Looking after yourself
Information on managing common symptoms
Whether or not you have gastro-intestinal symptoms, eating a balanced diet can help you to manage your condition and stay healthy. People are often keen to avoid prescription medications if possible and like to try natural therapies first. These are available from many pharmacies and supermarkets as well as from health food stores.
The gut is affected in up to 90% of patients with systemic sclerosis, so an awareness of nutrition is particularly important if you have this form of the condition.
You may need to try using a combination of methods, either together, or separately at different times of the year to find a regime that works for you. Your doctor or specialist nurse will recommend some treatments for you to try first, however if you decide you want to try different ones (particularly the prescription medications) then you can take this information to your GP who will be able to prescribe a different treatment.
Many people living with scleroderma experience symptoms that can lead to a poor appetite and weight loss. Because of this, it's really important to choose a balanced diet and maintain weight within a healthy range. Doing so may help you to avoid the risk of heart, lung and kidney problems.
Some elements to ensure you include in your diet are:
Calcium is important for healthy bones. Milk and dairy products are good sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include; fish, dark green vegetables, pulses, seeds, nuts and fortified cereals. If you are taking steroids your body's requirements for calcium will be increased.
Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight and is needed to help absorb and utilise calcium. Vitamin D can also be found in some fortified dietary items such as eggs, fat spreads (butter and margarine) and cereals.
The risk of anaemia is reduced with adequate intakes of iron, which can be found in red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dark green leafy vegetables. Drinking a small amount of orange juice can help absorb iron due to the vitamin C content. Tea can reduce iron absorption, so should be avoided at meal times.
Omega-3 fats can help protect against many diseases, including heart disease, and they can reduce inflammation in arthritis. It is also known to have a positive effect on mood. Sources of omega-3 include: oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, pilchards, salmon and fresh tuna. Rapeseed oil, walnuts and fortified eggs and margarines are also good sources.
If you are managing to keep up a healthy weight, try to ensure that you are having a balanced diet:
Fruits and Vegetables help to reduce pain and inflammation, they are a good source of fibre, and help regulate blood pressure and blood fats.
These fruits, vegetables and spices are believed to be particularly helpful for some people in managing scleroderma:
Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetable portions per day – one portion = 80g. Be aware that if you have heartburn and reflux, you might be better off avoiding acidic citrus fruits.
Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. As well as starch, they contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Beta-glucan, which is believed to be helpful in managing scleroderma, is found in cereal grains like barley, oats, rye and wheat.
Include at least two portions at every meal – one portion = one slice of bread (40g), two to three heaped tablespoons rice and pasta, three to four heaped tablespoons of breakfast cereal, or two medium-sized boiled potatoes.
Milk and dairy products are a good source of protein and calcium. Aim for two to three portions of dairy foods per day – one portion = 30g cheese, one small pot of yoghurt (150ml), or 200ml of milk.
Protein-rich foods help the body to grow and repair, so they are particularly important when you are recovering from surgery or ulcers. Aim for two to three portions of protein per day including one to two portions of oily fish per week – one portion = 80g cooked meat poultry and oily fish, 120g white fish, three tablespoons of baked beans, red kidney beans, chick peas or lentils, or one to two eggs.
Foods high in fat and sugar can have negative effects on health, so need to be kept to moderate amounts.