Understanding and Responding to Lupus
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the body’s own healthy tissue and organs, which over time results in chronic levels of inflammation.
Inflammation negatively affects nearly every part of your body, including your:
- Cardiovascular system
- Brain health and function
- Hormone production and regulation, and
- Thyroid health
Lupus tends to be a very frustrating and complicated disease; the most common symptoms of lupus are very similar to symptoms of other serious health conditions, including hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease, and several other autoimmune conditions, including fibromyalgia.
An estimated 1.5 million Americans and 6 million people worldwide have some form of lupus. Most people with lupus are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s, sometimes after years of “not feeling right”.
The most common risk factors for lupus include:
- Having family history of lupus or other autoimmune disorders
- Being a woman — an estimated 90% of all lupus cases are diagnosed in women
- Age — 80% of lupus cases are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 45
- Being of African-American, Asian, or Native American decent — these ethnicities develop lupus two to three times more often than Caucasians do
- An unhealthy diet and specific nutritional deficiencies, as well as digestive health issues, including leaky gut syndrome
- Having food allergies and sensitivities to gluten
- Exposure to toxins and chemicals from pesticides on conventionally grown produce, tap water, and common household cleaners
Lupus affects every single person differently — some people with lupus experience next to no symptoms, while others experience continuous, debilitating, and painful symptoms.
Lupus, just like fibromyalgia tends to “flare-up” periodically — meaning that you might experience really intense symptoms for extended periods of time.
Common symptoms of lupus include:
- Fatigue: Approximately 90% of all people with lupus experience some level of fatigue and lethargy.
- Recurring, low-grade fever: Having recurring low-grade fevers around 99–101°F is one of the earliest signs of lupus and could be a sign of inflammation or infection in the body. These low-grade fevers can often signal oncoming lupus flare-ups.
- Muscle/Joint Pain: Stiffness and swelling can occur around certain affected joints or muscles. Certain joints might also appear red, inflamed and warm, and pain might get worse when moving.
- Skin Rashes, including a rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose — often referred to as a “butterfly” rash because of its shape — nearly 50% of people with lupus experience this butterfly-shaped facial rash, hives and photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight, burning easily). Redness, peeling and itchiness is often common with lupus.
- Digestive Problems: Inflammation of the digestive tract associated with lupus can also cause a number of issues, including weight loss, loss of appetite, heartburn and a number of gut health issues.
Other symptoms of lupus include:
- Stiffness, swelling and edema
- Shortness of breath and chest pains
- Depression and anxiety
- Memory loss, confusion, and brain fog
Doctors and rheumatologists tend to treat autoimmune diseases by prescribing specific medications designed to lower inflammation, including:
- Immunosuppressive medications
- Anti-rheumatic drugs
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
- And even steroids, like prednisone and hydrocortisone
While you should always develop a plan for treating any medical condition with your doctor, many people believe prescription medications are the only way to treat autoimmune conditions like lupus and most feel they have no other choice and are desperate to find relief from their symptoms.
Fortunately, natural remedies for lupus, including a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, exercise, reducing stress, and supplementing with specific, high-quality supplements, can all help manage symptoms and improve overall immune function, without raising the risk for unwanted or unexpected complications.
Foods That Make Lupus Worse
There are several foods that can make symptoms of lupus and autoimmune diseases much worse, these include:
- Gluten: Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and most flour-containing products. Whether you realize it or not, most people are sensitive to gluten, meaning you are not able to fully digest it — this can lead to leaky gut syndrome and chronic inflammation, and trigger significant and persistent lupus flare-ups.
- Trans fats and saturated fats: These fats are found in fast food, many fried foods and packaged/processed foods, and lead to severe inflammation and a host of related health issues, including lupus, fibromyalgia, obesity, arthritis, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and diabetes. Some people with lupus also experience a difficult time breaking down saturated fats and should limit or avoid dairy, red meat, and other processed, high fat packaged foods.
- Sugar: processed or refined sugar can over stimulate the immune system, leading to inflammation and increasing pain, stiffness, and swelling, especially in your muscles and joints.
- Specific legumes: not all legumes are bad. Alfalfa seeds and sprouts, navy beans, peanuts, soybeans, and snow peas contain a substance known as the amino acid L-canavanine, which has been shown to trigger lupus flare-ups in some people with lupus.
- Nightshade vegetables: although there isn’t any scientific evidence to absolutely prove it, some people with lupus find that they’re very sensitive to nightshade vegetables, and experience increased inflammation, achy joints, and skin irritations when eating them. These include: white potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and eggplant.
Effective Natural Lupus Treatment Suggestions
Research shows that a healthy, natural, unprocessed diet is very important for managing lupus because it helps control inflammation that causes gut health issues and reduces risk for complications like heart disease, helps build strength and energy, and reduces several side effects of prescription lupus medications.
The best foods for lupus include:
- Organic, unprocessed foods. Not only are these foods loaded with inflammation-fighting vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, they are also free of synthetic additives, toxins or pesticides in non-organic foods — all of which are directly related to chronic inflammation and other serious health issues.
- Raw vegetables, which promote an alkaline body, reduce inflammation, and improve digestion.
- Wild-caught fish, which provide omega-3 fats to help reduce inflammation, risk of heart disease, and pain. Quality sources include salmon, tuna, and halibut.
- Antioxidant-rich foods, including dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, garlic, onions, asparagus, avocado, ginger, turmeric and all types of berries like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. And don’t forget to load up on herbs; they are delicious and absolutely packed with antioxidants, especially oregano, thyme, and rosemary. These foods are high in fiber, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium, and potassium, and help prevent free radical damage, reduce inflammation, repair possible damage to the joints, and improve energy.
Certain foods can also support healthy skin as well as helping to relieve skin irritation and dryness that’s very commonly associated with lupus. Foods to help keep our skin healthy from the inside out include:
- Nuts and seeds like chia, flax, hemp, walnuts, and almonds
- Coconut oil and olive oil
- Wild-caught salmon
- And drinking plenty of water and herbal tea and green tea
By now we all know the benefits of exercise — it lowers stress, helps with sleep quality, makes your heart and lungs stronger, strengthens bones, lowers joint pain and inflammation, improves flexibility and range of motion, and lowers risk for complications associated with lupus.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Research shows that psychological and emotional stress can often trigger lupus and other autoimmune diseases and can bring about a lupus flare-up by increasing the body’s inflammatory responses.
So make sure you are practicing effective stress management techniques to reduce your physical and emotional stress levels — exercise, deep breathing, yoga, hiking, reading, spending time with friends, or even a 5-10 minute walk outside.
Getting Enough Sleep and Rest
Studies have shown that 50 to 80% of lupus patients have identified fatigue as one of their primary symptoms.
Sleeping 7-8 quality hours each night ensures your body and brain have time to rest and repair themselves, it also helps balance your hormones, reduces stress, reduces inflammation, increases energy, and decreases the debilitating fatigue associated with lupus — sleep really is that important!
So what can you do to improve the quality of sleep? There are a number of steps to take, including:
- Practice deep breathing in order to relax and fall asleep
- Unplug and reduce your screen time before you go to bed. Texting, social media, watching TV — all these electronics emit blue light that alters your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone essential in regulating your sleep cycle.
- Use lavender essential oil to help relax — diffuse it through your bedroom or rub it on your wrists or temples for getting into bed
If you don't fall asleep within 20 minutes of turning in (or if you wake up and can't fall back to sleep in 20 minutes), get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Reading, listening to relaxing music, or more deep breathing can help you get to sleep.
Protecting and Healing Sensitive Skin
Up to 90% of people with lupus develop skin rashes and lesions, including a butter-fly shaped rash that covers the cheeks and nose.
Skin rashes associated with lupus are caused by an underlying inflammatory response. It’s important to protect sensitive skin from irritants and also the sun if skin starts to show signs of a rash, hives, or redness. Certain chemicals in household or beauty products — like lotions, detergents, soaps, and makeup — can aggravate skin inflammation and make dryness and itchiness worse. Tips for helping to heal and protect sensitive skin caused by lupus include:
- Avoid direct sunlight during peak hours of the day
- Wear non-toxic sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher
- Wear sunglasses and a hat when in the sun
- Switch from conventional beauty and household products to those that are organic, free of toxins and chemicals, and made with all-natural ingredients like coconut oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, and essential oils.
Nutrients To Reduce Symptoms of Lupus
While its always best to get as many nutrients as possible, from whole food sources, there are times that you just need to supplement to make sure you are getting enough of specific vitamins, minerals, and nutrients — including Omega-3s, Vitamin D, and Curcumin.
Supplements that can help reduce nutrient deficiencies and lower inflammation include:
- Omega-3 (at least 2,000 milligrams daily): you really want to make sure it contains EPA and DHA, both of which are critical for reducing inflammation, which in turn helps prevent muscle and joint pain, stiffness, and other symptoms caused by lupus.
- Vitamin D3 (2,000–5,000 IU daily): over half of all adults are deficient in vitamin D. Since people with lupus can experience increased sensitivity to sunlight, you will want to supplement with a high quality, plant-based Vitamin D3 supplement, you’ll also want to make sure it is combined with Vitamin K2. These help regulate and strengthen the immune system, lower depression and anxiety, help balance hormones, and support bone health.
Researchers believe that consuming omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D together further lower the risk of experiencing symptoms related to lupus as well as other dangerous and harmful autoimmune disorders.
Essential Nutrients For Fighting Inflammation
Nobody wants to hear that taking more pills is the answer, but fortunately, less is more when it comes to supplements to lower your inflammatory load.
There is one supplement formula in particular that is such an inflammation-fighting powerhouse that it should be part of everyone’s daily routine.
However, it’s not antioxidant vitamins. If you’re following an anti-inflammatory diet, then you should already be getting plenty of the key inflammation-fighting antioxidant vitamins like B, C, E, K, and A.
But you need more than that, and simply adding spices like turmeric and ginger to your food will not provide enough inflammation-reducing horsepower to move the net inflammatory load needle enough to tip the scales in your favor.
Here’s what works…
There are 5 inflammation fighting supplemental herbs you need to know about.
The First is Curcumin
If you’re new to curcumin, it is the concentrated active ingredient inside turmeric. It’s only about 2-3% of the turmeric root, but when formulated properly it can have an amazing effect on your body. In fact, it’s a whopping 250 times more potent an inflammation-fighter than turmeric itself. A large part of the inflammation-fighting effect of curcumin comes from is its ability to inhibit key enzymes in the body known to promote inflammation.
But it does even more that… curcumin is really amazing stuff.
It’s rare that a dietary ingredient can have such a broad spectrum of health benefits. In nutritional science it’s called being pleotropic, meaning it produces multiple health effects on biological systems throughout the body. Curcumin is one of the most highly pleotropic compounds on earth; even pharmaceutical drugs can’t claim anything close to what it can do.
Now when shopping for a curcumin supplement, you want to look for curcumin in its most active form, so it goes to work in your body almost immediately. The active form of curcumin is pre-converted so it is almost immediately bioavailable in your body when you take it. It’s kind of like when you juice something and break the fiber bonds; your body just absorbs it better and faster.
The active form of curcumin is called 95% tetra-hydro curcuminoids.
The majority of curcumin on shelves, however, is not this active form, which means these supplements can take hours to start working. The active form of curcumin is the one you want, so always check the label to make sure it has 400 mg of 95% tetra-hydro curcuminoids per serving.
The other thing you need to know about curcumin is that it’s fat soluble in the body. This means it needs to come in a healthy carrier oil to get the effect you need. That brings us to the next inflammation-fighting ingredient…
Black Seed Oil
Black seed oil is extracted from the seeds of Nigella sativa, a plant native to southwest Asia. Also known as black cumin seed oil, it is a powerful antioxidant and inflammation fighter, and offers a range of health benefits supported by hundreds of studies.
It’s great for your stomach as well. In fact, Hippocrates himself was said to have used black seed oil to improve digestion issues. The seeds are considered to be naturally carminative, which means they aid digestion and can help to decrease bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.
Ginger contains chemicals that help reduce inflammation, and it helps with digestion and reduces nausea too. Researchers believe that, like curcumin, the chemicals in ginger work in different parts of the body including the stomach and intestines, and in the brain and nervous system as well, to help tame the flames of inflammation.
The next ingredient is called an adaptogen. Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that go to work when you are under stress, especially important for people who live in a state of chronic stress and inflammation. They work to help balance and restore the body.
Astragalus’s roots are in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it’s been used as an adaptogen for thousands of years, activating when you are under stress to help avoid inflammation. It is one of the most powerful immune-building plants on the planet, and it’s an essential herb in the daily wellness regimen of top holistic nutritionists.
And the last of our five natural ingredients to help lower your inflammatory load is…
The unique and beneficial compounds in ginseng are called ginsenosides. They’re so powerful in fact that they are currently under clinical research to investigate their potential for a variety of medical uses. Ginseng’s effects on “inflammatory cykotines” produced by the body from living in a state in chronic inflammation, as most people do, is well known. Plus, like the other four, it’s safe to take every day. It’s a great daily supplement.
In summary, the top five natural inflammation-fighters include:
- Active Curcurmin (95% tetra-hydro curcuminoids)
- Black seed Oil
- Ginger Root
Now remember the magical supplement formula mentioned earlier? Well that supplement is the only one that combines the top five natural inflammation-fighters in just the right amount. Plus, it’s a super clean formula that’s also vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, and a great value too.