Combat Psoriasis! – Strengthen Your Immune System

Most people believe that psoriasis is a skin condition. However, psoriasis is in fact an inflammatory disease of the immune system. In patients with psoriasis, certain immune cells are activated. These cells overproduce inflammatory proteins, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which cause skin cells to grow too quickly. The skin cells build up causing raised red patches, often with silvery scales known as plaques.Inflammation is thought of as the body’s normal response to injury or infection. However, if the response is too severe or prolonged, then this may become a problem in itself. Inflammation responses are generally regulated by mechanisms in our immune system. If the immune system is working correctly to maintain internal equilibrium, the inflammatory responses will adjust to their normal physiological state. If the immune system misfires, it causes the excess inflammation and accelerated growth of cells.T-cells (white blood cells) are a type of immune system cell which are very important to the internal process of psoriasis. T-cells naturally patrol throughout the body looking for foreign substances called antigens. These antigens usually come from the outside in to our bodies as bacterium or virus. The invasion of these antigens activates the T-cells, which then initiates an immune response to neutralize the antigen.In psoriasis, it is not clear what happens, but the activated T-cells end up in the skin. This may be directly related to the genetic predisposition in people who develop psoriasis. The T-cell will recognize and target the antigen on the surface. The specific antigens responsible for psoriasis are not know, but some infections like strep throat are believed to trigger some cases of guttate psoriasis.If the T-cells are not activated, the immune response and cycle of psoriasis never begins. But if the T-cell does become activated, the immune system response is initiated which includes the release of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that the immune system uses to communicate messages. The message that cytokines tell the skin is to reproduce and grow at an accelerated rate. Cytokines also set off other reactions including inflammation, and activation of additional T-cells. The end result is a pile up of dead skin cells that have grown too fast and have moved to the surface of the skin as white scale.So what lies ahead in research knowing that psoriasis is driven by the immune system? Of course there are already the many drugs of choice which suppress the body’s immune system. The problem with many of these harsh drugs is that they can cause other health problems and unpleasant symptoms.Your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails. Is it possible to intervene in this process and make your immune system stronger? The idea of boosting your immune system is intriguing. But one must realize that the immune system is precisely that – a system. To function properly it requires a balance and harmony. There is still much research to be done on the complexities and interconnections of the immune response.But what if it was possible to intervene in this process and make your immune system stronger? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes toward reaching that goal of balance and harmony in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?Many researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, herbal supplements, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. Some very interesting preliminary results are emerging as researchers still try to understand how the immune system works and how to interpret measurements of the immune function.But meanwhile, why not adopt some healthy-living strategies and choose a healthy lifestyle.As we have discussed in some of our other articles, following general good health habits are the single best steps you can take toward keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:• If you smoke, quit!• Improve your diet. Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.• Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight and control your blood pressure• Manage your stress.• Drink alcohol only in moderation.• Get 7-8 hours of adequate sleep per day.• Take steps to avoid infection such preventing cuts and wounds and washing your hands frequently. • Make regular appointments to have medical screening tests for people in your age group and risk category.In order for your immune system warriors to win the fight, you need good, regular nourishment. If you are one of the many people who do not like vegetables, and you think your diet is not providing all of the nutrients you need then you should consider taking a multiple daily vitamin.Recommended Vitamins and minerals that have been studied to have a positive effect on the immune system are:• Vitamin A• Vitamin B2• Vitamin B6• Vitamin C• Vitamin D• Vitamin E• Zinc• SeleniumBesides our regular intake of healthy foods and vitamins, we should not discount the benefits of herbal preparations. Even though further studies are needed to confirm or disprove the beneficial results that herbal supplements have on the immune system, who is to say that what Grandma took for years and to protects her from illness doesn’t work?Some of the supplements that researchers believe are worth more attention are:Probiotics. These are good bacteria that can safely reside in your digestive system. There are some researchers, including some at Harvard Medical School, that are finding evidence of a relationship between this “good” bacteria and the immune system. For instance, it is now known that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of certain T cells.When you go shopping, you will find probiotics listed on the labels of dairy products, drinks, cereals, energy bars, and other foods. However, one must be careful not to think that by taking excessive amounts of good bacteria that it will help the immune system even more. Researchers are still trying to find the direct connection between taking these products and improving immune function. It has not been shown whether taking probiotics will replenish the good bacteria that get knocked out along with “bad” bacteria when you take antibiotics.Echinacea. This is one of the most well-known herbal supplements used as an “immune stimulant,” and advertised to be able to prevent or limit the severity of colds. However, it is recommended by most experts not to take echinacea on a long-term basis to prevent colds.Just be aware that Echinacea can also cause potential side effects for persons with ragweed allergies including cases of anaphylactic shock. Injected echinacea in particular has caused severe reactions.Garlic. Researchers have seen garlic work against bacteria, viruses, and fungi in laboratory tests. A 2006 research studied the rates for certain cancers and garlic and onion consumption in southern European populations and found an association between the frequency of use of garlic and onions and a lower risk of some common cancers. However, until more is known, it is too early to recommend garlic as a way of treating or preventing infections or controlling cancer.Ginseng. This herbal supplement is known for its ability to stimulate the immune function. It is still unclear how the root of the ginseng plant works. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) considers there have not been sufficient high quality large studies performed to support the claims. They are currently involved in supporting research to understand Asian ginseng more fully.Finally, we will discuss the most important relationship between stress and the immune system. We know stress has a negative effect on our minds and bodies and is a main trigger for psoriasis and other diseases. However, stress is different for everyone and is difficult to define. What may be a stressful situation for one person is not for another.Therefore, most scientists studying the relationship of stress and immune function do not study a sudden, short-lived stressor. They study frequent and more constant stressors known as chronic stress. These stressors can be caused by relationships with family, friends, co-workers or sustained challenges at work.Many researchers have reported that stressful situations can reduce various aspects of the cellular immune response. Reports suggest that psychological stress affects the immune system by disrupting communication between the nervous system, the endocrine (hormonal) system, and the immune system. These three systems must work in close coordination and “talk” to one another using natural chemical messages.Some research teams speculate that long-term chronic stress releases a long-term trickle of stress hormones called glucocorticoids. These hormones affect the thymus, where lymphocytes are produced, and inhibit the production of cytokines and interleukins, which stimulate and coordinate white blood cell activity.Managing your stress is extremely vital for the proper function of your immune system in order for it to combat your psoriasis and other diseases. So be sure to take time to learn and educate yourself on stress management techniques and you may want to join some forums to learn from others.Following sections summarize some of the most active areas of research into these topics. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand