Sarcoidosis is an autoimmune disease which causes granulomas to form in different parts of the body. A granuloma is a mass of tissue which is usually produced in response to an infection or foreign particle to protect the body from disease. However, in sarcoidosis these granulomas form without a known cause and may cause damage to the self-tissue which can result in scarring and organ damage, leading to health problems.
Which part of the population is most affected by the disease?
The most recent findings suggest diagnosis of the disease is usually between 20 and 40 years old and is most prevalent in Nordic countries and within the African American population.
Which organs are most effected with sarcoidosis?
Due to the nature of the disease, any organ can be affected by sarcoidosis, but it commonly starts in the lungs so most of the research has been conducted in this area. Neurosarcoidosis is an unusual presentation of the condition where granulomas grow in the central nervous system causing nerve damage in the body.
What are the risk factors for sarcoidosis?
Research suggests that risk factors for the disorder include obesity, smoking and occupational risk factors from mining, construction and agricultural work. Interestingly, firefighters and emergency medical services workers who helped in the World Trade Centre disaster in 2001 had an increased risk of developing sarcoidosis which implies airborne toxic agents may have a part to play in the development of the disease.
What are the possible causes of sarcoidosis?
There is no known cause of sarcoidosis but if you have a family member with the disease you may have an increased risk of developing the disease which indicates that there is a genetic component to the condition. Research also suggests that infection or hazardous airborne chemicals might be the trigger for the disease’s onset as the body attempts to defend itself against a foreign invader, but once the immune system is activated it continues to attack and causes damage to the infected organ.
What are the symptoms?
As sarcoidosis can affect any organ the symptoms can be vast ranging from fatigue, weight loss and night sweats but as the disease typically affects the lungs the most common symptoms are as follows:
- Shortness of breath
- A cough that won’t go away
- Enlarged lymph glands in the chest
- Reddish bumps on the skin, which are sometimes found on the shins
Sarcoidosis can also cause red eyes and blurry vision, swollen joints and kidney stones. In neurosarcoidosis, it can cause facial weakness (facial palsy and facial droop), seizures and hearing loss.
Given the number of symptoms that can present in sarcoidosis it is a difficult disease to diagnose and may require biopsies from the affected organ to make a conclusive diagnosis.
What nutritional therapy and lifestyle factors can help support sarcoidosis?
As the cause of the condition is still unknown, then the nutritional approach for supporting the condition is dependent on presenting symptoms but an autoimmune-type protocol focusing on decreasing the systemic inflammation in the body may be beneficial.
Polyphenols such as resveratrol and quercetin have been shown in studies to help ease inflammation in the body . Resveratrol is found in the skins of grapes and quercetin is found in red and purple coloured foods such as red onion, apples and peppers. Also, eating a diet rich in antioxidant foods such as green leafy vegetables, berries, dark chocolate and pecans may also be helpful.
Omega 3 rich fats such as those found in sardines, wild salmon, herring, mackerel and walnuts are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as foods containing vitamin D which include egg yolks, calf’s liver and cheese.
The quality of the air that you are breathing daily should also be well thought out and if you work or live in an environment with compromised air quality then an air filtration system or face mask should be considered to decrease toxic exposure.
Stress can also be a contributing factor in autoimmune disease so finding stress management techniques that suit you such as meditation, daily journaling or spending time outside in nature should be explored to help symptoms or for those at risk, to take preventative measures against potential onset of this condition.
If you suspect that you might have sarcoidosis, discuss this with your General Practitioner.
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