Why There's More to Sjogren's Syndrome

The news has been buzzing about Venus Williams dropping out of the US Open because of Sjogren's syndrome. As the media has discussed, Sjogren's is an autoimmune disease that attacks the tear and salivary glands and generally results in widespread dryness in the body. In addition to dry eyes and mouth, this can result in difficulty breathing and problems with digestive and bowel function. As with most autoimmune illnesses, it is much more common in women than men. Treatment includes artificial tears and saliva and, in more severe cases, immune blockers such as prednisone, Plaquenil and even the cancer medication Methotrexate.


Unfortunately, key and very treatable parts of the process are often being missed.


I am not privy to Venus' medical records; so I will be largely offering what could be life-healing information for the over 4 million Americans who suffer with Sjogren's, or even simply dry eyes and mouth, and who are missing very simple treatments that are natural and could give them their lives back.


To start, it is critical to understand that Sjogren's often occurs alongside other conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. If all of the symptoms are blamed on the Sjogren's, then other treatable causes may be missed.


Widespread Pain Along With Fatigue and Insomnia: Think Fibromyalgia

Over the years, I have treated many women who had fibromyalgia secondary to their Sjogren's, and like most cases of fibromyalgia, they do very well with treatment using the "SHINE Protocol." SHINE stands for Sleep, Hormones, Infections, Nutrition and Exercise. The term represents a systematic treatment approach that targets chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Our published research [1,2] shows that the SHINE protocol results in an average of 90% improvement in quality of life.


Sjogren's certainly can cause pain and fatigue. But 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.


Treatment for Dry Eyes and Mouth

Dry eyes and mouth, called sicca syndrome, is common not only in Sjogren's but also in fibromyalgia and in normal life. Although artificial tears and saliva are helpful, natural treatments can also help stimulate your natural lubrication. Here's the recipe that I recommend:

Just as oils are lubricants in your car, they can also assist lubrication in your body. Three key oils are especially important for dry eyes.

  1. Fish oil. Eat a portion of salmon or tuna daily or take fish-oil supplements. [3]
  2. Sea Buckthorn Oil (2,000 mg a day). This special oil from the berries of a cold weather shrub is a special essential fatty acid called omega-7 (along with other helpful oils). This remarkable and little-known nutrient is very helpful at improving lubrication throughout the body – including tears, saliva, bowel protection and vaginal dryness. [4-6]
  3. Evening Primrose oil or borage oil (3,000 mg a day). In one study, combining this oil with vitamin B6 and C, 76% showed improvement in dry eye symptoms. [7]

Other treatments that are clinically helpful for dry eyes and mouth include:

  1. Take a B-complex vitamin (50 mg a day), plus magnesium (200 mg a day).
  2. Suck on sugar-free lemon drops or drink sugar-free lemonade (look for natural sugar substitutes). Avoiding sugar is critical as saliva is a major protection against cavities, and sucking on sweets when you have dry mouth is a good way to wind up with teeth that are full of holes. Lemon stimulates saliva production.
  3. Suck on sugar-free chewing gum. This actually helps protect against cavities but most importantly stimulates bowel function (called peristalsis) which is problematically decreased in Sjogren's. In fact, a study many years ago showed that simply having patients chew gum when they wake up after bowel surgery (surgery puts the bowels to sleep) resulted in restoring bowel function more quickly, shaving several days off the average hospital stay.
  4. Check for food allergies.
  5. Get your blood tested (anti-transglutaminase IgG and IgA levels) for a genetic wheat allergy. This is important as wheat allergy is positive in 14.7% of those with Sjogren's vs. only 1% of the general population.[8]

Treating the Pain and Fatigue

If the patient has widespread pain and fatigue in Sjogren's, there is a significant chance that they also have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or fibromyalgia. The diagnosis and treatment of lupus and RA are fairly straightforward. In earlier blogs, I've talked about effective CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine) treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, which, unlike Sjogren's, is usually associated with red, hot, swollen joints.


We have also talked earlier about treating fibromyalgia with SHINE, as the combination of insomnia, fatigue and widespread pain suggest that fibromyalgia is also present. Especially important here is that by optimizing sleep, which can be effectively done with herbal remedies, and giving nutritional support with a strong multivitamin powder, ribose 5 g twice a day, and other nutrients, people find their energy will usually skyrocket. Although arthritis medications such as ibuprofen are often used to treat the pain, natural remedies such as a special highly absorbable form of curcumin (from turmeric in Indian food), Boswellia (also known as frankincense), willow  bark and other natural therapies can be even more effective for pain relief – and much safer. [9,10]


I don't know whether Venus has these other associated conditions, but millions of women do!


Whether you have Sjogren's, simply have dry eyes or dry mouth, or a combination of these along with fatigue, widespread pain and insomnia (fibromyalgia), know that effective treatment is often available – naturally!

[1] "Effective Treatment of Severe Chronic Fatigue: A Report of a Series of 64 Patients," J.E. Teitelbaum and B. Bird, Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain 3 (4) (1995): 91–110.
[2] "Effective Treatment of CFS and FMS: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Study," J.E. Teitelbaum, B. Bird, R.M. Greenfield, et al., Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 8 (2) (2001).
[3] "Relation between dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and clinically diagnosed dry eye syndrome in women," Miljanovi B, Trivedi K, et al., (2005). Am J Clin Nutr 82 (4): 887–93. PMC 1360504. PMID 16210721
[4-6] "Oral Sea Buckthorn Oil Attenuates Tear Film Osmolarity and Symptoms in Individuals with Dry Eye," P.S. Larmo, R.L. Jarvinen, et al., Journal of Nutrition Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/jn.109.118901, presented at  the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Annual Meeting. San Diego, California. March 6-9, 2001.
[7] Prog Lipid Res 1981; 20;253-4
[8] Am J Gastroenterol 1999;94;1042-1046
[9] Phytomedicine 2001 Jul 8(4):241-251
[10] BMJ 2011;342:c7086 doi:10.1136/bmj.c7086



Added to Alternative Medicine, Illness Management on Fri 09/02/2011