The importance of food nutrients for lupus sufferers

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disorder. Patients often experience periods of remission followed by episodes of worsening symptoms. The conventional treatment for SLE includes the use of steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, and antimalarial drugs. In some cases, intravenous administration of cytotoxic drugs is also used. Unfortunately, the treatment methods in combination with an inactive lifestyle due to the disease flair-ups often cause the SLE sufferer to experience weight problems, such as obesity, which leads to coronary artery disease, bone mineral density issues, diabetes, anemia, hypertension, and high plasma levels of homocysteine. Also, SLE sufferers may become malnourished because of infections and gastrointestinal symptoms due to the use of immunosuppressive drugs. Ultimately, it is critical that SLE sufferers maintain a nutritious diet to prevent unwanted weight gain, keep the body from becoming deficient in essential vitamins/minerals, and reduce the likelihood of inflammation.

The benefits of a nutritious diet for SLe sufferers

A nutritious diet cannot cure lupus nor prevent the disease from emerging from bouts of remission. However, optimum nutrition can help alleviate the symptoms of the disease.

  • Significantly reduce inflammation, which relieves other symptoms
  • Stay a healthy weight without becoming malnourished
  • Reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease, or hypertension
  • Maintain strong bones and muscles
  • Combat the side effects of medications

Top nutritious food choices

It is critical that sufferers of SLE turn to nutritious foods to relieve inflammation and prevent further health problems.

A nutritious diet should contain the following: 

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Ground flaxseed

Vitamin D, calcium, and SLE

Many medications prescribed to cope with SLE appear to deplete the body of vitamin D and calcium which puts the sufferer at an increased risk for possible fractures and bone density problems, such as osteoporosis later in life. Certain dietary adjustments help to boost vitamin D and calcium. In studies undertaken by the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ulster, researchers found that higher vitamin D concentrations were associated with lower incidents of disease activity.

Here is a list of foods naturally high in vitamin D and calcium:

  • Low-fat milk
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Calcium-fortified plant milk such as pea, almond, and coconut milk.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach or broccoli
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

Individuals who are coping with SLE while taking prescription medications often develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. They especially suffer from lower than usual B12 and folic acid. It is believed that this is due to malabsorption as a direct result of the prescription medications.

Nutrition and inflammation

Saturated fats not only increase blood cholesterol levels but are also believed to contribute to inflammation. Red meat is loaded with saturated fat so should be avoided by individuals with SLE. Even non-SLE sufferers should abstain from consuming saturated and trans fats.

Foods to avoid that are high in saturated fats:

  • Red meats
  • Fried foods
  • Creamed soups
  • Heavy sauces
  • Animal fat
  • High-fat dairy foods
  • Whole milk
  • Butter
  • Ice Cream
  • Baked goods

Dangers of alfalfa and garlic

People who are coping with SLE must avoid consuming alfalfa or garlic. Alfalfa sprouts contain L-canavanine, which is an amino acid. The amino acid often causes muscle pain, kidney problems, abnormal test results, and fatigue. Garlic is made up of ajoene, thiosulfinates, and allicin which appear to kickstart a person’s immune system into overdrive and cause a significant flair of-of lupus problem.

Corticosteroids and nutritional changes

Undoubtedly, corticosteroids cause weight gain in most individuals taking the prescription medication. On top of increasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, steroids also worsen osteoporosis which causes the bones to become brittle and more susceptible to breakage. When taking steroids, only a limited amount of salt or fat should be consumed, or the lupus symptoms and side effects will only gradually worsen.

Number of lupus sufferers

Lupus afflicts more than ~1.5 million Americans and more than 5 million around the world.  That number grows annually by about 16,000 new cases according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Researchers are diligently working to control the autoimmune disorder with a combination of medication and nutritious dietary changes. Many researchers believe that the number of people living with SLE, but who are undiagnosed, may be far higher.

As with so many diseases, lupus affects everyone differently so what works for one individual may fail for another. However, diet modification is a step in the right direction. Even if the SLE sufferer is not pushed into remission by medication and dietary changes they can at least rest assured that the foods they are currently consuming are the best for their long-term outlook.


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