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Autoimmune Connective Tissue Diseases

Muscles, Bones | August 27, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

autoimmune, Muscles

Autoimmune Connective Tissue Diseases

The main role of connective tissue is to support, bind and protect other tissues and organs in the body. Examples of connective tissue include cartilage, bone, tendons and blood vessels. When we’re referring to a connective tissue disease, the target of pathology is the connective tissue in the body. In many cases connective tissue diseases feature an abnormality in the immune system which results in antibodies attacking the body’s own tissues (autoimmunity).

​Autoimmune connective tissue diseasesAutoimmune connective tissue diseases

These are also referred to as systemic autoimmune diseases—meaning they can affect the entire body. Autoimmune connective tissue diseases often have both environmental and genetic causes. Each connective tissue disease has characteristic symptoms and typical findings via blood tests.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

SLE or lupus, is an autoimmune disorder that features chronic inflammation of the connective tissues. This often results in symptoms that affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.

Common symptoms experienced by people with lupus include:

  • Skin rash on the face and body
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Poor kidney function
  • Anaemia
  • Seizures or visual disturbances
  • Mouth and nose ulcers

Not everyone with lupus will experience all these symptoms but during a worsening of the condition or a flare, fatigue, joint pain and skin rashes will become more intense.

Rheumatoid arthritis

​Rheumatoid arthritisIn rheumatoid arthritis the immune cells attack and inflame the membrane surrounding joints. This results in a build-up of synovial fluid as well as pain, heat and swelling. Over time cartilage in the joints becomes brittle and breaks down leading to stiff, painful and deformed joints. Ligaments, tendons and muscles surrounding the joint can also be affected, causing joints to become unstable. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the small joints of the hands or feet.

Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that mainly affects the eyes and salivary glands but is a systemic disease that can also damage other parts of the body. Immune system cells attack the tear (lachrymal) and salivary glands resulting in chronic dry eyes and mouth. This can cause difficulty swallowing and chewing food as well as having a chronic irritation and burning sensation in the eyes. Other common symptoms include swelling and tenderness of the glands around the face, neck, armpits and groin, fatigue, joint pain and general achiness. In some cases, the mucus membranes of the nose and vagina can become dry and internal organs (including kidneys, blood vessels, intestines, lungs, heart and liver) may become inflamed. The structures of the circulatory and nervous systems can also be affected. 

Mixed connective tissue disease

Mixed connective tissue disease is a disorder which features various connective tissue diseases such as SLE, systemic sclerosis, dermatomyositis, polymyositis and Sjogren’s syndrome. The disease is chronic, but the symptoms are usually milder compared to other connective tissue diseases. In most cases mixed connective tissue disease with eventually become SLE or scleroderma.

Polymyositis and dermatomyositis

These are two related diseases in which there is inflammation of the muscles (polymyositis) and skin (dermatomyositis). Symptoms of both diseases include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

People with dermatomyositis may also have a skin involvement around the eyes and the hands.

Suggested natural therapy options

Fish oil

​Autoimmune connective tissue diseasesRich in omega 3 essential fatty acids, fish oil has proven benefit in many autoimmune connective tissue diseases such as SLE, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.

In a 2015, 6-month trial, participants with SLE who supplemented with fish oil had significant improvements in their physician global assessment, energy/fatigue and emotional wellbeing scores and some circulating inflammatory markers were reduced.

A systematic review of 23 studies found that there is consistent evidence that shows fish oil is beneficial in rheumatoid arthritis with a reduction in joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness, global assessments of pain and disease activity, and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

In Sjogren’s syndrome an omega-3 supplement containing fish oil, flaxseed oil, and vitamin E significantly reduced the symptoms of dry eye and dry mouth.
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Vitamin D

The evidence linking vitamin D status as a potential environmental factor affecting autoimmune disease prevalence continues to accumulate. Beyond that the traditional known metabolic activities, vitamin D has been shown to modulate the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties. If you have an autoimmune connective tissue disorder it is worthwhile investigating if you are deficient in this essential vitamin and whether you would benefit from supplementation.
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Curcumin is a constituent found in turmeric that contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

I​Autoimmune connective tissue diseasest has been found to be beneficial in autoimmune connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Curcumin can help to reduce joint/muscle pain, damage to connective tissue and dry eyes.



Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is rich in an organic sulphur, an important building block for healthy bones and joints.

Available evidence from clinical trials shows that MSM may have a moderate effect in improving joint pain and swelling as well as general functional wellbeing in people with osteoarthritis. It is possible the results could be similar in people with rheumatoid arthritis. MSM supplementation has other important functions such as reducing inflammation, joint/muscle pain, oxidative stress and modulating the immune system.
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Arriens C, et al. Placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of fish oil's impact on fatigue, quality of life, and disease activity in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Nutr J. 2015 Aug 18;14:82

Miles EA, Calder PC. Influence of marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on immune function and a systematic review of their effects on clinical outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis. Br J Nutr. 2012 Jun;107 Suppl 2:S171-84

Singh M, et al. Effect of omega-3 and vitamin E supplementation on dry mouth in patients with Sjögren's syndrome. Spec Care Dentist. 2010 Nov-Dec;30(6):225-9

Zold E, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and connective tissue disease. Vitam Horm. 2011;86:261-86

Butawan M, et al. Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement. Nutrients. 2017 Mar 16;9(3)

Aggarwal BB, and Harikumar KB. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin, the Anti-inflammatory Agent, Against Neurodegenerative, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Metabolic, Autoimmune and Neoplastic Diseases. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009; 41(1): 40–59

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