Scleroderma Symptoms and Natural Remedies

Scleroderma presents in a unique way in every patient; however, there are several symptoms that seem to affect most people at some point during the cycle of disease.

The initial tell tale signs that something is very wrong are usually:  flu like symptoms, all over aches and pains, swollen hands and feet, pain and tingling in the hands, Raynaud’s in the fingers and toes, broken capillaries in the nail beds and ridges forming on the nails, decreased range of motion, fatigue, sleeplessness, and anxiety.  Some of these symptoms may be present for months before diagnosis because they could be indicative of so many other issues.

Typically around the one-year mark after the initial symptoms, many people begin to experience the hardening of their skin.  This can be limited to one area of the body or it could be wide spread all over the body.  Whether the patient has the limited or systemic form of the disease impacts the amount of the body that is affected and whether or not it is restricted to the outer skin or all of the connective tissue, such as organs and blood vessels.  By this stage of illness, the patient is in extreme pain and all of the initial symptoms have typically escalated.  Significant changes to the hands often happen.  Fingers become bent, the hands close up and stiffen.  For systemic patients, this is also the time when they may begin to have organ complications such as PAH (pulmonary arterial hypertension) or Renal Crisis.

By years 2 – 4 some people begin to notice a stabilization of their debilitating symptoms, while others may develop new ones.  Changes such as:  finger ulcers, dry mouth, nose and eyes, increased severity of Raynaud’s, acid reflux, varicose veins, digestive discomfort, and malabsorption.  This is also around the time that many patients notice their facial features begin to change.  The most common are pinched nose, eyelid restriction, and scleroderma mouth (pursed, thinning and retraction of the lips, limited ability to open mouth, decreased tongue mobility, gingival retraction).  Some patients may also experience Telangiectasia (appearance of flat red marks) on their face.  Most of these changes can be attributed to decreased blood and oxygen availability to the small vessels and capillaries in the body.

All of these physical changes affect the mental and emotional well being of each scleroderma patient to some extent.  It is very challenging to deal with the pain and imminent threat to your health; however, it is equally difficult to accept the new physical image of yourself.   This is a time when many people suffer from depression and anxiety over the loss of their pre-scleroderma identity.

The fifth year and beyond seem to be the most individual time for each patient.  This may be a time when the disease reverts to complete remission and healing occurs, or the opposite could be true.  I choose not to focus on the worse case scenario for people in this stage of disease.  Rather, I would like to offer some remedies and techniques that I have found personally helpful in symptom management and delaying disease development.

Before taking any supplementation it is important to discuss them with your doctor or your health professional because there can be contraindications with medications.  Also, I recommend that you only add one supplement at a time.  It is important to notice any changes, improvements or even side effects that you may experience.  Journaling through the introduction process is beneficial.  If you make several changes all at once, you will be unclear as to what is working for you.  I suggest you space out supplement introduction every 2 – 4 weeks.  Most supplements require up to 3 months of daily usage to see the full extent of their benefits.  And, not all supplements are created equally.  Please do your research to find a reputable brand.

Possible Issues

Inflammation and Pain Management

Elimination of inflammatory foods or foods you have a sensitivity to.  The most common are:  dairy, gluten, corn, soy, refined foods (especially sugar), bad fats (hydrogenated, trans-fats, highly heated/fried), shellfish, tree nuts, and nightshade vegetables (potatoes, peppers, zucchini, and eggplants).  Most Naturopathic Doctors offer or can arrange for food sensitivity testing that will give you a detailed report of which foods your body can tolerate and which it cannot.

Curcumin or turmeric is a very good supplement for reducing the inflammatory response in the body.  It is an aromatic Indian spice that is delicious, but it is difficult to get enough in food for medicinal purposes.  I like Dr. Mercola’s Curcumin Advanced.

Enzymes are the catalysts to many changes that occur in the body.  Wobenzyme PS (professional series) is an excellent supplement to help manage pain and inflammation.

Essential Fatty Acid supplementation.  Most of us are deficient in this important vitamin.  Fish or Krill Oil are good sources.  Ascentia’s NutraSea with Vitamin D is a great product.  Canadians are often vitamin D deficient and since it is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning it must be ingested with a good fat in order to be absorbed) why not get both in one supplement.  It is also a pleasant apple flavour that conveniently compliments a smoothie with no fishy aftertaste.  Dr. Mercola offers good quality Krill Oil and Vitamin D as separate products.

Magnesium Glycinate by PureLabs is excellent for managing chronic pain because it acts as a muscle relaxer.  Magnesium is an important mineral that helps with the functioning of cells, nerves, muscles, bones and the heart.  Food sources for magnesium are seaweed, dry coriander, pumpkin seeds, unsweetened cocoa powder, dried basil, flaxseeds and almond butter.

Maintaining Mobility and Flexibility
  • Walk, swim, stretch, bounce (rebounding), yoga, tai chi, qigong…just keep moving!  Find an activity you enjoy and do something daily.
  • Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist.  Find a practitioner that can help you realign your body and help you maintain your posture.
Digestive Issues

Many specialists in integrated medicine believe that almost all disease begins in our digestive system.  Since 80% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract, it is no surprise that an imbalance that occurs here, will definitely impact our body’s natural ability to fight back.

  • Aloe Vera Juice helps to heal damaged intestinal lining and reduces the symptoms of acid reflux and malabsorption. GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease) is very common in scleroderma patients because the entire digestion process depends on mobility or the action of peristalsis, which moves the food along the digestive tract.  The tightening of the internal connective tissues restricts this motion.  Constipation is another issue caused by poor peristalsis.  I recommend Lily of the Desert Whole Leaf Aloe Vera Juice for both of these common problems.  Aloe should be taken twice daily on an empty stomach.  Preferably, first thing in the morning 20 minutes before other food and last thing before bed, at least 3 hours after food.  Follow dosage instructions on the bottle.
  • L-Glutamine is an essential amino acid that promotes digestive and brain health because it rebuilds muscle tissue.  It helps to heal ulcers and tissue damage. It acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps with memory.  It improves IBS symptoms by balancing mucus production and promotes healthy muscle growth.  AOR makes a good L-Glutamine powder that is tasteless and can be added to a glass of water or morning smoothie.
  • Probiotics are strains of good bacteria that occur naturally in our bodies and in fermented foods.  When we are healthy, our bodies maintain a balance of both good and bad gut bacteria as a natural process of digestion.  A bad diet, antibiotics, immunizations, and prescription medications have all been linked to a depleted number of good bacteria.  This leads to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in our intestinal tract, which allows for the proliferation of bacterial and fungal overgrowths.  Switching your diet to one with plenty of natural, alive, good quality foods (preferably organic) and adding a probiotic can help to restore a healthy balance.  There are many good brands to choose from.  I suggest discussing your options at a health food store you trust and rotating between a few brands to take advantage of several different stains of bacteria.  Also, adding organic fermented foods to your diet can expose you to many more diverse strains of beneficial bacteria.  Foods such as:  kefir, kimchi, miso, unpasteurized honey and fermented vegetables.
  • Ginger and Peppermint are soothing and help to promote good digestion.  Taken as a tea after meals is beneficial.
  • Digestive Enzymes provide the body with the same enzymes we produce naturally to digest food.  By taking them as a supplement we can improve the digestive process and speed up digestion.  This helps to reduce the likelihood of acid reflux and improves nutrient absorption.  Look for a brand that contains a broad spectrum of enzymes and ox bile if you have had your gallbladder removed.
Skin Issues

There are several skin concerns for scleroderma patients.  The following are some remedies that I found beneficial:

Dry, itchy skin
Jojoba oil, Aloe Vera, Epsom salt and Essential Oil baths, Dry Skin Brushing (also helps with Lymphatic Drainage), Massage

Skin Sores and Ulcers
Frankincense Oil mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba massaged into the affected area.  The inside gel of Whole Leaf Aloe Vera Plant Leaves applied on sores can help healing and decrease scaring.

Telangiectasia (rosacea), spider veins, varicose veins
Gentle washing with warm (not hot) water and a mild cleanser, followed by Aloe Vera for moisture.  The following herbal treatments can help reduce redness:  Green Tea, Licorice Root, Oatmeal, Chamomile, Honey and Tea Tree Oil.  Avoid excessive sun exposure, maintain good blood pressure and an anti-inflammatory diet.  There are also beneficial herbal tinctures and homeopathic remedies available.

Characteristic, hard scleroderma skin
pH balance of the body is one of the most impactful treatments for skin loosening.

PH Balance for Overall Symptom Recovery

  • The human body must maintain an overall blood pH level between 7.35 – 7.45 at all times to stay alive.  The foods we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink all impact the acid alkaline balance in the body.  If poor quality food, air and water are taken in, the body becomes acidic.  In order to maintain the proper pH balance to sustain life, our bodies instinctually use all of the available resources to maintain the necessary blood pH levels.  This requires the body to utilize vitamins and minerals stored in the bones, muscles and tissues in order to stay alive.  If the body stays acidic for long periods of time, degeneration of these systems occur and we see diseases such as: arthritis, osteoporosis, all of the auto-immune illnesses and even cancer.
  • All disease benefits from alkalizing the body.  If the body is not consumed with decreasing acidity, it can move on to other functions such as cellular system repair.  Fasting and vegetable juicing are very good methods of alkalizing the body in a short period of time.
  • This food chart that details the acid alkaline impact certain foods have on the body.  It is important to consume a wide variety of healthy foods to ensure a wide variety of essential nutrients. If you are choosing a food from the acid end of the scale, be sure to balance it with a food that is highly alkaline to maintain a good balance.alkaline-ph-food-chart