If your eyes and mouth are chronically dry, it might be a sign of a condition called Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects 1-2 million people in the U.S., and 90 percent of them are women. (1) Most patients with Sjögren’s struggle with symptoms like dry eyes and mouth, inflammation and other common symptoms of immune-related disorders.
As with other autoimmune disorders, there is usually no single cause. However, there are many natural treatments that can help remedy the symptoms and even put it into remission.
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What Is Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition, which means the body attacks its own tissues. In the specific case of Sjögren’s, the immune system targets salivary and other moisture-producing glands. This leads to chronic dryness in the eyes and mouth. While these symptoms are generally non-threatening, this condition can result in more serious problems, including lung disease and lymphoma. (2)
The syndrome is also considered a rheumatic disease, which can cause inflammation in the joints, bones and muscles. This can lead to visible redness, swelling and pain in these areas. (3)
Sjögren’s occurs by itself only about half of the time. In other cases, it co-exists with other autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Hashimoto’s. (4)
Sjögren’s Syndrome Symptoms
Symptoms of Sjögren’s can vary from person to person. However, in about 98 percent of cases, symptoms include one or more of the following: (5)
- Foreign-body sensation; e.g., burning, soreness, etc.
- Burning or soreness of the eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Dry eyes
- Dry, chalky mouth
Other common symptoms include: (6)
- Tooth decay and cavities
- Gum disease
- Mouth sores
- Loss of taste
- Swollen salivary glands
- Dry cough
- Chapped lips
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Digestive problems, heartburn or GERD
- Joint inflammation, pain, swelling, etc.
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Chronic fatigue
- Thyroid problems
- Lung inflammation
What Causes Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Sjögren’s can be triggered by a variety of factors, like chronic stress, infection, and hormonal imbalances. Many factors that attribute to the excess of antibodies can lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease. (7, 8)
- Toxic chemicals and other environmental factors
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Changes in the gut microbiome
- Infections and viruses
- Hashimoto’s and thyroid disease
Some researchers also believe there is a genetic component, meaning there is a predisposition to the disease “hard-wired” into our genes.
Why Women Are More at Risk for Sjögren’s
Women tend to be more at risk for Sjögren’s syndrome. This has a lot to do with the effect that estrogen has on immune-cell signaling.
While most think of estrogen only as a sex hormone, estrogen can also act on the immune cells and, in excess, add to inflammation. Recent studies show that estrogen-treated mice are more autoimmune-prone, further proving this connection. (11, 12)
There’s also a feedback loop between estrogen and the stress hormone cortisol. What this means is that as estrogen rises, cortisol levels elevate as well. Cortisol can contribute to Sjögren’s because it is suppresses immune functioning and inhibits the thyroid. (13, 14)
What to Do if You Have Sjögren’s Syndrome
If you suspect that you have Sjögren’s, the first thing you should do is see a physician who specializes in autoimmune conditions. From there, you will likely get your antibody levels tested – too high a level of certain antibodies like macrophages and lymphocytes might indicate autoimmunity.
It’s also a good idea to keep a close eye on your symptoms, stress levels and diet. Sharing your lifestyle information with your doctor can be helpful for identifying your specific triggers.
While having a chronic disease can be emotionally stressful, don’t lose hope or beat yourself up. The fact is that autoimmune conditions can go into remission, they can be remedied and you can feel better!
With that being said, here are a few research-backed ways in which you can improve your symptoms and health.
4 Ways to Relieve Sjögren’s Syndrome Symptoms
1. Eat Healthy Fats
Hormones are made up of fat, and the types of fat we consume can directly affect hormonal balance.
In general, polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) such as corn, soy, and wheat can increase the production of estrogen, which can worsen autoimmune diseases. On the other hand, saturated fats can help to protect the body.
Make sure to eat plenty of healthy saturated fats, including:
- Coconut oil
- Grass-fed butter and ghee
- Tallow and lard
2. Reduce Stress
Stress and disease have a volatile relationship. One typically causes the other, creating a vicious cycle. (17)
To help reduce stress, consider walking or some other form of light exercise every day. Getting regular massages can also be a simple means of reducing stress and minimizing cortisol production.
You might also want to consider seeing a mental health counselor. Cognitive therapy can be helpful in managing the psychological stress that comes along with an autoimmune diagnosis.
3. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and is a key therapy in the practice of Chinese Medicine. Recently, it has been clinically proven that acupuncture can improve xerostomia, or dry mouth.
One study found that acupuncture induces an increase in local blood flow, increasing salivary flow. This suggests that regular acupuncture can provided helpful management for some of the common symptoms of Sjögren’s. (18)
4. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
When handling any autoimmune condition, a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet is incredibly helpful. A Paleo diet, low in polyunsaturated fats and devoid of grains and legumes, is a great starting point.
Studies have confirmed that eating a Paleo diet can help reduce inflammation. With chronic inflammation being at the root of Sjögren’s, an anti-inflammatory diet of any sort will be helpful for improving symptoms. (19, 20)
Be sure to bulk up on anti-inflammatory foods, including:
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Grass-fed meats
- Citrus fruits
- Sweet potatoes
The Bottom Line
Although autoimmune conditions like Sjögren’s can be overwhelming, there are simple lifestyle and dietary modifications that can help. Reducing chronic exposure to environmental toxins, eliminating dietary stressors, and practicing overall stress reduction, can make for an effective self-care protocol that improve the symptoms of Sjögren’s.
(Read This Next: Crohn’s Disease: What It Is, Types and Trigger Foods to Avoid)