Lupus: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease driven by inflammation. The term “lupus” generally refers to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but other forms exist as well. Parts of the body frequently affected by lupus include the skin, kidneys, heart and vascular system, nervous system, connective tissues, musculoskeletal system, and other organ systems.
As lupus can cause complications in many organ systems, people with lupus have a significantly higher risk of heart attacks, diabetes, kidney disease, osteoporosis, blood disorders, and others.
Natural interventions such as vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve symptoms of lupus and improve quality of life.
What are Risk Factors for Lupus?
- Female of childbearing age (eg, between 15 and 44 years old)
- Ethnicity—more common in African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latina women than in Caucasians
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Lupus?
- Intense fatigue
- Painful and/or swollen joints
- Muscle pain
- Red rash on the face (often in response to sitting in the sun)
- Pain in the chest after taking a deep breath
- Unexplained fever
- Edema (swelling), often in the legs or around the eyes
- Mouth sores
- Unexplained hair loss
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (characterized by cold fingers and/or toes that are pale or purple in color)
- Impaired cognitive function—memory loss, confusion, and/or difficulty concentrating
Note: Lupus often presents in different ways, varying between individuals. Symptoms may cease during periods of remission, then worsen during flares.
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Lupus?
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs])
- Anti-malarial drugs (eg, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine)
- Immune system modulators (eg, azathioprine and cyclophosphamide)
- Monoclonal antibodies (eg, belimumab and rituximab)
What are Emerging Therapies for Lupus?
- Stem cell therapy to replace “self-attacking” B and T cells
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Lupus?
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Manage stress effectively
- Avoid exposure to sunlight
- Exercise regularly (aerobic or gentle range-of-motion)
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Lupus?
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D may be important in reducing the risk of lupus. Deficiency is more prevalent in those with lupus than in healthy people, so supplementation is advisable.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. Some clinical studies have shown that fish oil supplementation diminished the severity of lupus.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E has been shown to reduce markers of inflammation, stabilize immune cells to prevent autoimmune attacks, and reduce levels of autoantibodies in lupus patients.
- Vitamin A. Retinol, the active form of vitamin A, is important for healthy skin, bones, and soft tissues, and supports healthy immune function.
- Curcumin. Curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory, was shown to be effective at reducing lupus-related proteinuria (protein in urine, indicative of kidney damage) and improving symptoms of some autoimmune diseases.
- Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo biloba extract has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. Supplementation has been shown to reduce the number of Raynaud’s phenomenon attacks, which are common in lupus.
- Pine bark extract. Pine bark extract may help improve inflammatory symptoms of lupus. A small study showed that adding pine bark extract to prescription therapy improved symptoms.
- White peony extract. A number of studies have shown that compounds from white peony root have immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Low levels of DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-s), a metabolite of DHEA, have been observed in patients with lupus and other inflammatory diseases. Supplementation has been shown to reduce the amount of flares, improve emotional and mental well-being, and improve bone mineral density in lupus patients.