even a special medicated tape, but the best treatment option turned out to be never taking off my shirt. In junior high gym class, when choosing sides for “shirts & skins” basketball, I became adept at manipulating the selection process to ensure that I always made the “shirts” team.

As an autoimmune condition, psoriasis is an immune system response to a stressor. For example, when you scrape your knee, your body generates extra skin cells to heal the wound. In my case, my body always thinks I have a scrape and continually produces too much skin. This is why psoriasis isn’t contagious. You can’t catch it by touching it.

It’s just extra skin.

Psoriasis is hereditary. To get it, you have to be blessed with the right genes. My quack childhood pediatrician told my parents that the gene skips a generation. Proof included the fact that my grandfather and I had it, but not my father. Well, Dad’s sister developed it later in life, blowing that theory to bits. The same pediatrician also told my parents that they should consider boiling my food, but that was never going to happen. This was east Alabama/west Georgia; we fried everything.

Exposure to the sun also helps relieve symptoms, making Northeast Ohio the worst possible place for a psoriasis sufferer to live, not counting the planet Neptune.

A few years ago as I began to understand the concept of “healing from within,” I noticed that I would have a flare-up every time I ate pizza. As a result, I gave up gluten and dairy as a test. Six weeks later my psoriasis was completely gone.

I reported this fact to my dermatologist who suggested that the diet had nothing to do with it. “Psoriasis is a response to stress,” he said. “You’ve lost weight, you’re eating better, you’re feeling good about yourself. You’ve simply reduced your stress level.”

I didn’t buy it. “You don’t understand, doc” I responded. “I’m a raging narcissist. I’ve never felt bad about myself.”

Afterward, I missed pizza and pasta so much that I reintroduced gluten and dairy back into my diet and within a month the red, scaly patches had returned. Unfortunately, I never took the scientific steps necessary to determine whether the culprit was the gluten or the dairy—or something else, like the addition of other foods to replace the ones I had given up, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

I ultimately came to suspect that psoriasis flare-ups are not necessarily the result of emotional stress. They can also be caused by the stress of a food allergy. To find out, I should have reintroduced either gluten or dairy, not both. That way I may have found out whether I had issues with one or the other. But I couldn’t do that. Who can eat fresh bread from the oven without soft, sweet, room-temperature butter, and how can I make seafood gumbo and crawfish étouffée without a roux of flour and butter cooked slowly to the color of light chocolate?

I know I could go on Humira or another immunosuppressive drug, but I have young grandsons whose bodies are essentially preschool petri dishes so I don’t want to take the hit to my immune system and risk staying sick all the time. If these drugs work for you, that’s great.

I’m not a doctor but I have 58 years of experience with this disease. And I’m a skeptic, I believe most people who claim to be gluten intolerant are misdiagnosing themselves. Still, something is going on. The day after Christmas I eliminated gluten and dairy from my diet for the third time and today, less four weeks later, my symptoms have almost completely disappeared—for the third time.

Instead of guessing again, I have asked my doctor to refer me to an allergist to find out if I truly have a food allergy. Frankly, I hope the culprit isn’t gluten.

Not only do I love to bake homemade bread, if I discover that my childhood was ruined simply because I ate white bread, Pop-Tarts and brown ‘n serve rolls, I’m gonna pitch a royal hissy fit.


Categories: Smart Living