I was honored with an invitation to speak at the National Conference for the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation in Chicago on the topic of Nutrition, Wellness and Autoimmune Disease April 26, 2014. The other speakers were a collection of physicians and scientists whose specialties involve the systems affected by Sjogren’s Syndrome. For the majority of folks who may be unaware of what those could include, a brief description of this disease is:
“An autoimmune disease that classically combines dry eyes, dry mouth, and another disease of the connective tissues such as rheumatoid arthritis (most common), lupus, scleroderma or polymyositis. Inflammation of the glands that produce tears (the lacrimal glands) leads to decreased tears and dry eyes. Inflammation of the glands that produce the saliva in the mouth (salivary glands, including the parotid glands) leads to dry mouth.”
I learned much more about Sjogren’s Syndrome, and autoimmune disease in general, throughout my process of researching and developing my presentation, which was delivered to about 450 people. The audience was composed mostly of patients dealing with this condition, their loved ones, and medical professionals. It truly was a wonderful experience for which I am very grateful! I want to describe a few highlights which illustrate the impact our presence and message can have on others, and in turn, the ripple effect that is produced which can extend far beyond our awareness.
Following my presentation, I was approached by a group of people who had questions. There was a man whose questions had a different theme and tone. He asked if I had heard of a man named Norman Borlaug. I had not, but later Googled him and learned he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for making a huge impact on world hunger with his work in genetically modifying wheat….before that term was used or recognized. The man before me was an acolyte of his, also a PhD and University academic, as well as a farmer. A large part of my presentation was devoted to promoting embracing an anti-inflammatory diet, and eliminating artificial additives, pesticides, chemicals, processed and genetically modified foods and other altered products from the diet and environment to reduce auto-immune flares. He asked if I would share my sources, and other credible resources to expand his education on the topic, and gave me his contact information. As he turned away, and I turned toward the folks who suffer with the condition and were asking questions for themselves, he uttered a sentence that affected me deeply…he said “I thought I was part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
After I returned home, we started to correspond. I have sent him articles and recommended books on topics surrounding natural and sustainable food production, and the impact that departure from those principals have on public health, some of which are listed below. Although our viewpoints appear to be opposite, the manner in which we communicate with each other allows for the exchange of ideas, while respecting the other. I learned that his wife of 47 years had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s, and that was why he was in attendance. There is often a bright side and a dark side to progress. It is a gift to set aside what we think we know for an open mind and a new experience!
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan
2014 SSF National Patient Conference “Solving the Sjögren’s Puzzle”