How diet can help manage lupus symptoms

Onefter Jewell Singletary is diagnosed with lupus, she develops rheumatoid arthritis as well – a common pairing, as both are autoimmune conditions – and has to use a cane to navigate her college campus. Upon graduation, the 38-year-old New Jersey resident decided to focus more on supporting her health, in an effort to stay active at the start of her career.

She started in the kitchen.

First, she says, are sugary drinks, fried foods and processed foods. Once she removes them, it doesn’t take long before she can remove something more important: her stick.

“My mobility has improved dramatically just from changes in my diet,” she says. “Since then, I don’t need a cane anymore, and that progress made me realize how much changing my diet can do.” A few years later, she tried cut dairy products and felt a boost in health, followed by cutting back on red meat and pork products. Recently, she has tried reducing her gluten consumption and she reports that she has felt some positive effects, like more overall energy.

“A dietary habit can completely help you manage lupus in a much better way, and some studies show it can even help reduce your risk of developing lupus if it runs in your family.” Diane Kamen, professor of medicine in the department, said. in rheumatology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina and is a member of the medical-scientific advisory board for the Lupus Foundation of America. “At this point, lupus cannot be cured, but it is manageable, and a big part of how to do that is through lifestyle habits like exercise, sleep, stress management, and diet. diet.”

Read more: 7 best foods to fight inflammation

What does the research say?

No “lupus diet” is recommended for people with the condition, but as Singletary discovered, food can have a big impact on symptoms like fatigue, as well as effects related to inflammation such as pain, stiffness. For some people, dietary changes can affect other problems such as frequent headaches, worryand skin irritation, and researchers are investigating this connection.

According to a 2021 study in the journal Lupus Science & Medicine, A type of dietary fiber called resistant starch may have an impact on lupus by enhancing the effectiveness of the gut microbiome, which is the community of bacteria and other organisms in the digestive tract. This fiber feeds good bacteria in the gut, which in turn supports the immune system and reduces symptoms associated with lupus as well as the risk of a condition called antiphospholipid syndrome – an effect of lupus. can cause blood clots. Resistant starch is found in foods like oats, barley, beans, peas, bananas, and lentils.

In a 2020 study involving more than 173,000 women, high consumption of nuts and legumes reduced the risk of potential lupus by 41%. In a study published this year that looked at symptom severity, increase vegetable consumption It has been linked to improved joint and muscle pain, and is beneficial for mood, fatigue, and weight management. That study found that the effects were particularly strong when the shift to plant foods was accompanied by a reduction in consumption. Processed foodssugar, gluten and milk.

Other research on the effects of diet on systemic lupus erythematosus, published in 2018, notes that food choices not only show promise in managing lupus symptoms but It also plays a role in reducing the risk of diseases associated with lupus, such as cardiovascular disease, Diabetesmetabolic syndrome, and high cholesterol.

Despite such results, more research is still needed to investigate the link between specific foods and lupus, Kamen said. But in the meantime, for people with this condition, making even small changes can help improve health in the long run.

Read more: What lupus patients want their doctors to know

Top Tips If You Have Lupus

In general, nutrition guidelines for people with lupus are similar to those that apply to everyone, Kamen says. That means more fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, as they contain important nutrients, as well as fiber, which can help reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms, she says. As for specific advice for people with lupus, here are some tips to consider:

Changes while you are taking corticosteroids

Dana Ellis Hunnes, a registered dietitian and author of Recipe for Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Eco-Friendly Life.

For example, corticosteroids can cause water retention, and adding a salty diet to the mix can exacerbate that problem. Also, a high-protein diet is often recommended because a medication like prednisone can speed up the breakdown of proteins, which can lead to more protein loss if you have a digestive problem like Crohn’s.

Corticosteroids also reduce calcium, so Hunnes says most people taking these medications will need to focus on boosting that mineral in their diet and possibly taking supplements. Calcium is found in foods like yogurt, milk, salmon, and broccoli. Other potential effects of the drug include increased cholesterol and increased blood sugar, so Hunnes adds that it’s important to limit sugar and fat.

Monitor food intolerances and sensitivities

According to Dr. Bindiya Gandhi, a functional medicine physician based in Georgia, food allergies are often easy to detect because they can cause strong reactions, but food sensitivities can be more difficult to detect. These foods can cause indigestion, fatigue, headaches and flatulenceand the biggest problem for people with lupus is that an intolerance reaction can increase inflammation, which Gandhi says can become chronic if those foods are consumed regularly.

“Pay attention to how you feel right after you eat, but also a few hours later,” she says. “The inflammatory response may be mild at first, but as your body works to digest that food, it can become more noticeable.”

For example, maybe eating eggs makes you stuffy, or gluten contributes to midday fog. If you feel this way after eating certain foods but still consume them regularly, your inflammatory response doesn’t have time to subside, says Gandhi. That could lead to a higher risk of lupus flare-ups in the near future.

Eat for better kidney

Keep in mind that diet may have to change based on the health of several organ systems, adds Hunnes. With lupus, the kidneys may be most affected. If that happens, specific dietary recommendations should be followed.

Hunnes says that limiting animal protein tends to be the most recommended strategy, as is limiting minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and sodium, since they cannot be effectively filtered by the kidneys if those organs are damaged. love. Talking to a dietitian about a kidney diet is helpful, as is adding nutrient-rich foods like berries, garlic, olive oil, bell peppers, and cabbage.

Focus on your gut

While keeping your digestion on track is an important part of staying healthy for everyone, recent research on the microbiome shows it can be a huge boon for patients. lupus.

Erin Kenney, nutritionist and author of Rewind your gut. While there are probiotic supplements that support the powerful beneficial bacteria in your microbiome, getting what you need from food first can give you more nutrients, she says. he said.

Key tactics include focusing on a diet high in fiber, especially fruits and vegetables, as well as including more fermented foods like yogurt, pickled vegetables, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Highly processed foods, including meats like hot dogs and bacon, are associated with poor gut health, says Kenney, so it’s best to limit those options in your diet. me.

Read more: Here’s everything you need to know about gut health

The right solution

While suggestions from doctors, researchers, and nutritionists are important starting points, many people with lupus, like Singletary, have found that it really comes down to an individual level when track how food affects them. Tracking food intake and watching for trends in the development of symptoms has become a daily activity for many people with lupus.

For example, Margo Pinckney, 45, of Philadelphia, initially cut out processed foods after being diagnosed with lupus. But after a few years of learning about her symptoms and becoming more aware of how her diet affects how she feels, Pinckney continues to refine her meals and snacks. based on which foods are causing her symptoms, especially fatigue. That leads to staying away from the dairy aisle.

“Cheese used to be my best friend — I would attach it to everything,” she said. “However, when I started limiting and then eliminating dairy, I felt better. I feel like I deal with less inflammation by paying attention to what I eat. “

For Ingrid Perez-Martin, a 41-year-old lupus patient in Georgia, spicy food is the biggest problem. The longer she has had lupus, the harder these challenges become, she says.

“Foods that I used to be able to eat all the time, now keep me awake in the middle of the night, because I have to wake up,” she added. “There is no food worth my further illness or hospitalisation. It’s dramatic. I can clearly see the signs when I’m eating the wrong way, so I try to live more purposefully and eat what my health requires.”

Perez-Martin became so knowledgeable about healthy eating and overall wellness for her condition that she became a nutrition educator and fitness instructor. “Paying attention to how I treat my body is something I should be doing regardless of lupus,” she said. “But now that I’m qualified, I value my health more than ever.”

For Sheraya Weeks, a 42-year-old lupus patient in Maryland, dairy is also an issue, but she’s particularly sensitive to fast food, which makes her feel sluggish, she says. Since extreme fatigue is an uncomfortable symptom for lupus patients, maintaining steady energy is key. Weeks says that when she skips the drive and instead focuses on healthy foods, she simply feels better.

Kamen says examples like these involve whether diet affects an individual’s response. Being able to “read” the effects of certain foods can have many benefits in the treatment of lupus, including better sleep, reduced inflammation, more energy, lighter mood, and better health. better gut health.

“Simply put, you can’t achieve equilibrium, whether you have lupus or not, without addressing what you’re putting into your body,” says Kamen. “Managing your health usually starts from your plate.”

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