Scleroderma, technically called systemic sclerosis or SSc, is a disease of unknown cause that affects the connective tissues of the skin and various organs. Common symptoms include thickening and tightening of the skin (beginning with the extremities), Raynaud’s phenomenon (a condition characterized by an exaggerated reaction in the fingertips to cold exposure), joint pain (especially in the fingers and knees), esophageal reflux (heartburn), calcium deposits under the skin, and telangiectasias (mats of enlarged small blood vessels). Scleroderma can lead to serious complications, such as fibrosis of the lungs, heart, and kidneys; for this reason, medical supervision is essential. There is no cure as yet for scleroderma, although drugs may be used to alleviate the various individual symptoms of the disease.


Proposed Treatments in Scleroderma

The supplement PABA]]> has been suggested as a treatment for scleroderma. ]]>1,2]]> A 4-month, ]]>double-blind study]]> of 146 people with longstanding, stable scleroderma failed to find any evidence of benefit. However, half of the participants in this trial dropped out before the end, making the results unreliable. ]]>3]]>

The herb ]]>gotu kola]]> has a long history of use for various skin conditions; for this reason, it has been tried as a treatment for scleroderma. ]]>4]]> However, as yet there is no meaningful evidence that it is effective. Other herbs and supplements proposed for treatment of scleroderma (but that do not have any significant supporting evidence) include ]]>boswellia]]> , ]]>thymus extract]]> , ]]>MSM]]> , antioxidants (e.g. the antioxidant vitamins ]]>vitamin C]]> , ]]>vitamin E]]> , and ]]>beta-carotene]]> , and the mineral ]]>selenium]]> , which supports the body’s own antioxidant defense system), and danshen root. (One study failed to find vitamin C helpful for the treatment of Raynaud’s phenomenon associated with scleroderma. ]]>5]]>

One highly preliminary study suggests that ]]>acupuncture]]> might have value for this condition. ]]>6]]>

Finally, several herbs and supplements have shown promise for treating the individual symptoms of scleroderma. For more information, see the articles on ]]>Raynaud’s phenomenon]]> , ]]>rheumatoid arthritis]]> , and ]]>esophageal reflux]]> .


Herbs and Supplements to Avoid in Scleroderma

Combination therapy with the supplement 5-HTP]]> and the drug ]]>carbidopa]]> has reportedly caused skin changes similar to those that occur in scleroderma. ]]>7–9]]> Furthermore, L-tryptophan, a supplement closely related to 5-HTP, has been taken off the market because it caused numerous cases of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, which is sometimes regarded as a close relative of scleroderma. It is thought that this outbreak was due to a contaminant in a certain batch of the supplement, but some controversy about this explanation remains.

Finally, various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to prevent or treat scleroderma. For more information on this potential risk, see the appropriate individual drug articles in the ]]>Drug Interactions]]> section of this database.