Because of the nonspecific nature and gradual development of its symptoms, Sjögren’s Syndrome, a debilitating chronic autoimmune disease, often goes undiagnosed. Be aware of the common symptoms and how lifestyle changes can make a positive impact.
As a chronic autoimmune disease that impacts the moisture-producing glands in the body, the hallmark symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome are dry eyes & dry mouth. When symptoms are at its extreme, it can cause itchy eyes, difficulty swallowing, mouth sores, loss of taste, and difficulty speaking.
In addition to these symptoms, those with Sjögren’s can also experience joint pain, severe fatigue, and insomnia. Over time, the condition may potentially lead to internal organ dysfunction, plus those affected have an higher than average risk of developing lymphoma.
Why is Sjögren’s Syndrome difficult to diagnose?
Even though it is relatively unheard of, Sjögren’s is one of the most common autoimmune diseases that affects upward of 4 million Americans, primarily women. Because symptoms often overlap with other autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, diagnosis can usually take an average of 3 years.
Many suffer from extremely debilitating symptoms that greatly impact their daily living and quality of life. When tennis superstar Venus Williams was diagnosed with Sjögren’s, she experienced a fitness level drop that had a severe impact on her game and career.
Are there lifestyle changes that are recommended to help with Sjögren’s symptoms?
Because inflammation is at the core of Sjögren’s Syndrome, a good starting point for a lifestyle change is to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet.
The Mediterranean Diet is one example of an anti-inflammatory eating plan, which encourages foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, legumes, and whole grains. Foods allowed in moderation include eggs, poultry, cheese, yogurt, and wine, while refined grains, sweets, trans fats, and red or processed meat are minimized.
Another dietary consideration is around gluten.
Studies show that celiac disease is significantly more common in Sjögren’s (up to 15%) versus the general population (~1%). Although research is still in its infancy, a small study conducted in Sweden showed a possible link with Sjögren’s syndrome and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Lastly, while a “food first” approach is always optimal, certain dietary supplements may be helpful in managing Sjögren’s and other autoimmune conditions. Like diet, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to supplementation. Ones to consider are Vitamin D, which research suggests may provide protection against autoimmune disease, and Omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Ideally, blood testing should always be done first to determine if a deficiency exists and the appropriate dosage to consider.
Adapted from the original article.
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EA Stewart, MBA, RD is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian and culinary nutritionist with a passion for creating amazing gluten-free recipes to nourish your healthiest life. Focusing on a realistic healthy lifestyle, EA knows that eating is meant to be a shared experience to savor with family and friends. Visit her for more beautifully creative recipes at Spicy RD Nutrition.