Can I Stop My Kids From Getting Psoriasis?
There's no medical way to prevent psoriasis, but one researcher believes that teaching children to eat healthy and exercise could be key.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Because psoriasis is a hereditary condition, when you're a parent with psoriasis, you worry about your children inheriting it along with other traits like your height, hair and eye color, and skin type. You might also wonder if there's anything you can do to stop them from developing the red, itchy, raised lesions that are typical of plaque psoriasis, the most common type of the disease. While there's no way you can keep from passing on to your children the genes that cause psoriasis — at least not yet — teaching your kids good health habits may help.
Psoriasis and Genetics
Because of a link between psoriasis and genetics, psoriasis tends to run in families. Studies show that in 70 percent of identical twin sets (identical twins have the exact same genes), both have psoriasis. Researchers believe that the genes that cause psoriasis are passed on at conception — when the egg is fertilized by the sperm. Another possibility is that, when the egg is fertilized, genes are damaged, which cause the gene that triggers psoriasis to be activated.
If you or your spouse has psoriasis, your children have a 10 to 15 percent chance of getting psoriasis, too. If both parents have psoriasis, the risk increases to 50 to 75 percent.
Looked at the other way, only about a third of people with psoriasis have a family member with the autoimmune disease. And some people get psoriasis even though their parents don’t have it. Of note: People who get psoriasis before the age of 40 are more likely to have a family history of the skin condition than people who get psoriasis after 40.
Psoriasis and Kids: How a Healthy Lifestyle May Offer Protection
Amy Paller, MD, a pediatric dermatologist, professor, and chair of dermatology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, says there's something you can do to limit your children’s risk even if it's in their genes: Encourage your children to lead a healthy lifestyle. “Serve meals that are very healthy and avoid things that might encourage weight gain,” she says. Also, make sure your children are active. “The entire family needs to get exercise daily,” says Dr. Paller.
Paller draws these conclusions from research she led. Her study, published inJAMA Dermatology,looked at more than 600 children ages 5 to 17 from nine countries, about two-thirds of whom had psoriasis. Paller and her colleagues found that kids with psoriasis were four times as likely to be overweight as kids without the skin condition. In the United States, children with psoriasis were seven times as likely to be obese. And the more overweight the children, the more severe their psoriasis.
The results of the study lead Paller to believe that adopting a healthy lifestyle could help lower a child’s chances of developing psoriasis. “That’s an assumption we can make from the research,” she says. “We know that when the body overproduces inflammatory cytokines (proteins that send messages between cells), it can lead to obesity and psoriasis in adults."
Making a Family Effort
Paller strongly believes that a family approach to prevention is the key for psoriasis and kids. “Studies clearly have shown that it’s not effective for a doctor or a parent to say to a child, ‘You need to lose weight. You need to get more exercise,'" she says. "It’s far more effective if everyone in the family eats properly and follows a healthy lifestyle so no one gains weight.”
Though stress also cause psoriasis to flare in some adults, Paller isn’t sure how much of a factor stress plays in psoriasis in kids. “There are some kids who have stress at school," she says. "They may be in stressful classes or be under stress from being bullied." But whether stress-relieving activities could help prevent psoriasis flares in children is unknown. “I don’t really know how much a difference that could make,” she says.
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