Fitness and health 23.8.2016 12:55 pm

Living with lupus

Lupus illustration

Lupus illustration

Women of African, Asian, or Native American descent are three times more at risk than Caucasians.

The immune system normally fights off dangerous infections and bacteria to keep the body healthy. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks the body because it is confusing it with something foreign. There are many autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In this disease, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other organs.

It can have phases of worsening symptoms that alternate with periods of mild symptoms. Most people with SLE are able to live a normal life with treatment. Women of African, Asian, or Native American descent are three times more at risk than Caucasians. SLE is more common in women than men.


The exact cause of SLE isn’t known, but several factors have been associated with it. The disease isn’t linked to a certain gene, but people with lupus often have family members with other autoimmune conditions. Some environmental factors are said to trigger the disease and they include:

  • Ultraviolet rays
  • Certain medications
  • Viruses
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Trauma
  • Certain drugs

Women also may experience more severe symptoms during pregnancy and menstrual periods. This has led some medical professionals to believe the female hormone oestrogen may play a role in causing SLE.


Some foods that can contribute to lupus and make autoimmune disease symptoms worse include:

  • Gluten: Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and most flour-containing products. Gluten intolerance is common because it’s difficult for many people to digest properly. This can increase leaky gut syndrome, inflammation or trigger a lupus flare-up.
  • Trans fat and sometimes saturated fats: These fats are found in fast food, many fried foods and packaged/processed foods, and can lead to inflammation and heart problems.  Added sugar: Too much sugar can overstimulate the immune system and increase pain.
  • High-salt foods: Because lupus can damage the kidneys, it’s best to try to keep sodium and salt levels low to prevent fluid retention, worsened swelling and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Alcohol and too much caffeine: These can increase anxiety, worsen inflammation, damage the liver, increase pain, and cause dehydration and sleep-related problems.
  • Certain legumes: Alfalfa seeds and sprouts, green beans, peanuts, soybeans, and snow peas contain a substance that has been shown to trigger lupus flare-ups in some patients (although not all).
  • Avoid cigarettes and recreational drugs: These can worsen lung damage and inflammation significantly.


Lupus symptoms are also symptoms of many other diseases, which makes diagnosis tricky. If you have any of the below symptoms, see your doctor. Your doctor can run tests to get the information needed to make an accurate diagnosis. To be diagnosed with lupus, you must have four out of 11 common signs of the disease. Then further tests can be conducted to confirm diagnosis.

  • Skin rash: A “butterfly” rash in about half the people with SLE. The rash is most often seen over the cheeks and bridge of the nose. It can be widespread. It gets worse in sunlight. Joint pain and swelling.
  • Chest pain when taking a deep breath.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever with no other cause.
  • General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling.
  • Hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Other symptoms depend on which part of the body is affected:

  • Brain and nervous system: Headaches, numbness, tingling, seizures, vision problems, and personality changes.
  • Digestive tract: Abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Heart: Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
  • Lung: Coughing up blood and difficulty breathing.
  • Skin: Patchy skin colour and fingers that change colour when cold (Raynaud phenomenon).
  • Kidney: Swelling in legs.


There is no cure for SLE. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. Mild forms of the disease may be treated with:

  • Anti-inflammatories and pain tablets for joint symptoms.
  • Low doses of corticosteroids, such as prednisone for skin and arthritis symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid creams for skin rashes.
  • Anti-malarial drugs.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs (drugs which dampen or suppress the immune system). These medicines are used if you do not get better with corticosteroids, or if your symptoms get worse when you stop taking them.

Blood thinners for clotting disorders. If you have SLE, it is also important to:

  • Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen when in the sun.
  • Get preventive heart care.
  • Stay up-to-date with immunisations.
  • Have tests to screen for thinning of the bones (osteoporosis).
  • Avoid tobacco and drink minimal amounts of alcohol.

The most effective natural lupus treatment options:

1. Anti-inflammatory diet to heal gut issues – A healthy, unprocessed diet is very important for managing lupus because it helps control inflammation stemming from poor gut health, reduces risk for complications like heart disease, helps build strength and energy, and reduces side effects of medications.

The best foods for lupus include:

  • Organic, unprocessed foods
  • Raw vegetables: promote an alkaline body, reduce inflammation and improve digestion
  • Fish: provide omega-3 fats to help reduce inflammation, risk for heart disease and pain. Sources include salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, tuna and halibut.  High-antioxidant foods (vegetables and fruit): include leafy greens, garlic, onions, asparagus, avocado and berries. They are high in fibre, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium and potassium to help prevent free radical damage, repair possible joint damage and lower fatigue.
  • Certain foods can also help relieve skin irritation and dryness that’s very commonly associated with lupus. Foods to help moisturise skin from the inside out include avocado; nuts like chia, flax, walnuts and almonds; coconut and olive oil.
  • Drinking plenty of water and herbal tea and green tea.

2. Exercise – Getting regular exercise is important for treating lupus for many reasons. Exercise lowers stress, helps with sleep quality, makes your heart and lungs stronger, strengthens bones, lowers joint pain, improves flexibility and range of motion, and lowers risk for complications. Because lupus can cause chronic fatigue, electrolyte imbalances and anaemia, it’s crucial to start slowly. Give yourself enough rest between workouts to recover and eat within a short window after exercising.

3. Stress reduction – Research shows that psychological and emotional stress can set off lupus (and other autoimmune diseases) or bring about a lupus flareup by increasing inflammatory responses. Many people have found meditation, yoga and acupuncture to be treatment modalities worth considering since they have numerous benefits for both body and mind.

Other ways to help manage stress include spending time in nature, breathing techniques, exercising, praying, keeping a journal, reading, joining a support group, seeing a therapist and using essential oils for anxiety.

4. Getting enough sleep and rest – Because fatigue is a big obstacle for most people with lupus, taking measures to make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep every night and also rest during the day is important. Most people with lupus need to sleep at least eight to nine hours every night, and some need to also take a short nap during the day to keep their energy up.

5. Protecting and healing sensitive skin – 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 can worsen skin inflammation and make dryness and itchiness worse.

6. Supplements – Supplements that can help reduce nutrient deficiencies and lower inflammation include Omega-3 fish oil, DHEA , Vitamin D3 with calcium, MSM, Green superfood supplement which include antioxidants and chlorella or spirulina and turmeric. Take these with medical supervision.


Some people with SLE have abnormal deposits in the kidney cells. This leads to a condition called lupus nephritis. They may develop kidney failure. They may need dialysis or a kidney transplant. SLE can also cause damage in many other parts of the body, including:

  • Blood clots in arteries or veins of the legs, lungs, brain, or intestines.
  • Destruction of red blood cells or anaemia or chronic disease.
  • Fluid around the heart (pericarditis), or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis or endocarditis).
  • Fluid around the lungs and damage to lung tissue.
  • Pregnancy problems. Both SLE and some of the medicines can harm an unborn child. Talk to your provider before you become pregnant. Or find a provider who is experienced with lupus and pregnancy.
  • Stroke.
  • Severely low blood platelet count (platelets are needed to stop any bleeding).
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels.

Heal and protect sensitive skin caused by lupus:

  • Avoid direct sunlight during peak hours of the day, especially from 9am-3pm.
  • Wear non-toxic sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat.
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom to help keep skin moist.
  • Switch from conventional beauty and household products to those that are organic and made with natural ingredients such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, shea butter and essential oils.
  • Avoid very hot showers, and instead make the water lukewarm.
  • Take baths with colloidal oatmeal powder for extra moisture and then lubricate skin right away afterward.
  • Spritz dry skin throughout the day with mineral water.
  • Consume plenty of vitamin E or take a supplement.
  • Avoid wearing antiperspirants, perfumes, scented lotions and chemical-containing makeup.


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