Lupus, aka systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a complex disease in which the body attacks itself (autoimmune), resulting in a wide range of often debilitating symptoms. It is characterized by acute and chronic inflammation of various tissues throughout the body. One of the bright spots in the area of treatment is the number of natural remedies for lupus. Once someone has received a diagnosis, then it’s time to explore these natural options and discuss them with a knowledgeable healthcare provider who can help identify which ones may be the most effective.
What is lupus?
The immune system of individuals who have lupus produces abnormal antibodies in the blood, and these antibodies (known as autoantibodies) attack the tissues instead of foreign infectious agents. Lupus can appear in one of four forms. About 70 percent of cases are systemic lupus, in which a major organ or tissue (e.g., heart, brain) in about half of those affected. Approximately 10 percent of cases affect the skin only (cutaneous lupus), while another 10 percent is caused by high doses of certain drugs (drug-induced lupus). A rare form called neonatal lupus can occur in newborns but usually disappears completely within six months.
Approximately 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus, and the majority of those affected are women of childbearing age. Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than are their Caucasian peers.
Symptoms of lupus
Although symptoms of lupus can vary considerably between individuals and from day to day, those generally recognized as typical include fatigue, pain and weakness in the joints, headaches, and a facial rash that often extends over the bridge of the nose and the cheeks (aka, a butterfly rash). Additional symptoms that occur can include fever, anemia, depression, dry mouth, mouth or nose ulcers, hair loss, chest pain, sensitivity to light, Raynaud’s disease (cold fingers and toes that turn blue), weight loss, and swelling of the hands, feet, legs, and/or around the eyes. Symptoms are the same for men and women.
One of the things that makes lupus a challenge to diagnose as well as treat is that symptoms can mimic many other conditions, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “the great imitator.” A quick review of lupus symptoms reveals that they are also associated with fibromyalgia, diabetes, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, and various lung, heart, and muscle diseases. These symptoms also can come and go without warning, and it’s possible to experience one or more symptoms for a single time only.
Natural remedies for lupus
Here are 7 natural remedies for managing lupus.
1. Anti-inflammatory diet.
Since inflammation is the hallmark of lupus, you want to focus on foods that don’t promote inflammation but can also help prevent it. That means avoiding processed foods, added sugar, gluten, trans fat, alcohol, caffeine, high-sodium foods, and certain legumes (e.g., alfalfa seeds and sprouts, green beans, peanuts, soybeans, snow peas), which contain the amino acid L-canavanine that can trigger lupus flare-ups in some people. Foods in an anti-inflammatory diet include organic, unprocessed foods, foods high in antioxidants (especially raw fruits and vegetables), avocados, coconut oil, raw milk, cucumbers and melons, green and herbal teas, and bone broth.
2. Regular physical exercise.
Regular exercises addresses several critical features of lupus, including stress reduction, help with sleep, strengthening the heart, reducing joint pain, and improving flexibility and range of motion. Exercise sessions (e.g., walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, cycling) should last about 20 to 30 minutes and not result in exhaustion. Proper rest between workout days is essential.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) in fish oil have been shown to reduce inflammation in scores of studies. In a clinical trial involving 49 women with SLE, those who took 1080 mg EPA plus 200 mg DHA daily for 12 weeks showed a significant decline in C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) and evidence of a decline in bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, LDL) and total cholesterol compared with no such benefits in women who were given a placebo.
Another study lasting six months also showed improvement in symptoms and inflammatory markers among patients who took fish oil when compared with placebo. A suggested daily dose is 2,000 mg EPA/DHA daily. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in foods such as wild-caught fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, herring), chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds.
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4. Vitamin D3.
Most people have low to deficient levels of vitamin D, and those who are living with lupus are no exception. It’s a good idea to have vitamin D levels checked before starting supplementation so you know the best dose to take. Generally, 2,000 to 5,000 International Units daily is recommended, but anyone with a significant deficiency will require more. Vitamin D can help enhance immune system function, reduce depression, and facilitate hormone balance.
5. Chlorella and spirulina.
These natural microalgae foods are rich in minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3s and are especially helpful for anyone whose kidneys are affected by lupus. Chlorella in particular can assist in eliminating pesticides and heavy metals from the bloodstream. Both chlorella and spirulina help produce electrolytes that can enhance kidney function. Take these supplements according to package directions. These powders can easily be incorporated into smoothies. Try adding a tablespoon to your next green breakfast drink!
Methylsulfonylmethane is an organic sulfur compound that is derived from the rain cycle. MSM has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, energy-boosting, and detoxifying properties. Its ability to increase the permeability of cells, for example, allows the body to use less energy to deal with toxin build-up, resulting in more energy being directed toward healing and bodily functions, including digestion. MSM boosts the absorption of nutrients, which also helps energy production. The anti-inflammatory properties of MSM are associated with its ability to assist with the elimination of waste materials from cells, whose presence causes inflammation.
A recommended dose is 2,000 to 8,000 mg daily. Since MSM is tasteless and odorless, its powdered form can easily be included in smoothies.
Be sure to include turmeric (and its active ingredient, curcumin) both as a supplement and a food enhancer to help fight pain and inflammation as well as improve rashes and aid with digestion. Turmeric is a good source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, fiber, and vitamins B6 and C. In a study from the University of Pittsburgh, researchers reported that turmeric has shown promise in reducing activity of lupus.
A recommended dose of turmeric/curcumin in supplement form is 3,600 mg curcumin, although higher dosages can be used. Consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider. Also use turmeric/curcumin to add zest and flavor to your diet.
Akaogi J et al. Role of non-protein amino acid L-canavanine in autoimmunity. Autoimmunity Review 2006 Jul; 5(6): 429-35
Arriens C et al. Placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of fish oil’s impact on fatigue, quality of life, and disease activity in systemic lupus erythematosus. Nutrition Journal 2015 Aug 18; 14:82
Axe J. 7 proven chlorella benefits
Borges MC et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, inflammatory status and biochemical markers of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: a pilot study. Rev Bras Reumatol 2016 Sep 22
Greco CM et al. Updated review of complementary and alternative medicine treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus. Current Rheumatology Reports 2013 Nov; 15(11): 378
Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus facts and statistics
Medicine Net. Systemic lupus erythematosus.
Mercola.com. Natural and home remedies for lupus