Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Lupus

People with a chronic disease like lupus often reach for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In fact, one study found that more than half of people with lupus used some type of CAM to manage their health.1

Types of complementary and alternative medicine

People with lupus use a variety of CAM therapies to find relief from their symptoms, including:1-2

  • Vitamins, herbs, omega-3 oils
  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Lifestyle diets
  • Acupuncture
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Medical marijuana or CBD oil
  • Chinese medicine, including acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Tai chi and yoga
  • Aromatherapy

The CAM therapies used most in the U.S. are supplements, deep breathing, meditation, massage, chiropractic visits, and specialty diets.1-2

Herbs, vitamins, and other supplements

The reviews are mixed when it comes to herbs, vitamins, and other over-the-counter supplements. Doctors often recommend people with lupus take omega-3s (fish or flaxseed oil) for heart health, vitamin D for bone health, or vitamin A for skin issues. One small study found that 500 mg of turmeric per day helped decrease blood pressure and protein levels in the urine.1

More on this topic

But, there is little evidence to support the usefulness of vitamin E, evening primrose oil, or green tea. Cat’s claw, an herb from Peru, showed promise in reducing the number of painful joints in 1 small study of people with rheumatoid arthritis.2 Results on the usefulness of DHEA have also been mixed.1

While currently popular, medical marijuana and CBD oil have not been studied in people with lupus. Some research suggests it helps with pain and inflammation, but it is unknown how these substances interact with lupus drugs.3

Over-the-counter herbs and vitamins are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. This means that it is difficult to know if a supplement contains a helpful active ingredient or how much. People who take immunosuppressants should not take supplements without talking with their doctor first.

Stress reduction techniques

Stress reduction techniques remain a popular way to manage pain and the pressures of dealing with a chronic illness like lupus. These are also called mind-body therapies because these approaches work on both a physical and mental level. Some of the most common ways to reduce stress are:1-2

  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Biofeedback
  • Tai chi and yoga
  • Aromatherapy

The idea that the mind can influence the body is an ancient one, and there is growing science to support the value of stress reduction practices like these. Meditation is known to reduce feelings of pain, depression, anxiety, stress, and fatigue. CBT improves pain and mental function. Exercise such as yoga and tai chi work as both exercise and stress reduction.2

A word of warning

Many of these therapies may help manage symptoms and improve quality of life but should be used with caution. People often think of herbs and vitamins, in particular, as more natural than prescription drugs. However, these are still chemicals that you are putting into your body. Some vitamins and herbal supplements may decrease the effectiveness or interact badly with your lupus medicines.

Even massage can be harmful if performed by someone who does not know how to work with arthritic joints.

Before beginning treatment for lupus, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: October 2020