Years ago, when I had formed a support group for people living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and other related disorders, I started to hear more about Sjogren’s Syndrome. I learned that It often occurs alongside other conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Sjogren’s Syndrome, also called sicca, is a chronic, automimmune inflammatory disease in which the moisture-producing glands are damaged significantly and so reduces the quality and quantity of saliva and tears. Imagine what it would feel like if you could not get rid of the sand in your eyes and having a feeling of cotton in your mouth making it difficult to speak or swallow? Severe dental decay can also occur.
Fibromyalgia often found with Sjogren’s
According to some studies, Fibromyalgia has been found in 44 to 55% of patients with primary Sjogrens Syndrome, with fatigue being the main symptom. Along with the fatigue, other symptoms such as painful inflammation of the joints, muscles, and nerves are also presented. In addition, other areas, such as the vagina and skin can be abnormally dry.
“Frederick Vivino, M.D., a rheumatologist and director of the University of Pennsylvania Sjogran’s Clinic in Philadelphia say, “People think of saliva as a trivial substance and tend to take it for granted, but when it is absent, it can have some life-altering consequences.”.
Sjogren’s also may cause dysfunction of other organs, affecting the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, and pancreas. Though it is a rare complication, patients may also have a higher risk of lymphoma.
Through subjective and objective measures, which include patient interviews, blood work, a lip biopsy and tests that determine salivary and tear function, doctors are able to determine if patients meet four of six criteria to make a diagnosis of Sjogran’s.
The exact cause of Sjogren’s is unknown but it is believed that people inherit genetic tendencies to develop an autoimmune disease and that environmental triggers, such as a virus, bacteria, or even chemical exposure could start the disease process. Treatments are designed to manage the symptoms, not address the underlying cause.
Joseph Teitelbaum, MD uses the SHINE protocol—Sleep, Hormones, Infections, Nutrition and Exercise. SHINE targets Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia and has shown 90% improvement in quality of life. He says, “When the pain is widespread and insomnia is present, I find that a secondary fibromyalgia is usually also present and treating this can result in dramatic improvement.”
A Natural Approach to Treatment
Although artificial tears and saliva are helpful, natural treatments can also stimulate your natural lubrication. Here is a recipe Dr. Teitelbaum recommends:
- Fish Oil: Eat a portion of salmon or tuna daily or take fish-oil supplements. (The blue-green algae is what I choose, since it is a natural food and what do fish eat?) Be cautious when supplementing with fish oil capsules.
- Sea Buckthorn Oil (2000 mg. a day). This oil is from the berries of a cold weather shrub and is a special essential fatty acid called omega-7. It is very helpful at improving lubrication throughout the body, including tears, saliva, bowel protection and vaginal dryness.
- Evening Primrose Oil: In a study, this oil, combined with vitamin B6 and C showed 76% improvement in the dry eye symptom.
Other clinical treatments that are helpful for dry eyes and mouth include:
- B-complex vitamin (50 mg daily) plus magnesium (200 mg. daily)
***I have found it is simpler for me to use the blue-green algae instead of trying to remember to take an assortment of vitamin pills.
- Suck on SUGAR-FREE lemon drops or drink SUGAR-FREE lemonade. Look for natural sugar substitutes. I have learned to enjoy my lemon water made without any sweetener. Lemon water is also a liver cleanser, using just 1/2 of a lemon in a glass of pure water. Avoiding sugar is critical as saliva is a major protection against cavities. Lemon stimulates saliva production.
- Suck on sugar-free chewing gum. This actually helps protect against cavities but most importantly stimulates bowel function which is decreased in Sjogren’s.
More Treatment Options
Dr. Catherine Burt Driver, MD writes, “Dryness of the eyes can be helped by artificial tears, using eye-lubricant ointments at night and minimizing hair dryers.
An opthalmologist can plug the tear duct closed so tears cover the eye longer. Cyclosporine eyedrops (Restasis) are approved medicated eyedrops that can reduce the inflammation of the tear glands, thereby improving their function.
Dietary addition of flaxseed oil may also benefit eye dryness. Vitamin D supplementation may be beneficial, especially in those who have insufficient blood levels.”
She suggests to drink plenty of water for dry mouth, humidifying air, and good dental care to avoid dental decay. She also advises sucking on sugarless lemon drops or glycerin swabs.
There is also prescription medications to stimulate the salivary glands and over-the-counter preparations such as Biotene, toothpastes, gum, and lozenges for dry mouth. Vitamin E oil has been used with some success. Besides diligent dental care, moist warm compresses can be massaged onto the parotid glands to help relieve swelling and pain.
Medications such as Plaquenil has been helpful for some manifestations of Sjogrn’s Syndrome. Serious complications, such as vasculitis, may require immune-suppression medications, such as prednisone.
You may also want to check for food allerigies as wheat allergy is postive in 14.7% of those with Sjogren’s vs. only 1% of the general population.
Oil Pulling for Dental Care
Have you heard of oil pulling? Because I love coconut oil so much, I also have started using coconut oil in my nighttime routine. Studies all show that oils, such as coconut oil, can reduce plaque if included in a regular oral healthcare program. Oil pulling has a very powerful detoxifying effect. Toxins are pulled from the body the very first time you try it!
Oil pulling is incredibly effective in brightening teeth, healing gums,preventing bad breath, quenching inflammation, and healing oral infections. It is also effective in treating many systemic conditions throughout the body.
You can start by rinsing your mouth with approximately one tablespoon of oil for 15–20 minutes on an empty stomach (before eating/drinking) then spit it out and rinse the teeth, gums, tongue (softly) and palate thoroughly.
Truthfully, I do not get to 20 minutes, it’s such a long time, but I do try to increase my time.
Cold pressed (raw) oil is critical to the effectiveness. Sesame oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil are the most recommended oils. I, personally, like the taste of coconut oil. I even use it for cooking.
Oil pulling is usually recommended to be done first thing in the morning, followed by rinsing the mouth with (sea salt) salt water and then brushing the teeth in a normal, morning routine. Saltwater (saline) nasal sprays can also help dryness in the passages of the nose.
As with all treatments, find out a schedule that works for you. I try to do the oil-pulling at bedtime or when I have the time. I still have not worked up to 20 minutes!
***NOTE: do not spit out the oil in your sink, as it can block up pipes over time. Use a disposable cup or waste basket.
Restoring Sleep is Priority
When a patient arrives at the doctor’s office with widespread pain and fatigue with a diagnosis of Sjogren’s, they usually also have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia. As I have written in my earlier posts, optimizing sleep is the first priority.
“Sleep is a quiescent period where the cells are doing a lot of repairing. Your hormones act differently when you’re asleep, and your immune system as well,” says Lisa Shives, MD, DABSM, founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Chicago. “If your immune system is out of whack, you can’t fight off illness — and I would venture to say that you can’t repair your cells very well, either.”
Aiding the Immune System
We also assist the immune system by supplying our body with the fuel it needs, through natural whole-food nutrition. The digestive system is our biggest immune system organ.and If the digestive system isn’t healthy then you aren’t healthy. An abnormal or damaged gut flora is the main cause of all disease today. Supplementing with probiotics and digestive enzymes that assist in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, is part of a simple wellness program.
Natural Pain Relief
For pain relief, I also choose a natural supplement. I was taking an NSAID, ibuprofen, as needed but besides the gastro-intestinal side effects, I just read it can also affect hearing. I did not want to risk losing any of my hearing and did not want to deal with any digestive issues. I already have tinnitus and I do value my exceptionally sharp hearing—one of the benefits of living with fibromyalgia.
The Omega 3’s found in the afa blue-green algae have been found to control pain as well as ibuprofen without the side effects. The study had concluded, “Our results mirror other controlled studies that compared ibuprofen and omega-3 EFAs demonstrating equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. Omega-3 EFA fish oil appears to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain in this selective group.”
No Cure for Sjogren’s Syndrome
There is no cure for Sjogren’s. Treatment is directed toward the particular areas of the body that are involved and prevention of complications such as infection. I tried to include different approaches used by the medical profession, as I believe in the integrative approach. Always let your doctor know what medications and supplements you are using. Together your team can come up with your own personal treatment plan.
For more information about Sjogren’s Syndrome, you can visit www.sjogrens.org.
Photo credit: http://www.sjogrenssyndromesupport.org/