One common misconception for those diagnosed with lupus is that there are “good” and “bad” foods, and that the inclusion or exclusion of those items in a lupus diet will either exacerbate or alleviate lupus symptoms.
Not the case. Bad foods, per se, do not exist, and any one meal will not trigger a flare. Bad diets, however, do exist. And poor dietary choices can generate pro- and anti-inflammatory effects. Good nutrition, then, is a key ingredient in anyone’s overall lupus treatment plan.
And while no specific dietary guidelines exist for people with lupus, there are nutrition points that one should consider while building a well-balanced diet.
For example, saturated fats found in fatty beef are more pro-inflammatory than certain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, which are found in fish oil. Fatty beef may activate the immune system, so it's wiser to choose lean beef whenever possible. Diets rich in fish and low in fats from meat may also be helpful for those with lupus anticoagulant.
And, as in any diet, moderation is a key factor. A slice of rich cheese, for example, won’t trigger a flare or inflammation. But a diet consumed with rich cheeses may.
Nutrition and Related Conditions
Those with lupus or conditions related to their lupus may encounter specific symptoms that could be tied to diet. Here are some examples:
- Weight loss/no appetite: This is common in those newly diagnosed and often attributed to the illness, the body adjusting to new medications, or both. Consulting your healthcare provider to discuss adjustments to your diet may alleviate those concerns.
- Weight gain: This is sometimes tied to the use of corticosteroids. Consulting your healthcare provider to discuss adjustments to your diet may alleviate those concerns. Some of those adjustments might include lowering the fat in your diet and increasing -- or starting -- and exercise program.
- Medications: Treatment with medication can cause a number of issues, from heartburn to painful mouth ulcers, which can affect how a person eats. Speaking with your healthcare provider will determine if adjustments in your medication or dosage are necessary. In some instances, anesthetics for use in your mouth can decrease the pain of mouth ulcers.
- Osteoporosis: This is a condition in which the body’s bones lose density and, thus, break easily. Although this condition often affects older, postmenopausal women, it can also affect anyone who takes corticosteroids for a long period of time. Your healthcare provider may determine if your diet consists of enough calcium. If not, you most likely will be prescribed calcium supplements.
- Steroid-induced diabetes: Long-term use of corticosteroids may cause diabetes. If you are diagnosed with this condition, you will receive standard treatment for diabetes. That could include a special diet and medication to help regulate glucose levels in your body.
- Kidney disease: If you are diagnosed with kidney disease as a result of your lupus, along with standard treatment options, your doctor may suggest a special diet, potentially one low in sodium, potassium or protein.
- Cardiovascular disease: Lupus can cause cardiovascular complications, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and high blood pressure. A low-fat diet can aid in managing atherosclerosis ,and a low-sodium diet may help maintain normal blood pressure. Medication may also be prescribed.
As always, consult your healthcare provider for more information. He or she may even refer you to a registered dietitian who can assist with the creation of a diet that will best serve your particular disease characteristics.
Want help determining the fat or sodium count in your favorite foods? Look them up on Calorie Count, a free service of About.com.
Sources:: Nutrition and Lupus National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. September 2006.
"Healthy Aging & Lupus" Chat Transcript for Dr. Ronenn Roubenoff. Lupus Foundation of America. September 18, 2008.
Nutrition and Lupus National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. September 2006.