A psoriasis story

I used to like to tell the story of why I entered naturopathic medicine. It was my war story: how I battled allopathic medicine with natural medicine and won!

The tale begins when I was diagnosed with psoriasis as a teenager. Notable characters include the evil dermatologist who pushed steroids on me as my only treatment, my Mom who suffers from severe chronic psoriasis, and a scared but tenacious teenage Britt. The story has a happy ending: I refused long-term steroid treatment and experienced a miraculous remission of disease with diet changes and supplements.

I used this story to explain why I wanted to practice naturopathy for naturopathic medical school applications in 2007. I used it again in 2013 to market a detoxification package I designed to sell in private practice. It is a very convenient and valuable story. For many, including myself, it proved that naturopathic medicine works. Look at my skin–no psoriasis! I cured myself naturally! Praise the healing power of nature!

There are many variables that likely contributed to my disease remission. In the months and years after my psoriasis diagnosis, I ate less refined and processed foods, lost weight, and exercised regularly. While there is no recommended diet for psoriasis, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is always helpful for managing any chronic disease. I noticed that when I ate poorly, my psoriasis worsened. Eliminating refined and packaged foods is commonsensical and something any good doctor would suggest. I just happened to see a doctor who probably settled far into his practice and had no patience for explaining the importance of a healthy diet to crying teenage girls. I also observed a correlation between my stress level and disease severity. As my stress levels rose, my psoriasis worsened, so I worked on managing my stress.

I basically began to live a healthier lifestyle. I saw the progression of my mom’s disease as a possible outcome for myself, and I was scared and motivated. I found obscure natural healing books using the card catalog. Yes, this was before our library had the internet or computers. I followed the advice I found and got comfort in using alternatives to how my dermatologist wanted to treat me.

Looking back at my story, it is also important to note I had a tonsillectomy at age 20. I have recently learned that research now suggests that a tonsillectomy may provide long-term remission of psoriasis in patients with an early onset of disease and in those who experienced exacerbations associated with strep throat infections. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I had at least one streptococcal throat infection each year and a case of Scarlet fever as a child. What I thought could only be explained by my stubborn pursuit of natural therapies, may just as easily, and more likely, be explained by medical intervention, science, and the waxing and waning of chronic disease.

My psoriasis story contains the necessary ingredients to reinforce misconceptions and myths about medicine and an attraction to alternatives. First, it paints allopathic medicine as cold and indifferent. The doctor in my story was unmoved by my grief over my diagnosis of psoriasis. He seemed like he was in a hurry. He offered me no sympathies. In my naturopathic bias, he did not care about the patient. He did the most terrible thing ever: he offered me a prescription drug and no other treatment options. (I even asked about other choices.) Lastly, he only treated my psoriasis, not me, the person. I remember that he did not ask about my family history, lifestyle, eating habits, or my spirituality. He stood in the doorway and only treated my disease.

These are classic arguments made by naturopaths to defend their medicine and demonize allopathic medicine. Naturopaths claim to treat the whole person, while medical doctors treat disease. Naturopaths claim to use the least force necessary, while medical doctors push pills. Naturopaths claim to have time for their patients, spending anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes with a patient, while medical doctors spend a mere 60 seconds with a patient. Lucky me, my doctor set me up for a powerful story to validate the use of naturopathic medicine!

In reality, I just got a grouchy doctor. One dermatologist clearly does not represent the entire field of dermatology, and truthfully, I have had many wonderful and warm dermatologists since this experience. But this one psoriasis story cemented my faith in naturopathic medicine, and I used it to convince others of the the miracles of naturopathy.

The important issue in my story is my dissatisfaction with my medical care. The dermatologist was not a bad doctor. He diagnosed me correctly and adhered to the standard of care for treatment. He did his job. The problem was that I was dissatisfied with the way he delivered his care. If he had spent 15 minutes with me, offered solace, suggested I get my Vitamin D levels tested, explained the disease, or told me to eat more omega-3 fatty acids, would I have been happy with my care? Who knows, but maybe?

In that appointment, part of the treatment I needed was sympathy, not just prescription drugs. I sought other, alternative treatments solely to find that emotional angle. How do I know? Because I used the steroid cream the dermatologist prescribed, three times a day, every day, until the lesions went away. But, you know, the cod liver oil may have helped too.