Alcohol and Skin Disorders

With a Focus on Psoriasis

Natalia Kazakevich, MD; Megan N. Moody, MD, MPH; Jennifer M. Landau, BS; Leonard H. Goldberg, MD


Skin Therapy Letter. 2011;16(4) 

In This Article

The Role of Alcohol in the Pathogenesis of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common chronic inflammatory autoimmune condition, affecting approximately 2% of the population in North America.[3] It is characterized by epidermal hyperproliferation3,7 and a multifactorial etiology. A complex interplay between genetics and extrinsic factors, including the environment, trauma, infection, and social behaviors appear to be influential on the origin and clinical course of the disease.[3,8–11]

Extensive evidence demonstrates a link between excessive alcohol consumption and psoriasis.[3,4,11,12] The amount of alcohol consumed and the type of alcoholic beverage have both been shown to confer the most risk for development and/or exacerbation of plaque psoriasis.[12] A recent prospective study following 82,869 women for 14 years showed that consumption of more then 2.3 alcoholic beverages per week was a significant risk factor for new onset psoriasis.12 Furthermore, the same study found that consuming non-light beer appears to be an independent risk factor for developing psoriasis in females.[12] Similarly, in males, excess alcohol consumption (at levels higher then 100g/day) appears to be a risk factor for the development and increased activity of psoriasis.[11,13] Moreover, the misuse of alcohol in patients with psoriasis has been shown to be associated with decreased response to treatment.[2,13,14] Interestingly, the cutaneous distribution of psoriasis in heavy drinkers tends to be predominantly acral, involving the dorsum of the hands and digits, resembling that seen in immunocompromised patients, such as those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.[2,4] This distribution highlights the potential role of alcohol induced immunosuppression in the development of psoriasis.

The exact molecular mechanisms by which alcohol triggers or exacerbates psoriasis are yet to be fully elucidated. One theory is that alcohol misuse may induce immune dysfunction with resultant relative immunosuppression.[2,3] Alcohol may also enhance the production of inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle activators, such as cyclin D1 and Keratinocyte Growth Factor, which could lead to epidermal hyperproliferation.[2,7,15] Additionally, increased susceptibility to superficial infections commonly observed in alcoholics, such as those caused by Streptococcus and trauma, has also been postulated to have implications in the development of psoriasis.[7]

Although the environment and genetics may not be amenable to prevention or alteration, social behaviors such as alcohol consumption can be modified with appropriate counseling and pharmacological interventions, and therefore, appears to be a promising adjunct to the medical therapy of psoriasis.


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