Immune System Strikes Twice?

I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus some time ago. However, my physician never explained what to expect or what I can do to help keep these disorders from progressing. Any suggestions?

– June 27, 2003

Both Sjogren’s Syndrome and Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE) are autoimmune diseases, which occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. These reactions may be set off by infection, tissue injury or emotional trauma in people genetically predisposed to them. Although there is no cure for autoimmune diseases, they are unpredictable and can go into remission for weeks, months or even years.

With Sjogren’s Syndrome the targets of the immune system’s attack are the glands that produce tears, saliva and other lubricating secretions. Those affected (usually mid-life women) develop dry eyes and dry mouth as well as dryness of the skin, nose and vagina. Conventional treatment focuses on relieving symptoms by using artificial tears and saline drops for the dryness Sjogrens causes in the eyes. However, the kidneys, lungs, liver, blood vessels and brain also can be affected, and those with severe symptoms may experience blurred vision, fatigue, joint pain, eye pain, hoarseness, recurrent mouth infections and even problems with eating and swallowing.

Lupus can be mild or life-threatening. Symptoms range from arthritis and skin rashes to neurological problems and kidney disease. Conventional treatment involves efforts to suppress the immune system with drugs like prednisone (a corticosteroid) or cyclophoshamide, which is even more powerful and toxic. (These drugs also may be recommended for severe cases of Sjogren’s Syndrome.) While these may be necessary for short periods, long-term use can reduce the chance that the disease will go into remission naturally.

The following general recommendations for dealing with autoimmune disorders may help you better manage Sjogren’s Syndrome and Lupus:

  • Follow a low-protein, high carbohydrate diet. Minimize consumption of animal products and eliminate milk and milk products including commercial foods made with milk.
  • Avoid polyunsaturated oils (vegetable oils) and hydrogenated fats (margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind).
  • Get regular aerobic exercise (swimming is best if you have joint problems).
  • Practice progressive relaxation and other mind-body techniques; visualization and guided imagery can be very effective for moderating autoimmune responses.
  • Try Chinese medicine (diet, herbs, acupuncture, and energy work).
  • To reduce inflammation, increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating more salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, purslane and other leafy greens as well as freshly ground flaxseeds. Also eat ginger and turmeric regularly for their anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Keep a journal in which you make daily entries about your physical and emotional state.

I also would advise you to avoid health care professionals who make you feel pessimistic about your condition.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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