Could Spirulina Help Psoriasis Sufferers?
Updated: Apr 15
August is Psoriasis Awareness Month and an opportunity for health practitioners to educate and inform psoriasis sufferers on a variety of topics like treatments, causes, triggers, and daily management of the inflammatory disease. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, psoriasis affects more than 8 million people in the US and as many as 125 million people worldwide (nearly 3 percent of the world’s population). Although it can affect people of all ages, it is most likely to appear between the ages of 15 and 35 and affects men and women equally (1).
Psoriasis is defined as a chronic autoimmune condition that causes a rapid buildup of skin cells, creating scaling on the skin’s surface. Autoimmune conditions are the result of the body attacking itself. With psoriasis, white blood cells (aka, T cells) mistakenly attack the patients’ own skin cells. Sufferers will often develop red, inflamed patches that are often covered with whitish-silver scales or plaques. Sometimes, these plaques will crack and bleed causing pain and discomfort (2).
Psoriasis is the result of a sped-up skin production process. Normal skin cells grow deep in the skin, slowly rise to the surface, then fall off. This process normally takes about one month. For people with psoriasis, this production process may occur in just a few days. Because of this, the skin cells do not have time to fall off, leading to a buildup, or clustering, of the skin cells (2).
Scales or plaques will usually develop on joints, such as elbows and knees. However, they may develop anywhere on the body, including hands, feet, neck, scalp, and face. The five types of psoriasis are: Plaque psoriasis, Guttate psoriasis, Pustular psoriasis, Inverse psoriasis, and Erythrodermic psoriasis (2). Plaque psoriasis, or psoriasis vulgaris, is the most common type worldwide (3).
Due to its prevalence, it is considered a global health issue. Researchers put a great deal of time and effort into finding new treatments for the disease and its symptoms. And while they do not know what exactly causes psoriasis, they have determined that several factors (immune, environmental, infection, and psychological stress) can play a role in its development. There are number of drugs on the market used to treat psoriasis, however, nutraceuticals and more natural treatments are gaining momentum over their synthetic counterparts (3).
C-Phycocyanin (C-PC) is a natural pigment extracted from spirulina (blue-green algae). A multitude of studies have shown that it possesses potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihistaminic properties (4). Because of those properties, C-PC has been studied as a compound in the treatment of various diseases including cancer, central nervous system (CNS) injury, stroke, and skin disorders like atopic dermatitis and allergic inflammation models.
The purpose of this in vivo study was to assess the anti-inflammatory properties of C-phycocyanin, isolated from Spirulina (A. maxima), on imiquimod-induced psoriasis in mice. Since there is currently no “objective parameter” that measures the severity of psoriasis, this study (and other similar studies) monitored levels of various cytokines. Specifically, they evaluated the levels of pro-inflammatory and T cell-related cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-17, IL-6, IL-1b, interferon (IFN)-γ, cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) (3).
Two different types of mice (BALB/c and BALB/C-nu) were divided into seven groups:
For 12 days, all mice received an application of 5% imiquimod cream. Starting on day seven, purified C-PC was administered to groups 4-7. In order to rate the severity of psoriasis symptoms in the mice, inflammation and redness were measured based on the presence of scaling, thickening, lesions, and erythema on the dorsal and ear skin. The severity was then given a score of 0-9, as follows: 0=None, 1-3=Slight, 4-6=Moderate, 7-9=Severe (3).
The two main results from the study were, C-phycocyanin lowered “epidermal thickening” and “immune cell clustering” in the skin (dermis). The psoriasis mice showed the typical signs of epidermal thickening and “silver” scale-like plaques. Mice in the groups treated with C-PC showed a “removal of silver scales”. There was also a dramatic decrease in the epidermal thickness, indicating the efficacy of C-PC against psoriasis. According to study researchers “the abnormal proliferation of keratinocytes in the epidermal layer causes psoriatic, epidermal thickening.” They concluded that the C-PC greatly improved keratinocyte proliferation. Furthermore, psoriasis is characterized by a clustering of immune cells (buildup of skin cells). Researchers found that C-PC works very well in the dermal layer of psoriasis-affected skin. This was confirmed by a reduction in the number of immune cells on the affected skin of the C-PC mice compared to the psoriasis mice (3).
Read the full study: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-31467/v1
1) About Psoriasis. (2020). National Psoriasis Foundation. https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/
2) Everything You Need to Know About Psoriasis. (2020) Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/psoriasis
3) Jun, S., Jang, J., Yoon, S., Park, J., Cho, Y., Shin, H., & Yang, Y. (2020). C-Phycocyanin derived from Spirulina maxima attenuates the symptoms of psoriasis in mouse models. BMC Immunology. DOI: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-31467/v1.
4) Romay, C., Armesto, J., Remirez, D., González, R., Ledon, N., & García, I. (1998). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of C-phycocyanin from blue-green algae. Inflammation research: official journal of the European Histamine Research Society ... [et al.], 47(1), 36–41. https://doi.org/10.1007/s000110050256
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