Photo: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
A new study has found the bacteria in your mouth could contribute to the common skin condition psoriasis.
More than 8 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease. Although it often presents as red, scaly patches on the skin, experts know that genetics and infections such as strep throat can put someone at risk, but the root cause of the disease remains largely a mystery. Now research is showing improving your skin might be linked with your mouth.
When Douglas Levin's psoriasis led to severe joint pain and arthritis, his doctor recommended cutting out his daily glass of red wine.
"Within a week I was dramatically better, not just a little bit better. It wasn't subtle and it's never been that way since," Levin says.
Because symptoms of psoriasis often appear as red, scaly patches on the skin, many are surprised to learn that not only can it be connected to serious conditions like arthritis, but that the cause - and potential solutions - are much more than skin deep.
"This is an autoimmune disease. So we're looking for some sort of source for a trigger to set off the immune system in the first place," says Dr. Benjamin Kaffenberger with Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
The first source researchers looked at was the mouth, where millions of microbiome provide insight into overall health.
Dr. Kaffenberger led a study at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center that asked patients about oral hygiene and found a correlation between poor gum health and more severe psoriasis.
"We know that patients who have poor gum health, periodontitis, have a higher prevalence of pathogenic bacteria in the first place," he says.
In addition to brushing and flossing every day, the study also found that simple lifestyle changes can help, such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking and getting plenty of fruit in your diet.
"We do have patients that have seen significant improvements in their psoriasis, dramatic improvements even by avoiding substances, having significant weight loss."
More research is needed to understand exactly what causes psoriasis and just how much of an impact simple changes can have on the course of the disease.
But in the meantime, Dr. Kaffenberger says making these small changes couldn't hurt.
"The risks of us recommending this are that we're going to benefit your overall health. So we ought to be doing it, I believe, either way."
Researchers are working to gather more data about diets and lifestyle choices that consistently help those with psoriasis. They're expanding the study to poll psoriasis patients nationwide.