Dietary advice to help manage lupus

October 9, 2015

Lupus is a serious and chronic autoimmune disease. Common symptoms include joint pain, skin rashes, and debilitating fatigue, but it can also damage organs. We'll teach you more about lupus and provide some tips to manage it through dietary changes.

Dietary advice to help manage lupus

Learn more about lupus

  • Lupus strikes women about 10 times as often as men. While it's a mild disease for many, lupus can be serious and even life threatening for some.
  • Lupus is believed to be caused by a genetic predisposition and triggered by environmental factors, such as viruses. It may be worsened by sun exposure, infection, stress, and certain foods and drugs.
  • There is no single treatment regimen that helps everyone. The patient and physician may have to try different approaches to find one that works.
  • Therapy often requires taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to suppress inflammation, along with hydroxychloroquine (a drug used to fight malaria) to increase resistance to sun exposure and help prevent rashes and joint pain. For more severe problems, steroids or other im­mu­no­suppressive drugs may be prescribed.

Avoid these harmful foods

  • Alfalfa in any form. Even herbal supplements containing alfalfa worsen lupus symptoms. Other legumes may have a similar effect.
  • Mushrooms and some smoked foods. These may also cause problems for lupus sufferers.
  • Foods containing psoralens. Lupus patients whose disease is worsened by exposure to the sun or unshielded fluorescent light should avoid foods containing psoralens such as celery, parsnips, parsley, lemons, and limes, which all heighten photosensitivity.
  • High-protein, high-fat foods. Many lupus patients note an improvement after they decrease their consumption of fatty high-protein foods, especially animal products. Some experts recommend a vegetarian diet that allows eggs, skim milk, and other low-fat dairy products.

Aim for more of these helpful foods

  • Cereals, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are high in the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial for both lupus itself and for protecting against heart disease. People with lupus also tend to have high blood cholesterol levels, which may be worsened by steroid medications. Preliminary animal studies have found that vitamin E may slow the progress of lupus, so try to eat foods high in vitamin E like nuts, seeds, oils, and wheat germ.
  • Cruciferous vegetables, biofla­vonoids, and fatty fish. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain indoles that have a positive impact on lupus. Fresh citrus fruits (especially grapefruits) are high in the bioflavonoids that seem to help lupus patients. Because most lupus patients need to avoid the sun, they should also make sure that their diet provides adequate vitamin D. Good sources include fluid milk, fortified soy and rice beverages, and salmon or other fatty fish. Fish oils also have anti-inflammatory effects that may help relieve the joint pain, soreness, and stiffness associated with lupus.

Follow these drugs and diet guidelines

  • If you take aspirin or other NSAIDs, always take them with meals.
  • If you're taking corticosteroids, cut back on salt, as it will increase water retention and contribute to steroid-induced high blood pressure.
  • Because steroids increase your risk of osteoporosis, consume plenty of calcium-rich dairy products, fish with bones, and dark green leafy vegetables. Supplements may be required.

There's a lot you can do to limit the impact that a lupus diagnosis has on your life. Use this guide as a starting point for foods you should seek out and foods you should avoid.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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