Disclaimer: The information in this post is solely for inspiring wellness based on my/others experiences; this is not medical advice. It’s always advisable to contact a medical professional before undergoing any form of conventional or alternative medical treatment.
The next post in my Scleroderma Awareness Month series is about how I use natural therapies to help alleviate some of the symptoms the disease brings. Typically, drugs are used to address autoimmune diseases and for most of us suffering in this way, they are lifesaving and help people get their lives back. However, sadly they do also come with adverse effects and that’s where natural solutions can help, alongside my daily prescribed medication from my specialists.
In addition, sometimes the problem with conventional medicine is that it doesn’t seek to ask why the body is out of balance. Moreover, medical treatments often mainly focus on understanding and correcting the underlying problems that are causing your symptoms rather than understanding the individual emotionally and physically as a whole.
Natural therapies tend to be holistic and include medicines from various historical and cultural backgrounds. In order to see and reap the benefits, it’s also beneficial to examine diet, exercise, meditation or psychological exercises as well. The ways in which these therapies are thought to work are also diverse, although many are based on the idea of enabling your body’s ability to heal itself.
Fundamentally, both medical and natural forms of treatment emphasise the quality of the relationship between you and the practitioner. And when both natural therapies and medical treatment approaches are used, this is called integrated medicine.
Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants and have been used throughout history in many cultures for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits.
I’m hugely passionate about aromatherapy and essential oils, and that’s why I’ve started with this natural therapy first because I find it to be one of the most beneficial things I have ever done for my health. But as with all of these natural therapies, whilst I use essential oils to help manage the symptoms associated with my autoimmune disease and other illnesses, I use them to augment the medications I take and the lifestyle changes I have made.
I really want to do a post about essential oils in more detail collaborating with an aromatherapist, but before such post, I just want to make sure that if you are looking into essential oils to help with your autoimmune disease, that you are conscious that you are not further inflaming or boosting immune function since autoimmune diseases are the immune system attacking your body. You don’t want to double your body’s effort in attacking itself!
For example, the following essential oils wouldn’t be so suitable for those suffering from an autoimmune disease and they include: Palmarosa, Rosalina, and Thyme to possibly name a few. In general, any essential oil that is listed as an immunostimulant should be avoided or at least only used only occasionally small doses (I still use Palmarosa for my mild PCOs acne, as an example). And always remember to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil if you are applying it to the skin.
Some of my favourite oils to use are Cinnamon (wonderful for pain relief), Lavender (just my love of life and gorgeous for soothing and relaxing), Clary Sage (for hormone balancing and mood-boosting properties), Copaiba (for severe pain) to name but a few, but a whole post will follow shortly! I also highly recommend Dottera oils.
Light, Low Impact Exercise
Oh exercise….my least favourite thing in the whole entire world! However, indulging in light and low impact exercises that can alleviate stiffness and the pain that comes with Scleroderma. And it is a fact that for me, despite my loathing of said activity, that consistent exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. You don’t necessarily need to be a gym bunny, run marathons or do crazy adventurous things, but just to start moving naturally with your body can indeed work wonders.
But before you start to include any type of exercise in your daily routine I advise to start with a medical assessment before you start with a professional trainer or your medical team. It’s really important to understand that if you have conditions other than Scleroderma, that you might have other limitations as well. For example, I have extremely low blood pressure from some of my other conditions and so even some floor based exercises can make me a bit dizzy upon rising.
As part of my daily life, I follow one of the following gentle aerobic exercise programs, such as walking, pilates, yoga, tai chi or any water-based exercises because I find that they can help to manage symptoms such as stiffness, pain and sleep disturbance. However just a warning about some of these: water-based exercises could bring on a Raynaud’s attack, so make sure you plan extra carefully to stay as warm as possible. I have found a heated pool in my area and find that to be so helpful. I talk more about this in my ‘Top Tips for Managing Raynauds’ post. Moreover, for floor-based activities like Pilates and Yoga it’s worth being cautious about any low blood pressure issues you could have, and also the fact that if you have GERD like me that you’ll need to manage this with medication beforehand.
Finally, if exercise overall still feels like something too impossible, look at areas in your life where you can move a little more regularly. For me, that’s the opportunity to walk instead of driving if I am able to, or using the stairs rather than the lift. But please always listen and trust your body always.
Diet and Supplements
We are bombarded with ‘what we should eat’ on a daily basis and the pressure for those with autoimmune diseases to eat a certain way in a bid to ‘cure them’ is overwhelming and hugely upsetting to hear. Before anything else, Scleroderma sufferers, and in fact anyone suffering from an autoimmune illness, should always, always consult their doctor(s), their rheumatologist, and a dietician before using any vitamin or herbal remedies or making any significant changes in their diet.
And in fact the whole topic of nutrition in relation to Scleroderma is more than anything I can hope to cover in this post alone so be on the lookout for a far more in-depth journey on this topic soon. Meanwhile, in a nutshell, the gut is affected in up to 90% of patients with systemic sclerosis, so an awareness of nutrition is particularly important if you have this form of the condition like me.
The technical name for the gastrointestinal symptoms that occur in Scleroderma is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, (GERD/GORD), and occurs when acids from the stomach escape into the esophagus, that then causes a burning sensation. As a result, it is advised to avoid alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and fatty foods. Furthermore, decreasing the consumption of acidic foods, like tomatoes, can improve acid reflux and also avoiding eating two to three hours prior to bedtime as lying down can exacerbate the reflux of acid into the esophagus.
Ultimately there is no one specific ‘Scleroderma diet’ since symptoms and
the severity of the disease varies widely, however, I strive to create a balanced diet that emphasises foods that fight inflammation and provide
energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals, that are of utmost importance. In order to achieve this, I choose fresh, whole, minimally
processed foods, without preservatives, artificial ingredients or
hydrogenated oils. If there are any ‘chemical’ sounding names in the
ingredient list, I tend to avoid it where possible. In general, the shorter the ingredient list, the better!
I would describe my diet as Mediterranean, Japanese, Nordic and vegan inspired, rich in organic fruits and vegetables that are not too acidic. I limit meat, have no dairy because of a severe intolerance pre my illness, but I do consume fish. Ultimately I find that the resulting nutritional balance strengthens my body and my immune system, which can lead to a reduction in the occurrence of scleroderma symptoms. In order to really get into this topic, look out for my recipe section to build momentum over the next few weeks as this will breakdown exactly what I eat.
The final note on nutrition in this post would be to find a good dietician who can order Blood tests to assess serum hemoglobin, iron, ferritin, total
iron-binding capacity, zinc, vitamin D, folate, and vitamin B-12. This really helped me tailor the ideal eating program for me. More information on nutrition for Scleroderma can be found at SRUK.
Alternative Therapies and Self Care For Scleroderma
To end this post I just wanted to group together a few other popular alternative therapies that might want to be considered for Scleroderma patients. The focus on all of these is again to not go into them thinking they are a cure for the disease but to add some hope, and work to aid in the quality of life, that can be greatly improved with homeopathic medicines.
The first is Chinese medicine, that by its very nature, treats the person, not the disease, and the physical manifestation of a problem is seen within a picture of the whole person involving all aspects of their body, mind and spirit. I’ve also warmed to this approach with auto-immune conditions where there is no obvious physical cause. Chinese medicine seeks to restore balance in our body and mind and indeed, the earliest systems of Chinese medicine were asymptomatic, using the symptoms only as indicators of returning overall balance.
Firstly, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the bodies homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. I must admit, I have yet to try acupuncture because of my low blood pressure but I’m looking into trying it soon!
Something I do highly recommend is Homeopathy that works to treats the person as a whole. It means that homeopathic treatment focuses on the patient as a person, as well as his pathological condition. The homeopathic medicines are selected after a full individualising examination and case-analysis, which includes the medical history of the patient, physical and mental constitution, family history, presenting symptoms, underlying pathology and possible causative factors. My Auntie also swears by Homeopathy and I have found the experience to be hugely beneficial.
Next up is Reflexology, an ancient practice that’s been passed down for thousands of years. It is thought that The Incas and Native Americans may have introduced reflexology to South and North America, but proof of the practice dates back to 3000 BC in pre-dynastic China. It works that based on pressure points in the hands and feet, that are said to connect to the nervous system, reflexologists pinpoint specific glands and organs to treat with massage techniques. Reflexologists claim to treat many ailments, particularly those associated with pain and inflammation, and whilst I didn’t feel an effect immediately, it certainly provided me with a huge sense of well-being and relaxation.
Before I end this post I want to add a personal note about emotional wellbeing. Naturally, I’ve felt like I’ve been under a very dark cloud since being diagnosed with Scleroderma, and it’s taken me longer still to grasp the situation fully. Because ironically, despite living with this and a series of other chronic illnesses, I still cannot grasp this the deeply debilitating and mystifying elements of this illness.
Only those suffering from Scleroderma, or any other disease or a similar kind, truly understand the daily pain, anxiety, and depression that can accompany the disease. That feeling of helplessness, as our bodies seem to transform and turn against them. Anxiety and depression only exacerbate the symptoms, as vital energy is directed away from the self-healing process.
However, this period of struggle has also been a catalyst for an abundance of growth. It naturally freed me of things that no longer served a purpose and allowed me to dig deeper into understanding who I am and what I really want and to reestablish limits and boundaries where they were needed. And I have found that by redirecting that energy and putting it to work, it in return helps our bodies come to a more harmonious balance. I’ve found that spiritual contemplation, counselling and meditation, in many different factors, has helped me to deal more effectively with the symptoms of this disease, and it has also allowed me to direct this energy to the attainment of total health in both body and mind.
Thank you so, so much for taking the time to read this post and engage in any way you can with this very important awareness month. I’m truly beyond grateful and your constant love and support is the strength that I will use to create the seemingly impossible things. To read all my posts about Scleroderma the dedicated category is right here and I also have a Raynaud’s category right here. But, meanwhile, have any questions? Please leave them below and I would be thrilled to connect with you all xoxo