Lupus remains one of medicine’s biggest mysteries. Medical researchers don’t fully understand what triggers this autoimmune disease, but it’s thought to develop when specific genes that predispose someone to lupus interact with environmental factors, like common viruses. The immune system becomes misdirected and produces antibodies that target the body’s tissues and organs, as these antibodies, called auto-antibodies, build up in various organs, inflammation results. There are several types of lupus, the most common being systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It can be mild causing fatigue, joint pain, and skin rashes; or severe, affecting major organs including kidneys.
There is no lupus diet per se, but some preliminary studies suggest nutrition can be helpful for reducing the severity of flare-ups and encouraging remission.
There’s evidence that in areas like Japan and Eskimo communities in Greenland where people consume a lot of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, seafood, and other sources the rates of autoimmune disease are lower than in countries where the intake of omega-3’s is low. That doesn’t mean necessarily that fish lowers the risk of lupus, but it’s worth noting that there’s already a fairly well-established association between high fish consumption and lower rates of depression and heart disease, so the idea isn’t farfetched.
Some population studies suggest the onset of lupus is lower in countries where green tea is a diet staple. One explanation may be that green tea contains potent polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s possible that adding green tea to your diet or even applying it directly to the skin rashes that can accompany lupus may be helpful. When green tea polyphenols were mixed with skin and salivary gland cells in lab studies done at the Medical College of Georgia researchers noted a significant decrease in the markers for SLE.
Avoid safflower, sunflower, corn oils, and margarine because they are rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids, the polyunsaturated fats believed to increase inflammation. Packaged, highly processed, and commercially fried foods are often loaded with trans-fats, which contribute to inflammation.
Alfalfa seeds and sprouts contain the amino acid L-canavanine, which appears to aggravate lupus symptoms. Echinacea and zinc are great natural immunity boosters, conversely, they can cause lupus flare-ups.
Medications commonly prescribed for lupus symptoms can increase the risk of osteoporosis, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can help offset this.
There is no cure for lupus at this time, but staying as healthy as possible can offset symptoms enough to increase the quality of life, and that is what matters. Enjoy a healthy varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Use natural herbs and spices to vary your diet and keep it enjoyable.
Food cures, Reader’s Digest Association, 2009