Everyone knows about the effects Systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) can have on your joints but something that most people with Lupus fear is the disease affecting their kidneys, lungs and/or heart.
What are the Possible Complications of Lupus?
SLE is a systemic disease, meaning it can affect multiple body systems and organs. Some of these are outlined below:
Lupus is associated with inflammation of the heart muscle itself, called myocarditis, as well as the membrane surrounding the heart, known as pericarditis. Pericarditis caused by lupus usually results in chest pain and shortness of breath. While pericarditis does not typically affect heart function, long-lasting pericarditis may scar the heart muscle and decrease pumping efficiency.2
Myocarditis caused by lupus is not as frequently seen as lupus-induced pericarditis. However, lupus patients with pre-existing heart conditions are especially susceptible to this problem. Lupus, and the immuno-suppressant drugs that sometimes are used to treat lupus, may also leave the cardiac tissue vulnerable to infection by bacteria and viruses.
Less common is endocarditis. This condition is where the inside of your heart, including the valves, becomes inflamed.
Patients with lupus often encounter inflammation of the blood vessels, called vasculitis. They may also experience problems with blood thickness, excessive bleeding, and clotting issues. Vasculitis can cause a weakening of the blood vessel walls. When this happens in superficial blood vessels near the skin, bruising or purple pinpricks may form. 14
Many lupus patients experience “lupus fog”, the common term for cognitive dysfunction associated with lupus. The condition is characterised by problems with memory, balance, fatigue, confusion, and headaches.
Lupus can cause inflammation and irritation of the membrane lining the inside of the chest. This condition is known as pleurisy or pleuritis. Pleuritis can lead to this membrane producing excess fluid, which eventually builds up and causes chest pain and difficulty breathing.
The kidneys can be negatively affected by lupus. While lupus does not usually cause kidney infections directly, some people with SLE will notice that they have recurrent UTI’s. The larger problem with respect to lupus patients’ kidneys is typically lupus nephritis, which is an inflammation of the glomeruli, or filtration units, in the kidneys. Glomeruli damaged by lupus can result in chronic kidney disease. Some of the obvious symptoms of this condition include bloody urine, reduced urine output, and frothy urine.
The main patient group with lupus are women of childbearing age. Lupus can cause a number of complications in pregnant women including miscarriage, preterm birth, and high blood pressure in the mother. For this reason, many physicians recommend that women with uncontrolled lupus refrain from becoming pregnant. Once Lupus is controlled for a 6 month period becoming pregnant can be achieved, it is highly recommended that both you and your partner follow a 3 month pre conception plan. This gives you a better chance of having a trouble free pregnancy and a healthy baby!
What Natural Treatments are Available for Lupus?
Fortunately, there are a number of safe and natural measures you can take to control your lupus and protect your organs from damage. These efforts include lifestyle changes and dietary modifications that have the backing of solid evidence.
Nutrition is critical to everyday health and becomes even more important in the setting of a systemic disease like lupus. Knowing what to eat – and what not to eat – becomes crucial to getting your symptoms under control and avoiding organ damage or organ involvement. An expert naturopath can be an invaluable guide to diet composition and supplements that fight this disease. While some conventional wisdom – avoid sugar, consume vegetables – does apply to lupus, there are many pitfalls on the path. Here are some basics to get you started.
First, most vegetables are great, but be certain you’re eating a variety daily. Variety here can best be judged by colour. Green, yellow, and red vegetables are all important. If you’re having trouble eating enough vegetables, consider juicing. You’ll still receive all the vitamin and mineral benefits with easier digestion.
Next, don’t neglect protein. Eating protein at every meal, especially breakfast, is a great way of storing lasting energy that will stay with you all throughout the day. This is in contrast to the brief rush and subsequent crash provided by sugar. If you already have kidney disease then the amount of animal protein you eat should be carefully monitored, some people fair better with a pesco vegetarian diet.
Foods to avoid include grains, sugars – with the exception of honey and maple syrup – beans and lentils, dairy, and alcohol. The reasons to eliminate these foods are mainly inflammation and irritation. The foods listed above can aggravate autoimmune disorders, are linked to inflammation, and may irritate your stomach.8 For lupus patients, they are best avoided.
What are the Organ-Specific Foods I Should Eat?
While many of these foods and supplements will benefit multiple organs, there are some specific organs that are helped or protected by certain foods. They include:
Heart and Brain
To protect the heart and brain you should eat good fats. Remember, all fats aren’t created equal! You can find good fats that reduce inflammation and protect the circulatory and neurologic systems in coconut oil, flaxseed, avocadoes, olive oil, and fatty fish – tuna, sardines, salmon, etc. In fact, the omega 3 fatty acids in these foods even protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia in addition to inflammation.10 Not a fan of these foods? That’s no problem. Omega 3’s are readily available in convenient supplement form.
Vitamin D supplementation can be an excellent idea. Since avoiding too much sun is crucial for managing lupus, your vitamin D stores may be low. Vitamin D has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system and works in conjunction with calcium and other minerals for strong bones. As osteoporosis, or bone mineral loss, can be a symptom of lupus, careful use of vitamin D and calcium supplements can be beneficial.6
Co-enzyme Q10, in supplement form, can reduce chest pain and fatigue in lupus patients. There is a two-fold reason for this. First, CoQ10 decreases phospholipids on the cell membranes of lung tissue, allowing nutrients to more readily pass. Secondly, this supplement helps to repair oxidation damage from free radicals and can even help you to breathe easier.11
Of special note regarding the lungs is to avoid alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts with lupus. As noted by information released by Johns Hopkins in the US, alfalfa contains an amino acid, L-canavanine, that can send the immune system into overdrive – an undesirable result in lupus and other autoimmune diseases.12
To avoid kidney damage, or worsening of the problem, avoid processed meats, dairy, beef, alcohol, and grains. These foods can further inflame the urinary system, including the kidneys. Instead, be certain to include foods like berries, apple cider vinegar, flaxseed oil, and green tea. These have anti-inflammatory properties, which will reduce your disease activity. Furthermore, several of these foods help to cleanse the kidneys, thus helping to prevent further damage.13
Stop smoking. Smoking is pretty much the single worst thing you can do for your health. It harms every system of your body, including your vital organs, and greatly increases your risk for several forms of cancer. The stress that smoking puts on your cardiovascular, pulmonary, and endocrine systems will only aggravate your lupus symptoms and lead to flare ups. For the sake of your health and the health of those around you, it’s imperative that you cease smoking.
Take time to relax. Relaxation and adequate sleep are vital to keeping lupus symptoms at bay. Stress can aggravate many allergic and inflammatory disorders, including lupus. Meditation, counselling, and other measures can all be helpful. In fact, a study in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand concluded that “meditation shows a trend of benefits in reducing sympathetic overactivity and improving quality of life” among lupus patients with chronic kidney disease.
Participate in physical activity. Getting adequate exercise is important for your general health and will help keep your heart and other organs strong. It also encourages deep breathing, which is crucial for healthy lungs and avoiding pneumonia.1
We hope this guide has provided you with useful information about lupus and how to naturally protect yourself. To learn more and for personalised guidance, please contact Cody Kennedy – naturopath and nutritionist in Australia.
- The Mayo Clinic. “Lupus.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676 Updated 18 November 2014. Accessed 3 August 2017.
- Resource Center on Lupus. “How Lupus Affects the Heart and Circulation.” http://www.resources.lupus.org/entry/heart-and-circulation Updated 11 August 2014. Accessed 4 August 2017.
- Resource Center on Lupus. “How Lupus Affects the Nervous System.” http://resources.lupus.org/entry/nervous-system Updated 15 July 2013. Accessed 4 August 2017.
- Clay, RA. Resource Center on Lupus. “Breathless: Understanding the Connection Between Lupus and the Lungs.” http://resources.lupus.org/entry/lupus-and-the-lungs Accessed 4 August 2017.
- Resource Center on Lupus. “How Lupus Affects the Renal (Kidney) System.” http://resources.lupus.org/entry/how-lupus-affects-the-renal-system Updated 12 July 2013. Accessed 4 August 2017.
- Borges, MC et al. “Nutritional status and food intake in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.” Nutrition. November 2012:28(11-12);p.1098-1103. http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(12)00050-0/fulltext
- Han, GM and Han, XF. “Lycopene reduces mortality in people with systemic lupus erythematosus: A pilot study based on the third national health and nutrition examination survey. The Journal of Dermatological Treatment. October 2016:27(5);p.430-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26762689
- Myers, A. “3 Important Reasons to Give Up Gluten If You Have an Autoimmune Disease.” Amy Meyers MD. http://www.amymyersmd.com/2017/02/3-important-reasons-give-gluten-autoimmune-disease/ Accessed 3 August 2017.
- Bantornwan, S et al. “Role of meditation in reducing sympathetic hyperactivity and improving quality of life in lupus nephritis patients with chronic kidney disease.” Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. March 2014:97(Supl 3);p.S101-107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24772586
- Barros, MP et al. “Neuroprotective Properties of the Marine Carotenoid Astaxanthin and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Perspectives for the Natural Combination of Both in Krill Oil.” Nutrients. March 2014:6(3);p.1293-1317. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967194/
- Nicolson, GL. “Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: Treatment With Natural Supplements.” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. August 2014:13(4);p.35-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566449/
- The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. “Things to Avoid.” https://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/lifestyle-additional-information/avoid/ Accessed 4 August 2017.
- Heber, D et al. “Green Tea, Black Tea, and Oolong Tea Polyphenols Reduce Visceral Fat and Inflammation in Mice Fed High-Fat, High-Sucrose Obesogenic Diets.” The Journal of Nutrition. September 2014:144(9);p.1385-93. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/144/9/1385.long
- Health Ambition. Blood Circulation problems. https://www.healthambition.com/symptoms-blood-circulation-problems/ Accessed 18 September 2017.