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Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren's (show-grins) syndrome is an autoimmune disorder or chronic inflammatory disease causing excessive dryness to the eyes and mucous membranes of the body. The immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands, causing infection, inflammation or corneal ulcers. It can appear as a primary condition or in conjunction with other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Two to four million Americans have Sjogren's syndrome. Nine out of ten people with Sjogren's syndrome will be female, predominantly aged forty to fifty.

Primary Sjogren's syndrome is characterized by an inability of the eyes to tear. The eyes feel gritty and painful and are sensitive to light, smoke and fumes. Other areas that can be affected are the salivary glands, nose, skin and vagina. Mucous membranes lining the gastrointestinal tract and trachea can dry out and become painful, irritated and prone to infections. Pericarditis, or inflammation of the sac around the heart, can be a serious symptom of Sjogren's.

When Sjogren's syndrome is secondary to autoimmune disorders, dry mouth is significantly less present and symptoms expand to other areas of the body. There can be morning stiff-ness and pain in the muscles and joints, dry cough or other respiratory tract problems, nausea, indigestion and gastritis, renal disease, inflamed blood vessels, nerve problems (especially to the face), allergies and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Fatigue can be debilitating.

The symptoms can range from mild to so severe they hinder quality of life. Some people may have a remission while others remain the same or become worse. Sjogren's can develop from a benign autoimmune disease into a lymphoid malignancy (non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, cancer).

Sjogren's is an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system destroys the exocrine glands (the fluid-secreting glands) and can advance to a systemic multi-organ attack. It is unknown what causes Sjogren's syndrome, but heredity may play a part, female hormones and viral infections are being investigated, in particular the retroviruses and herpes viruses (cytomegalovirus, hepatitis C, Epstein-Barr and herpes type-6). Triggers for Sjogren's syndrome include damage to the arteries or nerves in the face, food and environmental allergies, nutritional deficiencies, wearing contact lenses and smoking tobacco or marijuana.


Those with autoimmune disorders should not take immune boosters as they can over-stimulate B cell activity, promoting autoantibody production. Immune boosters, when taken long term, can enhance macrophage function and promote inflammatory cytokines. The German Commission E, a respected reference guide for herbs, does not recommend echinacea for those with autoimmune disease.

  • Antihistamines and diuretics should never be taken by someone with Sjogren's syndrome.
  • Stop smoking tobacco and marijuana and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Eliminate alcohol, sugar, salt and caffeine from the diet. They all contribute to dehydration.
  • Suck on xylitol lozenges or chewing gum (sugar-free) to keep mucous membranes of the mouth moist.
  • Rule out allergies. Start a diet diary and write down everything that you eat to see if there is any increase in symptoms or their intensity after you eat certain foods. Ask for a referral to an allergy specialist and get tested for possible triggers. Some allergies may only be detected with the help of an ELISA
  • (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) test. Once you know what you are allergic to, avoid those allergens. Environmental allergies should be tested as well.
  • Weleda eye drops, either Euphrasia D3 or Gencydo 1% or Cineraria Maritima D3 eye drops, are extremely helpful for those with dry eyes.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Lack of saliva creates a vulnerability to bacterial infections in the mouth. Good personal and oral hygiene and preventative dental care should be practiced to minimize severity of symptoms. Get yourself an electric toothbrush and use it at least twice a day. Use mouthwashes that contain soothing herbs and aloe. Chew xylitol gum to prevent tooth decay and help moisturize the mouth.
  • If vaginal dryness is a problem, use a water-based (not oil-based) lubricant.
  • Avoid dry, windy climates, air-conditioning, dust and smoke. Keep your eyes moist with the help of a humidifier.
  • If you have another autoimmune disorder, read that section as well for tips on how to alleviate those symptoms.
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