If you’re one of the 7.5 million Americans who suffers from the skin disease psoriasis, be advised: You’re more likely to have higher levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that may contribute to obesity and other metabolic abnormalities.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that generally appears as patches of raised, red skin, covered by a flaky, white buildup of dead skin cells, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. These patches, known as “plaques,” most often appear on the scalp, knees, elbows and torso, and they can be itchy and painful. While psoriasis can strike people of any age, most sufferers develop the condition between the ages of 15 and 25. Approximately 10% to 30% percent of psoriasis patients develop psoriatic arthritis.

“Associations among psoriasis, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome have been reported,” researchers write in a study published this month in the Archives of Dermatology. “Although the underlying mechanisms may be complex, the ‘obesity of psoriasis’ is thought to be a key link to cardiovascular diseases, including diabetes mellitus, stroke, heart disease, hypertension and myocardial infarction [heart attack].”

Yi-Ju Chen, MD, of the Taichung Veterans General Hospital and National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, and colleagues found that psoriasis patients were more likely to present with obesity, hypertension and elevated blood glucose levels or diabetes. High blood levels of leptin were found more often in females, the obese and those with high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome or psoriasis.

“After adjustment for sex, body mass index and conventional cardiovascular risk factors (including hypertension and metabolic syndrome), psoriasis was independently associated in our study with hyperleptinemia [high leptin levels],” the authors write. “In addition, hyperleptinemia in psoriasis is associated with higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This novel finding links the chronic inflammation status of psoriasis with metabolic disturbances.”

Losing weight has been reported to significantly decrease leptin levels and reduce the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and adverse cardiovascular diseases, the authors conclude.

“Body weight loss could potentially become part of the general treatment of psoriasis, especially in patients with obesity,” they write.

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Photo courtesy of the National Psoriasis Foundation