I first heard of scleroderma when my mother started working at St Vincent’s Rheumatology. Since I was a student, nutrition in scleroderma has fascinated me. So when Scleroderma Victoria approached me to speak at their conference about nutrition in scleroderma, I was delighted to!
Many who were unable to attend the conference, and have asked for the notes. So for those people, this covers the basics of how holistic nutrition can help with scleroderma.
What is holistic nutrition?
Holistic nutrition is an approach to food and lifestyle that focuses on the individual. Every one of us has different needs, so there is no such thing as one perfect diet that suits everyone.
This approach also respects that nutrition and the food we eat can impact on every system of the body. Every single molecule in your body is made up of something that you or your parents consumed at some point. This shows how essential a good diet is to living a good life.
There are other factors that impact on nutritional needs as well. Medication use, lifestyle choices and stress levels can all increase need for certain nutrients.
The 4 factors of nutrition
When it comes to nutrition, there’s 4 main factors we look at:
Intake – how much of a nutrient is consumed
Absorption – how much is absorbed into the body
Use – how much is used up by normal body processes
Excretion – how much is removed from the body
All of these factors can be involved when it comes to nutrition in scleroderma. As examples:
- Intake of nutrients may be limited due to allergies or intolerances
- Absorption is limited by the hardened tissues
- Use of some nutrients is higher due to the inflammation caused by scleroderma
- Excretion of nutrients is affected by kidney and bowel conditions
So it’s easy to see why nutrition is such a complex topic in scleroderma!
Gut health 101
To understand a lot of the issues with nutrition in general – and with nutrition in scleroderma – we have to look to the gut.
The gut is a major line of defence for the body, keeping out the nasties and letting in the good stuff. If you have issues with your gut, you have a higher chance of illness and malnutrition.
The most common issues with gut health are dysbiosis – when your gut flora are out of balance – and increased gap junction permeability – commonly called ‘leaky gut’.
The gaps between cells in the gut are called ‘gap junctions’. If the gut is healthy, the junctions are tight, and don’t let bad things through. But when it’s unhealthy, the junctions become loose and allow molecules through. This puts the body on high alert. In the long-term, it can lead to autoimmune disease.
People with scleroderma are much more likely to have gut issues. Scleroderma impacts on the gut by:
- Hardened tissues preventing the absorption of essential nutrients
- Medication use altering the gut flora balance
- Inflammation affecting the gut wall and the gut flora balance
The good news is – there’s plenty of natural and yummy foods to support good gut health. They include:
- Probiotics – including yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir and pickled vegetables
- Prebiotics – including apples, pears, garlic, onions, leeks and leafy greens
- Amino acids – found in high protein foods such as meat,eggs, fish and beans
- Antioxidant & anti-inflammatory foods
There are many food groups that can be allergenic or cause intolerances. Many people cut out gluten, dairy, grains and/or sugar to try and relieve symptoms. This isn’t necessarily bad in itself – but it can lead to nutrient imbalances.
Allergies and intolerances are thought to play a big role in autoimmune disease. Inflammation in the gut increases gut permeability, which allows more molecules through.
Many people with autoimmune conditions have multiple allergies and intolerances – it’s a different face of the same immune problem. Consuming foods that you’re intolerant to can cause flare-ups in symptoms. But does that mean you should be eliminating foods?
Everyone will react differently to different foods – even if they have the same condition. So someone else’s allergies won’t necessarily match yours.
Elimination shouldn’t be done without supervision and care. It’s essential to monitor reactions and nutrient intake, otherwise the risk of too many exclusions and malnutrition is high. This is particularly true when it comes to conditions like scleroderma, where malnutrition is already a likely problem.
So what do you do if you want to support your body using holistic nutrition in scleroderma?
The anti-inflammatory diet
There are many inflammatory factors in scleroderma, so an anti-inflammatory protocol is often warranted. This approach combines elements from different cultures, including Mediterranean and Asian. The foods used have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and gut supportive properties.
For those with scleroderma, an anti-inflammatory diet will help support healthy gut function, as well as other common issues such as Raynaud’s. It focuses on including nutritious foods, instead of just excluding foods, so it’s nutrient-dense AND not mentally restrictive.
An anti-inflammatory diet includes:
- Oily fish and other omega-3 sources
- Colourful fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Green tea
- Herbs and spices
- Dark chocolate
- Fermented foods
Obviously, you don’t consume anti-inflammatory foods if you have been advised otherwise, or are intolerant! It’s more about adding in the good stuff that you can add safely.
Nutrition in scleroderma – the aim of the game
When it comes to holistic nutrition, the one outcome we want is to improve your quality of life, and get you to the healthiest you can be.
This means working with your body, your needs, your circumstances for the best outcome.
Would you like to learn more about the anti-inflammatory foods that can support you? Grab my anti-inflammatory food list today – it’s free!