Foods to Avoid When You Have Lupus
Though lupus is a chronic, life-long disease, altering your diet to prevent the development of other associated health problems is one excellent way of controlling your lupus symptoms and preventing flares.
The scarcity of conclusive information available for a specialized lupus diet remains a frustration for patients and doctors.
However, most research suggests that diets for the control of lupus flares should focus on reducing inflammation in the body.
Health experts like Dr. Amy Meyers, Dr. Axe, and the National Resource Center on Lupus recommend controlling lupus by consuming a variety of vegetables, whole grains, and minimal cuts of fish and poultry while avoiding processed foods high in sodium, fats, and refined oils.
There is no one specific diet to treat lupus; however, there are foods you can avoid to help control flares.
The elimination of these foods combined with the addition of nutrient-packed foods high in antioxidants and fiber lower the inflammation that causes additional health risks.
The next step is deciding which approach to take with your diet. Most conventional medical knowledge suggests that cutting out generally accepted unhealthy foods and following a standard healthy diet will help mitigate symptoms of lupus.
However, there are other doctors and practitioners who recommend a more specific diet plan for those with lupus, and for anyone with an autoimmune disease.
These diets require more time and planning, but some patients have found a greater quality of life by following them.
This leaves lupus patients in a difficult position: so if doctors disagree about the appropriate dietary approach, then how do we know which approach to follow?
Should patients follow an entirely natural, holistic approach, or continue with prescribed medications and treatments?
The best option is to educate yourself about each approach and find what is right for your own body.
This will take research into understanding the specific causes of lupus symptoms, their effect on your body, and how foods may or may not be helpful in alleviating them.
The best way to know if specific dietary restrictions alleviate your own symptoms is through trial and error.
Keep in mind that it is always safest to test diet eliminations under the care and supervision of your doctor and a certified dietician.
Elevated Health Risks Associated With Lupus
The body’s immune system produces white blood cells to protect itself from foreign organisms.
However, in the case of autoimmune diseases like lupus, the immune system attacks the body’s cells when there is no such invasion, damaging healthy organisms and tissues instead.
The resulting inflammation can increase the frequency and severity of lupus flares.
Foods high in saturated fat like beef and fried foods increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may actually stimulate the immune system. They should, therefore, be avoided to control inflammation.
Instead, fill your diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which may help to increase mood and cardiovascular health.
Foods such as fish, nuts, and flax are all high in omega 3’s and are easy to incorporate into your diet.
Weight Changes, High Blood Pressure, and Kidney Disease
Loss of appetite, unhealthy diet, or lack of mobility causes weight loss or gain in lupus patients, according to the Lupus Center at Johns Hopkins.
Low-sodium diets are an essential component for decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and kidney disease.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that those patients with conservative kidney disease symptoms may be placed on a special kidney diet by their doctors, combined with blood pressure medications, before moving on to more specialized treatment.
Women between the ages of 35 and 44 with lupus have a risk of heart attack that is 50 times that of the normal population.
Therefore, stick to a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Avoid fatty cuts of meat, processed meats like salami and sausage, cream, butter, and cheese.
Individuals with lupus are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, according to the National Institute of Health: medications prescribed for lupus contribute to bone loss; pain and fatigue caused by lupus decrease activity and therefore bone and joint health; and 90% of people affected with lupus are women, who are already at an increased risk for osteoporosis.
Calcium is an important component of any diet designed to treat lupus. Low-fat sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, leafy vegetables, almonds, broccoli, cottage cheese, spinach, oysters, fortified cereals, sardines, navy beans, soy, and low-fat yogurt.
Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and increase bone health. Foods like egg yolk, saltwater fish, and liver are high in vitamin D.
Supplements may be recommended for individuals with autoimmune diseases because vitamin D deficiency is a common symptom.
Medications and Diet
Steroids may also cause your cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar (glucose) levels to rise.
It is therefore paramount that anyone taking steroids for lupus follows a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
Concentrate on whole grains and cereals, lean proteins like fish and chicken, and lots of raw veggies for snacking. Swap ranch with hummus for a dip with lower fat content.
Avoid alcohol with most lupus medications, such as corticosteroids, Tylenol, and warfarin because the combination of alcohol and these medications are harmful to the liver and stomach. Those taking methotrexate must eliminate alcohol completely.
In addition, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and celecoxib can cause ulcers and bleed in the stomach and intestines during use. Alcohol increases this risk, especially in lupus patients.
Foods to Avoid
Foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol need to be avoided for those with lupus.
According to Molly’s Fund, these foods increase the risk of heart attack and high blood pressure and can interfere with lupus medications.
Red meat is especially high in saturated fats that increase the risk of heart disease.
Instead, opt for meats rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.
Omega-3s are known to protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation.
Other saturated fats that should be avoided are found in fried foods, commercially baked goods, cream soups and sauces, animal fats, processed meats, whole milk, half-and-half, cheeses, butter, and ice cream, according to WebMD.
Alfalfa sprouts and alfalfa tablets are associated with reports of lupus-like flares, perhaps due to the amino acid L-canavanine which is found in the seeds and sprouts but not the leaves. The effects of eating alfalfa include muscle pain, fatigue, and kidney problems.
Garlic contains allicin, ajoene, and thiosulfinates which activate the immune system and can cause flare-ups, according to Natalie Butler, RD from Healthline.
Though there is no conclusive evidence to prove it, many lupus patients find relief in eliminating nightshades from their diet. These foods include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet and hot peppers.
According to Healthline, avoid a high-sodium diet by passing on foods high in salts such as added sauces, dressings, and processed foods. Use lemons, turmeric, pepper, and herbs to enhance the flavor of foods instead.
Some studies suggest that aspartame can cause or trigger lupus. There is minimal evidence to support these claims, though aspartame is unsafe for people with phenylketonuria (PKU).
The World Health Organization supports the Federal Drug Administration’s approval of aspartame.
Alternative Nutrition Treatments
Functional practitioners like Dr. Amy Meyers and Dr. Axe recommend removing gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, caffeine, and sugar from the diet to treat your lupus from a holistic, anti-inflammatory standpoint. This method is not yet supported by conventional medicine.
However, some patients have found relief from following this kind of treatment. Specifically, the elimination of gluten is a controversial subject.
Dr. Meyers and Dr. Axe advocate for gluten-free diets due to the increased risk of leaky gut, which causes inflammation in the body.
These diets include an increased intake of foods rich in antioxidants, which prevent damage caused by free radicals.
Examples include kale, spinach, berries, and beets. Gut-healthy foods rich in probiotics are also part of this approach, like bone broth and collagen.
Dr. Tarrin Lupo advocates for a natural approach to treating the painful symptoms of SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus).
This video gives a short introduction to the symptoms of SLE and the foods Dr. Lupo eliminates from his patients’ diets.
For a longer explanation of the holistic approach, these doctors take, watch this interview of Dr. Brooke Goldner, who treated her own lupus through nutrition.
Doctors like these have become more popular as people increasingly value the relationship between their diets and health.
Keep in mind that all of the providers listed above have their own books and materials that you must buy before seeing the full details of their programs.
Functional practitioners like these are still few in number and their approach is not widely accepted by conventional medical doctors.