Systemic lupus erythematosus is a disease that causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood vessels, and kidneys. It results from a malfunctioning immune system, which attacks the body instead of protecting it. Contributing factors may include genetics, infections, ultraviolet light, extreme stress, and the use of certain drugs.

Nutritional Therapy for Lupus Erythematosus

Diet can aggravate the symptoms of lupus or contribute to its onset. Treatment may call for dietary alterations and supplementation for any nutrient deficiencies. Food allergies and sensitivities have been implicated as a possible trigger of the disease. Many believe alfalfa sprouts are a common trigger of lupus symptoms; people who have had lupus symptoms may want to avoid eating alfalfa sprouts. An elimination diet can help to identify any other culprits. Here's how an elimination diet works:

  • For two to three weeks, the patient's commonly eaten foods are eliminated from the diet. Common food allergens (such as wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts, and corn) are also avoided.
  • If symptoms have subsided or not appeared by the end of this period, then the food challenges can begin. If the symptoms are still present, then more foods should be eliminated from the diet.
  • Every two days, reintroduce (one at a time) the commonly eaten foods and common food allergens that you eliminated, noting if any symptoms appear.
  • Continue in this fashion with the other foods.

It should be noted that lupus symptoms can go into remission for weeks or years. Linking a remission to an avoided food allergen may take some detective work.

Hydrochloric acid deficiency also has been linked with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The stomach normally secretes this strong acid, which helps digest proteins. If indicated by a practitioner, supplements in capsule form can be taken with meals.

A low-protein diet is often prescribed to treat people with lupus, as a large amount of protein may be harmful for several reasons:

  • It can tax weakened kidneys. (Half of the people with lupus have kidney disorders.)
  • It has the ability to rob calcium from the bones. (People with lupus are often at higher risk for osteoporosis because of the drugs they take and their instructions to avoid the sun.)
  • It may tax the immune system.

The ideal diet, in addition to being low in protein, should be low in fat and high in green leafy vegetables, such as bok choy, collard greens, and kale. These vegetables may help people with lupus to metabolize estrogen better.

Supplements may also be prescribed, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, and essential fatty acids. Vitamin E, taken orally and applied to the skin, can help heal the skin rashes that sometimes accompany lupus. Supplements are often recommended instead of trying to get the vitamin from food sources because most of the food sources of vitamin E (such as vegetable oils) contain a lot of fat. Fish oil, especially EPA, is another effective supplement.

Environmental Medicine for Lupus Erythematosus

Like nutritional therapy, environmental medicine recognizes that diet can play a role in triggering lupus. But environmental medicine goes several steps further to implicate pollutants, pesticides, molds, stress, infections -- almost anything in the environment. The exact mix of triggers is different for every person with lupus.

These environmental factors do not trigger the disease in the same way that an allergy might. Instead, it is the repeated exposure to multiple offending substances over time that weakens the body's immune system. Eventually, an autoimmune disease like lupus strikes. An autoimmune disease is one in which the immune system, instead of protecting the body, begins to attack it.

Skin tests, rotary diversified diets, and other testing procedures can help pinpoint the environmental stressors. For example, one procedure checks for culprits by placing drops of certain substances (foods or chemicals) under the tongue. If symptoms develop, then the substance can be identified as a trigger. As an example, overexposure to the chemical formaldehyde has been suggested as a lupus trigger in some people. Formaldehyde can be found in dozens of home and office products, such as plywood paneling and nail polish.

Once an environmental factor is identified, treatment can include:

  • avoidance of the triggers (from installing air filters to changing the diet)
  • immunotherapy, in which minute drops of the offending substance are given under the tongue or in injections in amounts so small that they won't cause any symptoms but should build up the body's defenses and increase the body's tolerance to that substance
  • nutritional adjustments
  • generally, as few drugs as possible

Keeping a diary with the details of your symptoms is an important step in understanding your case of lupus and will also help your physician. Be as exhaustive in your note-taking as possible, mentioning:

  • which foods you ate
  • the soaps you bathed with
  • the rooms and buildings you stayed in
  • how much time you spent driving

Other Lupus Erythematosus Therapies

  • Herbal Medicine for Lupus Erythematosus -- Echinacea, feverfew, goldenseal, and pau d'arco are just a few of the helpful herbs.
  • Hydrotherapy for Lupus Erythematosus -- Cold or hot compresses can be used for pain relief.
  • Mind/Body Medicine for Lupus Erythematosus -- Creative visualization, spirituality, relaxation techniques, biofeedback, and other mind/body treatments can strengthen the immune system, as well as reduce joint pain and ease accompanying depression.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine for Lupus Erythematosus -- Treatment may involve acupuncture, herbal therapy, dietary alterations, and exercise.

For more information on lupus erythematosus and alternative medicine, see: