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Treating Sjogren’s Syndrome with Integrative Medicine

By Iva Lim Peck

Dallas, March 6, 2014…As published in D Magazine, Online Edition, Dallas/Ft. Worth Healthcare Daily, The Business of Healthcare in North Texas

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s white blood cells attack the moisture-producing glands in the body. These glands are primarily the tear and salivary glands. It is estimated that as many as 10 million people worldwide have this disease. While it attacks all ethnic and racial groups, estimates say that 90 percent of its victims are female and that symptoms began in their 40s.

If you have received a diagnosis that you have Sjogren’s syndrome, you may actually be quite fortunate. With standard medical tests,it generally takes about six years to come up with a proper diagnosis. Symptoms are not consistent from person to person, and there is a complex set of problems that may lead a person on a wild goose chase from doctor to doctor, trying to cure or manage a small segment of the overall package of symptoms. Using integrated medical protocols to differentiate will determine the cause so as to provide more thorough non-invasive treatments in managing the progress and relief of the disease more effectively.

Very often the early warning signs are dryness, pain, and fatigue. The Classic Sicca symptoms are: dry, gritty eyes; dry mouth; dry skin and rashes; dry cough; vaginal dryness; joint or muscle pain; sore tongue or throat; swollen glands; thyroid problems; and overall tiredness and feeling lethargic.

Unfortunately, seeking medical attention for one or two of these symptoms veryoften leads patient to go from one specialist to another, each of whom addresses a part of the problem. Without incorporating and attending to the other symptoms, the patient may develop additional complications, such as pneumonia, pancreatitis, and vasculitis. Untreated or diagnosed improperly could lead to further complications, such as severe abdominal pain; swollen lymph nodes; eye sores or pain; jaundice; or persistent cough with colored phlegm. Each of these might be perceived as separate and distinct health issues, instead of seeing them as a dynamic, interactive group of health culprits.

In the standard conventional healthcare model, the only treatment used for autoimmune diseases is total immune suppression, e.g., Cortisone or drugs that shut down immune functions. There are different protocols for diagnosing and treating patients. Western practitioners tend to specialize in a particular problem, such as those who treat allergies, or those who specialize in eyes and ocular issues, or those who treat arthritis. The system of treatment tends to rely on drugs and even surgery. The worst scenario is to surgically remove the thymus gland.

Standard tests are often run before a proper assessment can be done to reach an accurate diagnosis. Blood tests with CBC and differentials is absolutely necessary to determine blood glucose levels; evidence of inflammation; signs and symptoms indicating liver and/or kidney problems. Others might be eye tests, chest x-rays, imaging of the salivary glands, urine analysis, and biopsies of the gum to confirm the clusters of inflamed cells.

Alternative medicine definitely has more treatment options. The model of simply fixing the gut, stabilizing the blood sugar level, balancing the hormones, taking enough essential fatty acids and anti-inflammatory protocols, and so forth, are effective. However, they are not any different than treating any type of autoimmune disorders.

The major deficiency is actually how to actively identify the autoimmune mechanism.In order to figure out the autoimmune mechanism, one must dissect the person’s cytokines production and the breakdown of T cells and B Cells to figure out what’s going on with the immune patterns.

By contrast, integrated medical practitioners treat the whole body as a single system and work with interdependent, oscillating energies and seek to achieve balance and integration of the entire body. There are natural, non-invasive, and wholistic approaches that incline toward discovering the imbalances, and integrate to correct them through diet and nutrition, exercise, acupuncture, massage, and individual customized education.

One of the basic theories of oriental medicine, used in the integrated model, is that of yin and yang. The foundation is to view the body as a microcosm of nature, one that seeks homeostasis or balance. The theories and patterns of movement and interaction are quite complex, and it is not within the bounds of this article to fully describe or explain them.

While Yin and yang are oppositional, they are also interdependent, each always containing a bit of the other within and, together, they strive to be in a constant state of dynamic balance. When they go out of balance, the vital life force energy may be pooling, stagnating, or flowing in the wrong direction in the body’s innate energy pathway.

The role of an acupuncturist, for example, is to detect where the energies are out of balance and use acupuncture points to redirect the body’s energies in such a way that they “self correct.” (This is just a small piece of the process.)

While this concept of yin and yang interacts dramatically and in a complex way with other systems in the body, and the practitioner uses these concepts in the diagnosis, along with integrating other treatment protocols, we can see that this would tend to take a person’s entire physiology into consideration. By analyzing, evaluating, and diagnosing from a vast menu of tests and data, a treatment plan is developed to address the interaction of all conditions in the system that signal disharmony.

In addition to various acupuncture protocols, an integrated medical practitioner might incorporate other treatments, over time, to treat Sjogren’s syndrome. These could include, but are not limited to: pain and stress management with acupuncture, allergy elimination and desensitization, neuro-emotional technique to address domino effects of emotional complexes, enzyme and nutritional recommendations for digestive disorders, herbs and supplements to support the overall excess or deficiencies, and
last but not least, homeopathy to address the totality of each person’s individual make up, in an attempt to communicate with the psychological and spiritual components as well as the physical essence of the person.

With the variety of symptoms that encompass Sjogren’s syndrome, it is very important to have a plan and a practitioner who works with full oversight and a set of complimentary skills under one roof, so to speak. For anyone who feels they may have Sjogren’s Syndrome, there are excellent resources in terms of support groups in the greater Dallas area. Having support and sharing information—and having a positive attitude—contribute to positive outcomes.

Credentialed in both Eastern and Western modalities of medicine, Iva Lim Peck is a co-founder of the Integrated Center for Oriental Medicine in Plano.

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