Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) and diet

Can what you eat make a difference?

Categories: For Potential Participants, [Lupus, Diet]

There has been a lot of interest in whether certain foods can help people with lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus). Can diet and nutrition help with symptoms such as weight change, fatigue, and anemia, or complications such as osteoporosis? Remember, you may be advised to follow a special diet by a hospital dietician if you have lupus nephritis (affecting the kidneys).

It can be difficult to maintain a healthy weight when you have lupus. Fatigue can make food preparation challenging, so it is important to keep your dietary routine achievable. Weight gain can increase symptoms. Treatments used to control symptoms, such as steroids, can cause further weight gain. A healthy, balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and some protein such as meat and fish, can help you manage your weight. You can help maintain good eating habits by making extra food when you have more energy.

What foods should you avoid? Alfalfa sprouts contain high levels of L-canavanine, which can stimulate your immune system and may cause a flare of symptoms. Saturated fat and trans fat, found in meat and processed meat products, cakes, pastries, and biscuits, may also stimulate the immune system and contribute to coronary heart disease. People with lupus are already at an increased risk, so it is best to limit foods containing these types of fat.

Why should you try to include certain foods? 

  • Iron-rich foods are important for the prevention of anemia, sometimes a complication of lupus. Tea and coffee can reduce iron absorption into the body by half. Conversely, foods high in vitamin C improve your ability to absorb iron. 
  • You should avoid sun exposure because it can worsen lupus symptoms. However, avoidance of sunlight completely can lead to vitamin D deficiency, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Your doctor may recommend vitamin supplements and foods high in calcium. 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to reduce inflammation, and can be found in oily fish, nuts, and flax seed.

Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients can improve overall health and well-being, but there are no specific foods which can cure lupus symptoms.

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