Flaxseed Oil Alleviates Psoriasis and Lichen Planus

Two months ago I wrote that camelina oil might be a good source of omega-3. A few days ago, a reader named Evelyn Majidi commented as follows:

Based on this suggestion, I ordered camelina oil from the good farmers in Saskatchewan and began taking it using the same dose (3T/day) that I had been taking of flaxseed oil for relief of psoriasis and lichen planus. Unfortunately, the slow but sure improvement I had been experiencing over the past year with flaxseed oil stopped immediately and after a week my skin and mouth began to deteriorate. After using about 1/4 of a bottle of the new oil I went back to flaxseed and am delighted to report that I am [again] having good results with it. Since both of my conditions wax and wane without any reason identified by medical science I cannot state that it was simply the flaxseed oil that has led to this success. Based on my experience, however, I intend to continue taking the oil regularly and I recommend that others with psoriasis or lichen planus try it. For me, two tablespoons a day were not enough, I needed three tablespoons of the oil to see a change. I don’t think it advisable to take capsules, you’d need to take too many to equal 3T of oil.[emphasis added]

Psoriasis is a skin disease that usually involves “thick, red skin with flaky, silver-white patches called scales”. Lichen planus is “an itchy rash on the skin or in the mouth”. To give some idea of how common they are, psoriasis has 36 million Google hits; lichen planus 1-2 million. (“Heart disease” has 64 million.)

Eveyln’s experience provides four pieces of evidence that suggest flaxseed oil (FSO) improved her psoriasis and lichen planus:

  1. When she started taking FSO at 3 T/day, they started improving. They did not improve with 2 T/day.
  2. Over the first year of FSO, she saw steady improvement in both in place of the usual up and down.
  3. When she replaced FSO with another oil, which she hoped would be better, the results were the opposite of what she wanted: The improvement stopped and the two conditions got worse.
  4. When she switched back to FSO, the improvement resumed.

I can think of no plausible alternative to the conclusion that FSO helped. There is plenty of other evidence that supports this conclusion: the evidence that omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, FSO is high in omega-3, most of us don’t get enough omega-3, and so on, including my own experience. You could write a book about the evidence that supports it. (Evelyn tried flaxseed oil because of reports on this blog that it improved/cured bad gums.)

In any case, the conclusion that FSO reduces psoriasis and lichen planus is new, in the sense that FSO (or another source of omega-3) is not a popular treatment for either condition. Here are about 16 treatments for psoriasis, including topical corticosteroids. None includes omega-3. Here are eight “lifestyle and home remedies” for psoriasis, including “take daily baths” (seriously, Mayo Clinic Staff?). None includes omega-3. After going through about forty-odd treatments, I found a reference to fish oil: “Other research has suggested that taking oral fish oil supplements containing 1.8 to 3.6 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) a day may bring improvement.”

Same thing for lichen planus. FSO is not a popular treatment.

If you take flaxseed oil or other omega-3 source to treat psoriasis or lichen planus, I hope you will let me know what happens.

17 Replies to “Flaxseed Oil Alleviates Psoriasis and Lichen Planus”

  1. I grew up as a kid with psoriasis and eczema and after a couple of topical steroid treatments my mom hoped to control my symptoms better. Since I can remember she would boil up the flax seeds to create that ‘gel’ was used as a kind of lotion after showering (also makes a great hair gel!)

    I wonder if one works better than the other? The benefit to my way is that it was instantly soothing to any of the itchy or redness symptoms

  2. Not psoriasis or lichen planus, but drinking FSO cured a stubborn patch of eczema on my leg that had tormented me for several years. Steroid ointments worked to some extent to relieve the itching, but the underlying condition persisted until I discovered FSO.

  3. T-nation.com has an article titled flax oil vs fish oil which critizises flaxseed oils omega 3 absorbability but praises it for its abilty to lower excess estrogen levels in men

  4. Hey Seth,

    I think flax oil works due to its content of unprocessed linoleic acid (O-6), not the alpha-linolenic acid (O-3).

    Flax oil is 56-71% ALA and 12-18% LA and so my guess is that 2T of flax does not provide enough LA to produce therapeutic results. This is the reason why 2T has not effect, whereas 3T does.

    Here is a link (full free article) that delineates the composition of normal, healthy skin:

    http://www.ajcn.org/content/71/1/361S.full

    It is stated in the article that O-3 fatty acids are NOT present in normal skin. Rather, the preponderance of skin fatty acids are LA as well as its derivatives, arachidonic acid and GLA.

    I’ve experimented with cold-pressed pumpkin seed oil and sesame oil, which are rich in LA, with very good results.

    Great blog,

    Andrew

  5. The red bumps on the back of my arm (chicken skin?) has nearly gone away and skin in general feels softer and smoother.

    I thought it would help with my acne after reading that paper, but I haven’t noticed much change.

    I have found that the only thing that does make my acne disappear is eating a VLC, calorie-restricted, plain diet and maintaining low body fat. Works EVERY time for me.

    1. The red bumps on the back of my arm (chicken skin?) has nearly gone away and skin in general feels softer and smoother.

      Many people who did the Shangri-La Diet by drinking olive oil reported that their skin felt a lot softer and smoother. I noticed the same thing. Olive oil is low in omega-3 but high in other fats. So, yeah, the smooth skin part is not due to omega-3. But your overall point that psoriasis and lichen planus improvements are not due to omega-3 but other fats is contradicted by the bad results she got with a different oil.

  6. according to wiki the fatty acid composition of camelina oil is:

    ALA: 35-45%
    LA: 15-20%

    again, flax oil is:

    ALA: 56-71%
    LA: 12-18%.

    Camelina oil is still quite high in ALA, nearly as high as that found in flax, and higher than most other oils available. As far as I’m concerned, their fatty acid contents are the same.

    Did you get a change to read the article? Psoriasis, as I understand, is an inflammation based condition characterized by over-proliferation of cells in the skin that leads to scaly plaquing. The metabolites of LA have anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory activities. LA is also what is physiologically found in skin – not ALA.

    Could be worth a try to try a cold pressed oil with more LA. I would be interested to see if it produces faster improvements.

    1. Camelina oil is still quite high in ALA, nearly as high as that found in flax, and higher than most other oils available. As far as I’m concerned, their fatty acid contents are the same.

      Then why did they produce such different results? That difference in results is why this is an interesting story. Perhaps you are right, but your idea doesn’t even explain the available facts. Yeah, I read the article. Keep in mind: 1. Omega-3 is fragile. The camelina oil may have been treated in some way (e.g., too high temperature) that destroyed its omega-3. 2. Omega-3 is much rarer than omega-6. You are much more likely to get too little omega-3 than too little omega-6. 3. Omega-3 is far more anti-inflammatory than omega-6.

  7. If Omega-3 is much rarer in nature, does it make sense to take massive doses of it in a ratio that is nearly impossible to get eating a natural diet?

    What about land dwelling people in the past that did not have access to sea foods- the richest, most concentrated sources of O-3? Not everyone had access to seafoods.

    O-3 is not “far more anti-inflammatory than O-6.” They are both important and O-6 metabolites such as prostaglandin E1 and prostaglandin D2 are very anti-inflammatory. The body produces prostaglandins as needed and they are produced in a balance to regulate blood pressure, inflammation, platelet aggregation, etc.

    If you’re using the argument that O-3 is fragile, why can’t you say the same for O-6? Yeah, LA has 2 double bonds and O-3 has 3, but they are both polyunsaturated and therefore both susceptible to oxidation/rancidity.

    What is more, the process of producing O-6 rich vegetable oils is very intensive and includes very high heat, bleaching, de-odorizing, etc. So whatever O-6 most people are getting is probably damaged.

    Again, I’m saying its the O-6, not the O-3. Don’t know the company the patient got her camelina oil from but maybe its something unique about that product itself. Don’t know the history of its use as an edible oil.

    1. Andrew, thanks for the additional information. I only have time to address one point:

      If Omega-3 is much rarer in nature, does it make sense to take massive doses of it in a ratio that is nearly impossible to get eating a natural diet?

      “Much rarer in nature”? What makes you think that? The usual claim is that long ago people got roughly equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 in their diet.

      In this paper

      http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/precious-yet-perilous

      Chris Masterjohn points out that scaly skin (in rats) is a sign of omega-6 deficiency. Which supports your argument.

  8. I’ll just add one more thing Seth.

    O-3 is not only limited in the skin, but there is not much of it in other tissues as well – with the exception of the brain and nervous tissue of course.

    Even in the brain, eyes, and nervous tissue, though, the turnover rate of fatty acids in their phospholipids and triglycerides is extremely slow and most of the O-3 fatty acids are of the longer and desaturated kinds (i.e. DHA, EPA).

    I just thought I’d say that because it concerns me when people start taking large amounts of an oil, long term, that does not have a long history of consistent use and without a physiological basis.

    “Much rarer in nature”? What makes you think that? The usual claim is that long ago people got roughly equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 in their diet.

    Look up the fatty acid profiles of various foods (nutritiondata.com). With the exception of seafood, nearly all foods are predominantly O-6 – even plant foods.
    And the reason why fish need long chain, super unsaturated fatty acid chains is because they live deep in the cold waters, where these lipids are needed.

  9. Hi Seth,

    I used to have red scaly bumps on my arms (keratosis pilaris). It cleared up with flaxseed oil too. In bed on phone, so no linkage… However, it seems that it’s a fatty acid deficiency that causes KP. I take CLO [cod liver oil] now rather than FSO and the KP is still under control. But, if I stop taking it, it comes back.

    It seems that the skin disorders are due to either fatty acid deficiency or fat soluble vitamin deficiency….

    And, I have an autoimmune skin disorder (vulval lichen sclerosus) which is in remission too – this happened after the birth of my son, but FSO didn’t really make a difference with that one.

  10. I am a life long suffer of psoriasis and also a big consumer of many types of oils including canelina, olive, macadamia, and flax seed oil for many years as soon as these types of oils became availabale to me. I don’t see a connection with psoriasis consumming these oils orally and never experimented them topically. Aloe Vera seems to cause a flare?. My psoriasis overal goes into remission completly and flares up acutely. My psoriasis usually flares up with stress. Exercise helps reduce the flares in general. Calorie restriction also helps. If I get psoriasis on the bottom of my feet I find sleeping with socks helps ALOT.

  11. I’ve had psoriasis for 12 years, tried absolutely every alternative method I can think of – except Flax See Oil. Even though I’ve read about the benefits before, never tried it until a week ago.

    Results – first time in 12 years for patches to become less inflamed and some of them look to be contracting.

    I am taking 3 tablets a day, 1,000mg each. I have also combined this with Vitamin D3 (first attempt ever), uncertain if they are working together.

Comments are closed.