Nitika Chopra on Improving a Lifetime of Psoriasis and Arthritis with Integrative Medicine

Talk show host, self-love expert, and chronic illness advocate Nitika Chopra was 10 years old when she was diagnosed with severe plaque psoriasis, and it drastically changed her life from that moment on. She endured decades battling the crippling plaque psoriasis symptoms, which sometimes became so bad that she couldn’t dress herself. Her healing journey spans two continents, several cities, and countless doctors, and today she is finally psoriasis symptom-free. She shared the story of that journey with WellBe. 
*This is a short clip from Nitika’s full interview— click here to watch the whole thing.*

Getting Diagnosed and Experiencing Plaque Psoriasis Symptoms

When Nitika Chopra was ten years old and living in Ohio, she found a tiny dry patch on her left arm. She’d never seen it before, and so she called in her mom, who thought it was eczema. Both of Chopra’s parents had eczema, and it was pretty controllable for both of them, so nobody gave the dry patch a second thought. 
But the symptoms persisted, and ultimately Chopra found herself at a dermatologist who ordered a biopsy in order to determine whether she had eczema or psoriasis. She remembers vividly the moment before she got her diagnosis, when her uncle — who was a doctor — saying that he really hoped it wasn’t psoriasis, because if it was, her life would be greatly affected by it. “There was such a heaviness to it,” Chopra recalls. “Before I even knew what was going on with my body.” 
Of course, it ended up being psoriasis, and it did greatly affect her life. Shortly after the diagnosis, the severe plaque psoriasis symptoms set in. She had psoriasis — which shows up as thick, scaly patches of skin — from the tip of her feet to the top of her head. It covered every inch of her body except for her face and hands, which she counted as a blessing because it allowed her to wear long sleeves and long pants and at least appear “normal.”
Another of the unpleasant severe plaque psoriasis symptoms is skin constantly flaking. She couldn’t wear dark colors, because her skin would flake off all over anything she wore. Eventually the plaque psoriasis symptoms caused her skin to become so chapped she could barely move. “You know when your lips chap and bleed in the winter and they are just so painful to even move? My whole body became like that, just from my skin,” she says. 

Seeking Conventional Treatment for Severe Plaque Psoriasis

Chopra tried a battery of treatments to alleviate her severe plaque psoriasis. She tried Chinese herbs, Reiki, homeopathy, Ayurveda — and nothing helped. Though she wanted to pursue a more holistic method of treatment, she became desperate for some relief, and ended up at a specialist who practiced conventional medicine at age 18.
The doctor gave her a medication, and she was elated to find it working. Her psoriasis began to go away, clearing up parts of her arm, parts of her legs, parts of her stomach. She figured it was only a matter of time until she was completely clear of her plaque psoriasis symptoms. But six months later, things changed.

Getting Another Diagnosis: Psoriatic Arthritis

After six months of improving Chopra’s plaque psoriasis symptoms, the medication stopped working. In fact, it completely reversed course. Her severe plaque psoriasis came back, and then one night, while sitting in her dorm room trying to open a bag of cereal, she couldn’t get her hands to work. She didn’t understand what was happening, and went to the doctor to find out.
When the doctor delivered a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, Chopra was distraught. “I had already experienced so much pain and suffering with my skin and to add something on top of it was really devastating,” she says. 
Psoriatic arthritis, if you don’t know, is a type of inflammatory arthritis that afflicts people with psoriasis. It manifests as joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, which can limit movement and cause a lot of discomfort.

Exploring (and Forcing) Holistic Methods to Heal Severe Plaque Psoriasis

Chopra couldn’t believe she had another ailment to deal with on top of her skin. She didn’t know what to do, and so flew to India where her parents were living at the time. There, she met an acupuncturist who said he could heal her, and she believed him. “I’d been told this many, many, many, many, many, many times before,” she says. “But I had a connection with this man.” Her parents encouraged her to stay and see if he could help her heal severe plaque psoriasis. They reasoned that she was in college and could take a semester off, and so she decided to stay for 6 months to work with the acupuncturist. 
“That was a really pivotal moment in my life, because I refer to it now as a moment where I really tried to force my healing,” says Chopra. “It was really, honestly, one of the more cruel things I have done to myself.” 
Chopra did acupuncture 6 days a week, twice a day, for 6 weeks. She had severe plaque psoriasis all over her body, which made the treatments incredibly painful. “If you imagine just a scar, a wound of any kind on your body that scabbed over, and sticking a needle in that 38 times. I did that to myself. I allowed people to do that to me for 6 months straight,” she remembers.
At the same time, she began adjusting her diet at the advice of her acupuncturist, something that American doctors had dismissed when she’d suggested it. “In America, no one ever talked about diet,” she says. “They would always say, ‘No, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.’” But with her acupuncturist’s guidance, she cut out nightshades and other inflammatory foods, continued with her acupuncture regimen, and achieved her goal. On her wedding day, there was no sign of her severe plaque psoriasis. 

Declining Back into Severe Plaque Psoriasis Symptoms

But the day after the wedding, proud of her accomplishment and exhausted from months of vigilance, Chopra ate Pizza Hut. She figured she was healed now, and so it couldn’t hurt to stray from her diet for one day. She didn’t overindulge, but the consequences were drastic. “Immediately, within 24 hours of having that pizza, my psoriasis started to break through my skin again and I started a 6-year journey of being the sickest I have ever been,” she says. 
Back in New York, where she and her husband moved after their wedding, Nitika couldn’t move without severe pain, and was unable to take the stairs or dress herself. She wept on a daily basis, and didn’t know how to make it better. She wasn’t on any medications, and wasn’t adjusting her diet at all because she didn’t know what to eat. Everything she’d tried had backfired. All she could do was try to focus her energy on positive thinking.

Seeing a Rheumatologist for Plaque Psoriasis Symptoms 

After five years of living in misery, Chopra saw a rheumatologist for the first time, and he gave her a major wake-up call. He told her that her bones were starting to become deformed, and that if she didn’t address the problem, she would be crippled by age 30. At the time, she was 25. 
Terrified, Nitika began taking medication, even though it went against her strong belief that our bodies have the power to heal themselves. “As someone in the wellness industry and self-help space,” she says, “sometimes it’s something I still have to work through shame around and know that my body needed medication at the time.”
Within two weeks of beginning the medication, she went from unable to walk to skipping down the street. She called her mom crying with happiness because she was able to wear a dress for the first time in years. Today, she’s still on the medication the rheumatologist gave her, and she’s made peace with it.  “My body needs medication right now and it might need it forever,” she says. “It might need it for the next 10 years. It may need it for the next 3, I don’t know. But it needs it right now.”

Plaque Psoriasis Symptoms Returning, and Seeking A New Path 

Even with the medication, though, plaque psoriasis symptoms seeped through. Her bones ached, she had patches of psoriasis on her legs, and a candida rash on her back. These new symptoms provoked her to ask questions, which she’d stopped doing for a long time because she was so exhausted of trying to heal. 
She went to her dermatologist, and he gave her an ointment for the candida rash, and the next day it was twice as bad. So she called a friend who was a health coach, feeling like there had to be some sort of natural remedy. The friend told her that while diet was the biggest thing, she could put coconut oil, which is a natural anti-fungal, on the rash. Chopra did, and the next day the rash was completely gone.
That experience made it clear to her that she’d been leaning on medication too much. She was ready to take ownership of her health in a way she hadn’t before. “I needed to find a doctor who was willing to get messy with me and was willing to do the work,” she says. “Because I have met a lot of doctors who I’m sure are wonderful people but they’re just not signing up for the messy, hard work that’s most chronic illnesses really demand.” 
So Chopra went to a functional medicine doctor, who did a ton of tests — hormones, gut, blood, you name it — and found that her system was totally out of whack; while a healthy gut has 30 different kinds of bacteria that help keep your digestion and immune system and everything else functioning, Nitika only had five. “Out of 1 to 100%, let’s say 100% as a totally healthy gut, I was a 3,” she says. 
She knew that the immune system and gut were deeply connected — that 90% of your immune system is actually in your gut — but she hadn’t been paying attention to her gut health. “I would tell people this stuff all the time, but I wasn’t actually doing it for myself,” she says. 
After her eye-opening visit, that’s when she really began to attack her severe plaque psoriasis with her diet. 

What Foods Trigger Psoriatic Arthritis and Severe Plaque Psoriasis? Changing Her Diet to Heal

Chopra knew that psoriasis, like many chronic illnesses, was linked to inflammation. She also knew that diet has a huge impact on inflammation. So given that knowledge, she did some reflecting to determine what foods trigger psoriatic arthritis and severe plaque psoriasis.
Reflecting back on the Pizza Hut incident, she could see exactly why it set off her plaque psoriasis symptoms: tomatoes are highly acidic, which causes a lot of heat in the body; cheese is a dairy product, which can skyrocket inflammation; and her body doesn’t process gluten well. In other words, pizza was a very unfortunate trifecta for her severe plaque psoriasis. She also knew from her experience that sugar could trigger inflammation, and felt lucky that it wasn’t something she craved.
Today, Chopra watches her sugar intake and doesn’t eat dairy, besides the occasional feta cheese on a salad or something like that, so that she doesn’t feel deprived. During her first year of working on her diet, however, she had absolutely no dairy or sugar. The only natural sugar she got was from berries — but only blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, as strawberries upset her system, as did most other fruit.  
As a self-described “junk food person,” she also found other little “hacks” that helped her feel like wasn’t depriving herself. For instance, she would get a really dark piece of chocolate, one with basically no sugar, and eat it with a little bit of cashew butter — voila! A peanut butter cup with no foods that trigger psoriatic arthritis!

Conclusion: Finding Balance and Finally Getting Rid of All Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms

These days, Chopra is healthier than she’s ever been. She’s still on medication — because she knows that without it she wouldn’t be able to walk — but her dietary changes allow her to be completely free of plaque psoriasis symptoms, which had never happened before. “I’m on the path to seeing how can I reduce my medication and hopefully one day, get off of it. I think it’s possible,” she says. “I just haven’t figured out what is the exact key that’s going to unlock all of that yet, but I am grateful and proud to be on the journey of that.”
Watch the full interview to hear more about how Nitika found her perfect diet, how she balances natural wellness with pharmaceuticals, and the power that positive thinking plays in it all. On the go? You can also listen to the interview on our podcast.

The recovery story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.
Have you ever managed a chronic disease with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes? Tell us about it in the comments below! 
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