How Does Nutrition Affect Lupus?
Last updated: May 2023
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation. People living with lupus have an overactive immune system that makes the body attack itself, which causes inflammation, or swelling. This swelling affects the whole body. It can lead to tiredness, rash, fever, and pain. It can damage organs too.1
Symptoms of lupus occur as flare-ups, meaning they come and go. During flare-ups, your doctor may give you corticosteroids or anti-malarial drugs to reduce inflammation. Making healthy lifestyle choices also may cut down on the number and strength of flare-ups. Eating healthy foods is one way to help control your lupus.1
Food has an impact on lupus
Doctors are learning that diet plays a big role in reducing inflammation. A 2019 study showed that a low-calorie diet may slow the progression of lupus. An anti-inflammatory diet has also been shown to lessen fatigue.2,3
Anti-inflammatory foods contain natural ingredients that reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory foods include:2-5
- Fruits – berries, oranges, and tomatoes
- Green leafy vegetables – kale, spinach, and collard greens
- Nuts – walnuts and pecans
- Foods high in antioxidants – pomegranate juice, sweet potatoes, and berries
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids – salmon or tuna, flaxseed, and olive oil
- Foods high in flavonoids – watermelon, kiwi, apples, lentils, celery, broccoli, and asparagus
Foods to avoid
Some foods can make inflammation worse. Examples of these pro-inflammatory foods are:2,4
- Foods high in saturated fats – full-fat milk and cheese
- Red meat – beef
- Processed meat – hot dogs and sausage
- Fried foods – french fries and fried chicken
- Processed foods – pastries and white bread
- Beverages – soda and sugary drinks
Heart disease risk
Maintaining a healthy weight through diet is important. Obesity raises your risk for heart problems. This is especially concerning because people with lupus already have a higher risk of heart disease.6,7
Women with lupus who are ages 35 to 44 have a high risk of heart attacks. Their risk can be as high as 50 times greater than the risk of women who do not have lupus. All people with lupus have a risk that is 7 to 9 times greater than that of people without lupus.8
Other health concerns with lupus
There are other health concerns for people with lupus as well. These include:7,9,10
- Kidney problems (lupus nephritis) – Half of people with lupus have kidney problems. Lupus damages kidneys, making it hard for them to filter waste.
- Health problems related to obesity – Fatigue and steroid use can cause weight gain. Overweight people have a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, cancer, depression, and a lower quality of life.
Remember to consult with your doctor
People with lupus often follow a low-fat diet due to their high risk for heart problems. People with lupus nephritis may need to eat less protein to protect the kidneys. You may need a low salt diet if you take steroids. Your doctor can help you adjust your diet based on your specific health profile.4,11
Supplements and vitamins can interfere with the drugs you take for lupus. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.4
Making lifestyle changes can be overwhelming. Introduce changes one at a time. Also, make changes you can stick with. Consistency is key. If you do not know where to start, ask for help from a certified dietician. They can create a personalized eating plan based on your needs. But be sure to ask your doctor before making dietary changes.
Which resource do you think is most urgently needed in the lupus community?
Join the conversation