Are Dietary Changes Effective In Treating Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs affecting body systems, including your joints, skin, kidneys, heart and lungs. Lupus occurs more frequently in women.

Who is effected by lupus?

Approximately 1.5 million Americans have lupus, and about 5 million people in the world live with lupus. Women aged 15 to 44 in the childbearing age are mostly affected by lupus, however, men and children can develop lupus. Annually, more than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported in the US1.


Lupus is usually treated with corticosteroids and immunosuppressant drugs. Although considered effective, the steroids can have severe, sometimes serious long-term side effects2. Left untreated, lupus can cause harm to organs, and it is in your best interest to talk to your doctor regarding any lifestyle changes that can make coping with lupus easier to avoid steroidal drugs. If you are diagnosed with lupus, a gluten-free diet may alleviate some symptoms without causing any harm.

Food Intolerance and Food Insensitivity

Food intolerance can be due to non-immune food reactions and delayed-onset IgG hypersensitivity immune reactions. Non-immune food reactions occur due to absence of certain enzymes that are necessary to digest food. IgG hypersensitivity reactions result due to an immune reaction, where the IgG antibody binds to form a complex with the food allergen. White blood cells called macrophages are dispatched by the body to destroy the complex, and multiple food allergies overburden the body’s ability to eliminate these complexes which are then deposited in the tissues. Neutrophils that kill and destroy foreign bodies are sent to surround the immune complex, which further damages the tissue. IgG immune complexes can affect any body tissue or organ, autoimmune conditions like lupus are known to result due to IgG food intolerance reactions3.

Diet and Lupus

Research on dietary modifications in human studies supports the effect of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) enriched diet, which can be found in linseed oil and fish oil. Omega-3 PUFA possesses the most immunomodulatory activity and has anti-inflammatory properties, and may be useful in the treatment of lupus4. Several clinical trials assessed the benefits of dietary supplementation with fish oils in human autoimmune diseases, including lupus. Placebo-controlled trials with fish oils in chronic diseases like lupus show significant benefit, including decreased disease activity and lower use of anti-inflammatory medicines5.

Multi-targeted therapy has shown greater effectiveness in the treatment of chronic autoimmune diseases. Curcumin, a naturally occurring polyphenol has shown to interact with multiple targets to treat diseases inexpensively. Studies have shown that heat-solubilized curcumin can improve autoimmune disorders6. In other studies, a culturally specific cholesterol-reducing diet program with special menus appeared to be effective in changing the diet patterns of the group suffering from lupus7.

Alternative treatment in the form of natural medicine and nutritional therapy as conservative treatment methods have been shown to impact the activity of lupus. Vitamins, herbs, minerals, and fatty acids are common forms of conservative treatment. Chinese medicine has gained a growing interest in management of lupus8.

Dietary modifications in the form of conservative therapeutics play an active role on lupus activity. Specific dietary factors including caloric intake, fatty acids, vitamin A, D, and E, and herbal medicine are beneficial in regulation of lupus9. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to several autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Vitamin D plays an active role in calcium balance and has immunomodulatory effects on T lymphocytes (active cells of the immune system). Lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments are suggested as an adjuvant therapy for lupus10.

Excess calories, excess protein and high fat are aggravating substances to lupus management. Lupus patients on elimination diets report improved symptoms. Vegetarian diets have not proven to be directly beneficial, but surely cannot harm the patient11.


  1. Accessed 7/19/2011.
  2. Accessed 7/19/2011.
  3. Accessed 7/19/2011.
  4. Leiba A, et al. Diet and Lupus. Lupus. 2001;10(3):246-8.
  5. Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505.
  6. Kurien BT, D’Souza A, Scofield RH. Heat-solubilized curry spice curcumin inhibits antibody-antigen interaction in in vitro studies: a possible therapy to alleviate autoimmune disorders. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Aug;54(8):1202-9.
  7. Shah M. et al. Development and initial evaluation of a culturally sensitive cholesterol-lowering diet program for Mexican and African American patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis Care Res. 2000 Aug;13(4):205-12.
  8. Patavino T, Brady DM. Natural medicine and nutritional therapy as an alternative treatment in systemic lupus erythematosus. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Oct;6(5):460-71.
  9. Hsieh CC, Lin BF. Dietary factors regulate cytokines in murine models of systemic lupus erythematosus. Autoimmun Rev. 2011 Jul 6. [Epub ahead of print].
  10. Marques CD, et al. The importance of vitamin D levels in autoimmune disease. Rev Bras Reumatol 2010 Feb;50(1):67-80.
  11. Brown AC. Lupus erythematosus and nutrition: a review of the literature. J Ren Nutr. 2000 Oct;10(4):170-83.


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