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Immune System Stability

Our immune system is essential for our survival; keeping us healthy and able to withstand the germ filled environments we live in. Without it, our bodies would be over-run with various microorganism and we would essentially decompose.

Previously in this book, we took a look at how the main components of our immune system work. This, however, was only a small introduction and covered some of the basics. In reality, the immune system is much more complex. New findings are always being discovered, making it rather difficult to summarize the whole system in the context of this book.

What is most important, is understanding the connection of our immune systems to seborrheic dermatitis progression. By understanding how the two interact, we may discover methods of reducing seborrheic dermatitis by enhancing and regulating our immune systems.

AIDS and Seborrheic Dermatitis

The connection between seborrheic dermatitis and the immune system is most apparent in the case of AIDS patients. While seborrheic dermatitis rates for the general population are estimated at 3%, the estimates for AIDS patients are anywhere from 34% to 83% [1].

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a life threatening health condition brought about by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The HIV virus attacks the immune system by destroying T helper cells which are a major component of the immune system’s strongest weapons.

Interestingly, for HIV-positive patients, the severity of seborrheic dermatitis is closely related to the stage of HIV infection [2]. As the immune system degrades, the seborrheic dermatitis spreads and becomes more aggressive. And as a result, some researchers have speculated that the declining T cells may somehow have a direct role in the progression of seborrheic dermatitis.

Hard to single out T cells
AIDS also drains various other components of the immune system. So, it’s not necessarily the T helper cells that are directly responsible for defending our skin against seborrheic dermatitis. Perhaps it’s simply a gradual draining of resources from other components of the immune system (which try to compensate for the reducing T cell count) which fuels the seborrheic dermatitis progression.

Health Conditions with Increased Rates of Seborrheic Dermatitis

In addition to AIDS, various other conditions/circumstances which restrict immune function have been shown to increase the chances of seborrheic dermatitis. Some of the relevant findings in this area include:

  • Individuals receiving organ transplants undergo a phase of immune suppression following their operation. A study examining 308 renal transplant recipients recorder seborrheic dermatitis rates of almost 10 percent [3].
  • Alcohol abuse can cause inflammation of the pancreas, preventing regular hormone production and blood sugar regulation. This condition is called alcoholic pancreatitis and a study examining 54 affected individuals noted seborrheic dermatitis in 33.3% of them [4].
  • Numerous studies have demonstrated that mood depression has a strong negative effect on immune system stability and function. A study examining 150 patients with psychiatric disorders revealed rates of seborrheic dermatitis at just over 25% [5].

The main issue is that many of these studies are on fairly small groups of individuals and the underlying conditions are quite different in nature. Thus, making any specific conclusions is quite difficult. But the evidence does suggest seem to suggest a connection between the immune system and seborrheic dermatitis progression does exist.

Healthy Individuals and Seborrheic Dermatitis

In the case of AIDS affected individuals, it’s clear that the state of the immune system directly corresponds to the progression of seborrheic dermatitis. But what about in the case of healthy individuals who demonstrate healthy immune function. Could some sort of underlying immune system issues be playing a role?

In this case, the research findings are a little more mixed and there isn’t any clear cut evidence. Nonetheless, the following findings may be relevant:

  • One study found the number of regulatory T Cells was elevated in the majority (13 out of 19 people) of examined individuals with seborrheic dermatitis [6]. These immune cells are responsible for suppression of the immune system and play a role in regulation auto-immune disease.
  • Another study found this ratio within the normal range, but revealed heightened T Cell activity in seborrheic dermatitis affected individuals [7]. The study also discussed a potentially compromised innate immune response, leading to higher cellular immune system activity.
  • An earlier study also demonstrated a reduced innate immune response and heightened cellular immune system activity in seborrheic dermatitis affected individuals to malassezia [8]. In this study, though the number of malassezia present on the skin was similar (between health and affected individuals) the immune response was quite different.

In the end though, there isn’t any striking immune system issues which researchers have been able to isolate as being responsible for seborrheic dermatitis. In any case, our immune system is directly responsible for defending out body form the outside world. And when it comes to seborrheic dermatitis, the system is clearly failing and causing unfavorable symptoms.

Chronic stress and immunity, a viscous cycle
In addition to these findings, seborrheic dermatitis itself clearly has a significant negative effect on an individuals quality life [9] and may introduce a source of chronic stress. Perhaps this chronic stress negatively impacts immune function and further fuels disease progression.


This section examined the possible connection between seborrheic dermatitis and the immune system. Key points include:

  1. A properly functioning immune system is a critical component of our health and overall well-being
  2. Seborrheic dermatitis is most extremely common in AIDS, a condition which attacks the immune system
  3. In the case of AIDS, the severity of seborrheic dermatitis has been shown to be related to the stage of HIV infection
  4. Seborrheic dermatitis rates are also elevated for various other health conditions which have a direct effect on immune function
  5. Several research papers have noted immune system abnormalities in healthy individuals experiencing seborrheic dermatitis, but overall findings are mixed


  1. R G Valia "Etiopathogenesis of seborrheic dermatitis." Indian journal of dermatology, venereology and leprology 72.4 (2006): 253-5. PubMed
  2. M H Kaplan, N Sadick, N S McNutt, M Meltzer, M G Sarngadharan, S Pahwa "Dermatologic findings and manifestations of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 16.3 Pt 1 (1987): 485-506. PubMed
  3. A Lally, D Casabonne, R Newton, F Wojnarowska "Seborrheic dermatitis among Oxford renal transplant recipients." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV 24.5 (2010): 561-4. PubMed
  4. A Barba, W Piubello, I Vantini, S Caliari, R Cocchetto, P Vallaperta, L A Scuro, A Sapuppo, G Cavallini "Skin lesions in chronic alcoholic pancreatitis." Dermatologica 164.5 (1982): 322-6. PubMed
  5. G Maietta, P Fornaro, F Rongioletti, A Rebora "Patients with mood depression have a high prevalence of seborrhoeic dermatitis." Acta dermato-venereologica 70.5 (1991): 432-4. PubMed
  6. M Kieffer, I M Bergbrant, J Faergemann, G B Jemec, V Ottevanger, P Stahl Skov, E Svejgaard "Immune reactions to Pityrosporum ovale in adult patients with atopic and seborrheic dermatitis." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 22.5 Pt 1 (1990): 739-42. PubMed
  7. H R Ashbee, E Ingham, K T Holland, W J Cunliffe "Cell-mediated immune responses to Malassezia furfur serovars A, B and C in patients with pityriasis versicolor, seborrheic dermatitis and controls." Experimental dermatology 3.3 (1994): 106-12. PubMed
  8. I M Bergbrant, S Johansson, D Robbins, A Scheynius, J Faergemann, T Sufderstrufm "An immunological study in patients with seborrhoeic dermatitis." Clinical and experimental dermatology 16.5 (1992): 331-8. PubMed
  9. Robert A Schwartz, Christopher A Janusz, Camila K Janniger "Seborrheic dermatitis: an overview." American family physician 74.1 (2006): 125-30. PubMed
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About Michael Anders

After being affected by seborrheic dermatitis, I have made it my goal to gather and organize all the information that has helped me in my journey.

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