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What is Scleroderma?

The term “scleroderma” refers to a group of related conditions primarily characterized by similar manifestations. Fibrosis (excessive connective tissue formation, almost always resulting in hardening of the skin), vascular damage, and autoimmune responses are all common in scleroderma. The cause of scleroderma is not well understood, and there are no drugs to cure the underlying condition.

Scleroderma can either be localized or systemic. Systemic scleroderma, also called systemic sclerosis, is much more severe; it can cause damage to internal organs unlike the localized condition.

Several natural interventions such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea and N-acetylcysteine may be helpful for addressing the driving factors behind the disease’s progression.

What are the Risk Factors for Scleroderma?

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Exposure to some industrial chemicals

Note: The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Scleroderma?

  • Skin changes, including hardening, swelling, and abnormal lightening or darkening
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which cold temperature or stress causes vasoconstriction. The affected limb(s) or digit(s) usually turn white with lack of blood flow, then blue with poor oxygenation, and then red when blood flow resumes.
  • Systemic sclerosis can cause other symptoms involving internal organs—coughing due to lung involvement, arrhythmia due to heart involvement, digestive problems, or scleroderma renal crisis if kidneys are affected.

What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Scleroderma?

Note: There is no known cure for scleroderma. Conventional treatments generally are palliative and aim to alleviate symptoms and reduce complications.

  • Drugs to improve blood flow for Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Immunomodulatory or suppressing drugs for skin or lung fibrosis
  • Antacids or drugs that reduce stomach acid for digestive problems
  • Dialysis or blood pressure lowering drugs for renal crisis

What are New Research Directions for Treating Scleroderma?

  • Studying epigenetic or other methods to reduce proliferation and/or activation of fibroblasts
  • Drugs that destroy immune B cells or inhibit their production

What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Help Manage Scleroderma?

  • Avoid cold temperatures and emotional stress to reduce Raynaud’s phenomenon attacks.
  • Exercise to enhance blood circulation and improve endothelial function.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid malnutrition and reduce oxidative stress.

What Natural Interventions Can Help Manage Scleroderma?

  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, can reduce episodes of Raynaud’s phenomenon. It also may diminish pain and improve skin texture in those with scleroderma.
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe has many uses, and in scleroderma patients it has been shown to improve skin quality.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC can reduce the severity of Raynaud’s phenomenon, diminish lung-related complications of scleroderma, and improve vascular function of the liver and kidneys.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E can be helpful in several autoimmune disorders, including scleroderma. Several symptoms of scleroderma have been reported to respond well to vitamin E.
  • Green tea. Green tea and one of its active constituents, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), have beneficial effects on the endothelium. Evidence suggests EGCG suppresses tissue fibrosis.
  • Gotu kola. Gotu kola is an herb that has many skin-healing properties. In one study, patients treated with gotu kola saw improvements in skin quality, vascular health, and general condition.
  • Other natural interventions such as curcumin, 4-aminobenzoic acid, vitamin D, and melatonin may be beneficial to patients with scleroderma.