Chinese Medicine For Sjogren’s Disease

Sjogren’s Disease (also called Sjogren’s Syndrome) is an autoimmune disease which effects the glands that make tears and saliva, causing dry mouth and dry eyes. Conventional treatments include eye drops and sprays or lozenges to replace the saliva, but these are rarely very effective and do nothing to treat the condition.

Medications to help increase saliva production may be prescribed, but these can cause side effects such as sweating, abdominal pain, flushing and increased urination.

In more severe cases drugs to supress the immune system are prescribed. These are very strong drugs which put you at risk of many complications. They can also cause much more extreme side effects such as feeling sick, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, mouth ulcers, hair loss and skin rashes.

Luckily, there is a natural solution, and Chinese medicine can treat Sjogren’s Disease quite effectively.

Chinese Medicine For Sjogren’s Disease

According to classical Chinese medicine, body fluid is extremely precious and important, and the amount of body fluid is directly related to the strength of the qi. Severe dryness of the type found in Sjogren’s Syndrome indicates either a severe depletion of qi, leading to an inability to produce body fluids, and/or the presence of heat which is drying up the fluids.

The nature of heat is to flare upwards, and Sjogren’s syndrome often presents with symptoms of dryness primarily in the upper body, along with cold or weakness in the lower half of the body – this is a pattern commonly seen in clinic, and is sometimes called ‘heat above, cold below’.

In both cases Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture can be useful. As always, it is a tailored treatment unique to the individual and not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Sjogren’s disease effects everyone differently, and there may be a number of other signs and symptoms that accompany the dry eyes and mouth. All of these will be considered when formulating a treatment plan.

My teacher Dr Feng has successfully treated very many cases of Sjogren’s Syndrome using herbal medicine, and I find herbs to be especially useful in these kinds of conditions. Herbal medicine can be used to balance hot and cold, strengthen the qi and encourage the production of body fluids. They are an effective way of balancing, regulating and strengthening the system.

The Evidence

A number of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Chinese medicine for Sjogren’s Disease

Li et al (Tianjin Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2017,34(01):26-31) found that acupuncture combined with herbal medicine outperforms an immunomodulatory drug for the treatment of Sjögren syndrome.  The Chinese Medicine group produced significant improvements on blood test scores as well as measures of tear and saliva production.

The researchers concluded that “Combining acupuncture with TCM herbs shows greater therapeutic effects in improving disease activity scores and objective indicators of primary Sjögren syndrome. It is safe and effective for the treatment of primary Sjögren syndrome”

Another study, published in Ophthalmology Times, found that acupuncture “significantly improved patients’ subjective assessment of dry eye symptoms, was associated with significant reduction in use of artificial tears at six months, and its benefits lasted for 9-12 months.”

A team in the United States Navy has been investigating how acupuncture can be used to treat the problem of dry mouth, or ‘xerostomia’. The team found that acupuncture led 80% of patients with dry mouths to report a marked increase in salivation. In many of the patients, the lack of salivation had been caused by radiation damage to the salivary gland, following radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. In some of the patients the dry mouth had been caused by Sjögren’s Syndrome

Finally, a study by Hu et al (Chin Med J (Engl). 2014;127(15):2721-6) looked at herbal treatment of Sjogren’s Syndrome in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 240 patients. Six-week treatment with Chinese herbal medicine improved the symptoms of dry mouth, dry eyes, and low tear flow rate with minimal adverse events.

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