Your skin. It’s your largest organ, your first defense against germs and bacteria, and the most visible part of your body. Even though it’s the “wrapper” that completely surrounds you, most of us hardly notice it when our skin is healthy. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder called scleroderma, the state of your skin is a constant concern.
Scleroderma is actually a collection of several autoimmune diseases that are characterized by hardened patches of skin and connective tissue. These patches can become so tight that movement is difficult, making the disorder painful. Localized scleroderma generally affects only the skin, however in some people it can spread to muscles, joints, and bones. Systemic scleroderma is the more serious form. It can affect the skin and muscles, and can also impact your lungs, kidneys, and heart1 as well as your digestive system.2 When it spreads to internal organs, it causes the organ tissues to become hard and fibrous, decreasing their ability to function.3 Approximately 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with scleroderma.4
The Conventional Approach To Scleroderma
Conventional medicine offers no real solutions, relying instead on harsh medications to mask your symptoms. To further complicate treatment, many with this condition are depressed by the changes in their appearance. Facial changes, skin thickening, hair loss, and enlarged joints, while not necessarily a symptom of each of the forms of scleroderma, can make living with this autoimmune disorder particularly challenging. Although you may feel isolated by this condition, I’d like to reassure you that you are NOT alone, and you CAN take your health into your own hands and reverse this condition.
This autoimmune disorder results from the overproduction and storage of collagen, a protein that is a key component of your connective tissue. This includes your skin as well as your digestive system. Although no one is sure why this particular reaction takes place, the immune system is at the root of it. Scleroderma may also have a genetic link in some people. The genetic component doesn’t actually cause the disease. Instead, it’s thought to trigger it after a person is exposed to certain toxic chemicals such as pesticides and solvents.
Signs of Scleroderma
The most common symptoms of localized scleroderma are the tough, hardened patches of skin that can be discolored. Morphea is a type of scleroderma that manifests in waxy patches of skin of varying size that can enlarge or shrink, or even disappear. Streaks or bands of thick, hard skin on the arms, legs, or torso are called linear scleroderma. These bands usually appear on only one side of the body. Linear streaks on the face are called en coup de sabre5 (French for “sword wound”), which can look like a cut from a knife or sword. These types tend to appear in children, however they can affect adults too.
Systemic scleroderma mostly strikes Caucasians in their 30s or 40s, and affects four times as many women as men.6 Systemic scleroderma is characterized by the same thick skin patches as linear scleroderma along with other symptoms, the most common of which is Raynaud’s Phenomenon. In Raynaud’s Phenomenon, spasms in the arteries cause periods of reduced blood flow, usually in the fingers and sometimes in the toes, nose, lips, or ears. The affected areas turn white or blue for a short time. As blood begins to flow again the area turns red and sufferers typically feel a painful, burning sensation.
Scleroderma And The Digestive System
After the skin, the digestive system is the most commonly affected organ system in people with scleroderma. Blood to the nerves that stimulate the bowel is reduced, which results in a progressive weakening of muscle strength and tone of the intestines, and slowed and uncoordinated motion of the gut. People with scleroderma may have typical symptoms of IBS including bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.7 Other symptoms include:
- Calcium deposits under the skin
- Joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Acid reflux8
Diagnosing the Two Types of Scleroderma
Diagnosing scleroderma is usually done by a rheumatologist or dermatologist. It’s very tricky because the condition mimics other disorders and there is no single test for it. Your doctor will take a careful history to find out if you have the classic symptoms. He or she will likely also order a blood test for certain autoantibodies associated with scleroderma. Other tests such as CT scans and X-rays can help establish bone abnormalities while MRIs may be used to assess soft tissue damage.
Conventional Treatments for Scleroderma
Traditional medicine will not treat the underlying cause of scleroderma. Typically, a drug or treatment will be prescribed for each different symptom, instead of treating your body as a whole. For example, Raynaud’s Phenomenon may be treated with drugs such as calcium channel blockers or drugs called PDE-5 inhibitors which open up narrowed blood vessels and improve circulation. Muscle pain and weakness may be treated with immunosuppressive medications, which can leave you vulnerable to infections and other dangerous side effects. A doctor may also prescribe proton-pump inhibitors for acid reflux.
The Natural Way to Reverse Scleroderma
The aim of functional medicine is to treat the whole body to get to the underlying cause of an issue while soothing the symptoms. To ease the discomfort of scleroderma:
- Get sufficient rest.
- Drink plenty of filtered water.
- Apply soothing lotions such as raw coconut oil or shea butter.
- Keep your skin, particularly your fingers and toes, covered and warm.
- Perform gentle stretches to keep skin and joints flexible. Yoga is a great option.
- Exercise moderately to improve blood flow.
All these actions will help you feel better. However, the key to truly reversing your scleroderma is getting to the root of what triggered this autoimmune condition and addressing those underlying causes. You have other options besides simply treating the symptoms and accepting a life-long struggle with pain and embarrassment. I’ve developed a very effective four-pillar approach that can help you take control of the inflammation that’s at the root of most autoimmune diseases.
Heal Your Gut
Restoring your gut is essential for proper immune function. Again, this is particularly important for those with scleroderma whose digestive system tissues are damaged. For this reason, I created The Myers Way® Guide to the Gut eCourse to help guide you through the exact same steps I’ve used with my patients to repair a damaged gut. I also have many articles explaining my approach to repairing the gut and gut-repairing supplements such as Leaky Gut Revive™. This one is particularly helpful because it supports the gut lining’s cells and optimizes digestive function by restoring your microbiome balance.
Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes
I have recommended that all of my patients remove gluten from their diets because it causes inflammation which leads to leaky gut. For those with autoimmune diseases, particularly those with scleroderma whose digestive system tissues may be hardened, I also advised they remove all grains and legumes from their diets. These foods contain proteins known as lectins, a natural pesticide for crops that can damage the lining of your gut. You may also find that skipping dairy products, which are inflammatory foods for many people, goes a long way toward improving your health.
Tame the Toxins
There are several things you can do to tame the toxins that are all around us. Glutathione is a powerful free-radical fighter and can improve detoxification. This is critical for anyone who has been exposed to toxic chemicals, particularly silica, which has been linked to a higher incidence of systemic scleroderma.9 I also recommend my ImmunIG™ which offers concentrated immunoglobulins to support immune functions. Hyperbaric therapy has also been shown to be effective in treating scleroderma.10 It drives increased levels of oxygen into the bloodstream which travels through the plasma, resulting in reduced inflammation and pain.
Heal Your Infections and Relieve Stress
In my book The Autoimmune Solution, I outline specific ways to heal infections that may be caused by bacteria or viruses. As for stress, there’s simply no way to avoid all of it. However, learning to relieve stress is one of the keys to regaining control of your health. Finding specific ways that work for you takes some trial and error, but I recommend meditation, heartmath, yoga or walking, deep rhythmic breathing, journaling, and spending time on hobbies, particularly with family and friends.
I also offer two supplements that can help. My Adrenal Support contains ashwagandha, ginseng, eleuthero, and rhodiola for supporting an optimal stress response and cortisol production. Along with these adaptogenic herbs, Adrenal Support offers crucial B vitamins and vitamin C. My Organic Greens juice powder also includes ashwagandha for improved immune function and stress relief, as well as maca root for supporting optimal mental clarity, vitality, and hormonal health. Both can help you boost your intake of stress-busting nutrients for a natural path to relaxation and stress relief that will take the pressure off your immune system.