Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an autoimmune condition that causes joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. Often it occurs in people with psoriasis, an inflammatory autoimmune condition that affects the skin. Many people with PsA have high levels of cytokines, which are small proteins that play a role in immunity and inflammation.

Lowering cytokine levels can help enhance immunity and reduce inflammation, which may slow the progression of PsA and treat symptoms. You can do this by maintaining a lifestyle that promotes health benefits and taking cytokine inhibitor medications.

Read on to learn more about cytokines and their role in inflammation and psoriatic arthritis.

Cytokines are small signaling proteins that influence blood cell growth and cells related to immunity and inflammation. Your immune cells release cytokines, which act as inflammatory messengers and stimulate the immune system to fight diseases and infections. They can relay messages that:

  • help to repair damaged tissues
  • cause healthy cells to live longer
  • destroy abnormal cells

The overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines may lead to a cytokine storm, which is an exaggerated immune response that causes inflammation and overactive immune cells. Cytokine storms can have several causes, including immunotherapy, infections, and autoimmune conditions.

Inflammation helps your body defend itself against bacteria, viruses, and toxins. However, releasing too many inflammatory cytokines or continuing the inflammatory response after the healing process is complete can harm your health.

Inflammatory cytokines can cause the immune system to attack itself, destroying healthy cells and tissue. This may lead to symptoms or conditions such as:

People with chronic inflammatory autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and PsA often have high levels of inflammatory cytokines.

According to research from 2017, cytokine imbalances may play a role in causing psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, which are both inflammatory autoimmune conditions. These findings may help scientists learn more about the genetic similarities of these two conditions and develop treatments for both.

Research has also shown that cytokines may play a part in the four “pathologic events” (or causes) in psoriatic disease, which are:

  • joint erosion
  • formation of pannus (or extra growth) in the joint
  • new bone growth
  • psoriatic plaque

Living with psoriatic arthritis (PsA)

Living with PsA can be challenging. If you want to find psoriatic arthritis support, you may want to connect to a support group or check out some mental health resources. Ask your doctor about support groups or other resources near you.

The National Psoriasis Foundation provides PsA information and connects you to an online community.

The Arthritis Foundation also provides Live Yes! Connect Groups, which allow you to join in-person and online groups.

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Since high levels of inflammatory cytokines are often linked to PsA, lowering your cytokine levels may help to alleviate symptoms. Some biologic medications may target or block specific cytokines to treat the condition or prevent its progression.

According to 2018 research, some biologic and small-molecular drugs that target particular cytokines and signaling pathways may help delay disease development and enhance the quality of life in people with PsA.

However, researchers found that more than 40 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis respond only partially or do not respond at all to these treatments.

Other research from 2021 points to the effectiveness of cytokine inhibitors to treat PsA. These medications block specific cytokine pathways linked to autoimmune inflammation, which may help reduce gut, skin, and joint inflammation.

To lower cytokines naturally, you must maintain a nutritious diet and health-promoting lifestyle to help boost immunity and minimize stress and inflammation.

It’s important to try to exercise for at least 150 minutes per week and get lots of quality sleep and rest. Engaging in calming activities like having a massage, spending time in nature, and practicing deep breathing can also be beneficial.

Following a nutrient-rich, balanced diet can help reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine production. Here are some steps you can take to maximize your dietary benefits:

  • Include plenty of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Some plant-based foods contain polyphenols, which may help prevent the release of inflammatory cytokines.
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including grass-fed beef, cold-water fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
  • Drink beverages that support your health such as green tea, which contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a flavonoid that may help to prevent inflammation and lower cytokine production.
  • Include anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, turmeric, and garlic.

Reduce foods that can promote inflammation, including:

Always talk with your doctor about changes to your diet

Talk with your doctor or another healthcare professional before making changes to your diet to ensure any changes that you may be considering are safe and fit in with your current treatment plan, which may include medications.

Your doctor can also make additional suggestions for your unique situation or recommend a dietitian or nutritionist to help.

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Cytokines are small chemical messengers that play a role in the activation of inflammation and the immune response.

High levels of inflammatory cytokines are often linked to autoimmune conditions, including PsA, which causes joint pain, swelling, and inflammation.

Researchers are learning more about biologic drugs that are designed to block the production of inflammatory cytokines, a process that may help alleviate symptoms of PsA and other conditions.

You can reduce your cytokine levels by eating a diet that supports your healthy, reducing stress, and exercising regularly.