May is Lupus Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to spotlight this mysterious disease that effects more than 5 million people each year. And while lupus is a difficult disease to understand, treat and live with, there is new evidence that what lupus sufferers eat may have a larger impact than previously thought on how disease symptoms present. Can diet hold the key to helping lupus patients have more good days? Research is now investigating whether a diet lower in sugar and carbohydrates could mean less inflammation, which could mean less pain for those who live with this devastating disease.
Over the last 10 years, there have been major advances in the treatment and understanding of lupus, as well as other autoimmune diseases like MS, Crohn’s Disease and even fibromyalgia. The discovery of a new medication to treat lupus, Benlysta, a biologic medication that works to reduce the total amount of disease in the body (as opposed to traditional treatments like prednisone, methotrexate and Imuran, which only treat symptoms) there is hope that lupus patients can lead more normal lives. Benlysta is the first new drug approved to treat lupus specifically in over 50 years. Because Benlysta has been so successful, researchers are looking at lupus in a new way and trying to “think outside the box” in treatment options.
Interestingly, this research coincides with parallel research that has determined that increased sugar intake may have an inflammatory effect on the body. Since lupus works by causing widespread inflammation throughout the body, destroying healthy tissue and causing pain, researchers now think that reducing overall sugar intake may decrease lupus inflammation and reduce the need for medications like prednisone, which have harsh side-effects, including long term bone loss, weight gain and an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Along these lines, there has been research into the idea that certain foods groups, like gluten, might also impact inflammation. Since a gluten allergy is essentially an immune response, it is now thought that limiting gluten may also reduce some typical symptoms, like joint pain, that most lupus patients experience at some time or another.
Lupus is a mysterious and complicated disease that can range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms of the disease are wide-ranging, since lupus can effect any organ or system of the body — from skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, eyes, liver and even the brain. Lupus symptoms differ from one individual to the next and those symptoms can change on almost a daily basis, becoming better or worse as the disease cycles (called flares).
Limiting sugar and carbohydrates in an effort to reduce overall inflammation will not “cure” lupus. There is no cure for this life-altering disease. But, if following a lower sugar and lower carbohydrate diet, in essence a “whole food diet” can help lupus patients feel better and have less pain, it is worth pursuing as an adjunct strategy to living a healthier and more productive life while dealing with lupus.
You may be wondering how I know so much about lupus. Well, I have lupus. I was diagnosed 21 years ago. I am a living testament to the devastation that lupus can cause in a life.
Over the years I have been hospitalized more times than I can count, and I have lost nearly 50% of my vision to lupus. Lupus has effected my brain, my kidneys, my lungs, my heart, my stomach and even my skin and my hair. And don’t get me started on the pain — oh heavens, the pain.
But I am one of the lucky ones. I have a great doctor that I trust and who is creative and dedicated to my wellness. I can afford the treatments that have made a significant difference in my overall health, and I have a husband, friends and family who are supportive and loving, and understand when I have a bad day. I am able to work, doing what I love, as often as lupus will allow it. And I eat clean, which has also helped me to feel better.
So, can diet hold the key to helping lupus patients have more good days? For me the answer is yes! I hope it can be for you, too.