A burst of lupus-friendly foods including oranges, blueberries, strawberries, greens, walnuts, and fish.

How Does Nutrition Affect Lupus?

Last updated: March 2022

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation.1 This inflammation, or swelling, affects your whole body. It leads to tiredness, rash, fever, and pain.1 It damages your organs too.1 Symptoms occur as flare-ups, meaning they come and go.1 Making healthy lifestyle choices may cut down on the number and strength of flare-ups.1 Eating healthy foods is one way to help control your lupus.

People living with lupus have an overactive immune system.1 The body attacks itself, which causes swelling. During flare-ups, your doctor may give you corticosteroids or anti-malarial drugs.1 These drugs reduce swelling.1

Food has an impact on lupus

Doctors are learning that diet plays a big role in reducing inflammation.2 A 2019 study showed a low-calorie diet slowed the progression of lupus.3 An anti-inflammatory diet has also been shown to lessen fatigue.3

Anti-inflammatory food

Anti-inflammatory foods contain natural ingredients that reduce swelling.2 Some 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

Food to avoid

Some foods make inflammation worse.2 Examples of 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 – deep-fried foods like french fries and fried chicken
  • Processed foods – pastries and white bread
  • Beverages – Soda and sugary drinks
  • Alfalfa – it has an immune-activating chemical called L-canavanine

How does healthy food help manage lupus?

A 2005 study showed that overweight and/or obese people had worse symptoms and more frequent flare-ups compared to people of a healthy weight.6 Obesity also raises your risk for heart problems.6 This is especially concerning because people with lupus already have a higher risk of heart disease.7

Heart disease risk

Women with lupus who are ages 35 to 44 have a high risk of heart attacks.8 Their risk can be as high as 50 times greater than the average person.8 All others have a risk that is 7 to 9 times greater.8 This is why maintaining a healthy weight through diet is important.

Other health concerns with lupus

There are other health concerns for people with lupus. These include:9-11
Kidney problems (lupus nephritis) – one out of every 2 people with lupus has 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.12 People with lupus nephritis may need to eat less protein.12 This protects the kidneys.12 You may need a low salt diet if you take steroids.4,12 Your doctor can help you adjust your diet based on your overall health profile.

Supplements and vitamins can interfere with the drugs you take for lupus.4 Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

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. Ask your doctor before making dietary changes.

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