Article by Registered Dietitian Amy Bragagnini, MS, RD, CSO

I recently began working closely with my Immunology/Allergy/Rheumatology department. The patients there are treated for a range of ailments including: multiple sclerosis, arthritis, allergies, and lupus. I had not been very familiar with the latter until recently. And through research I have found that following a certain diet can be a very helpful way to manage not only lupus, but many of the diseases that affect our immune system and joints.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body including the joints, skin, and/or organs inside the body. Lupus is the type of disease that can remain inactive or have varying “flares”, or instances that symptoms will worsen and the patient will feel ill. Many things can trigger a lupus flare including: the sun, various medications, emotional stress, an infection, or exhaustion.  Certain lifestyle triggers can also trigger a flare up. Stress, hectic lifestyle, toxic emotional relationships are not good for lupus. Poor eating habits (i.e. consuming many processed foods, foods high in refined sugar, excess caffeine) and inadequately hydrating the body can all contribute to a flare up.

I often receive referrals for these patients. I first need to determine the nature of the referral. Since people with lupus often experience symptoms like weight gain or loss, inflammation, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and atherosclerosis, certain specific nutritional concerns may also need to be taken into consideration.  Once I determine specific nutritional concerns for the patient I plan out my patient education and gather handouts that may help best answer future patient questions.

Many of my patients generally want a good overview of diet basics and quite a few ask me what they “should” and “shouldn’t” eat.  I generally don’t like telling people to avoid foods unless there is a documented allergy or the food will cause them harm. Most foods can fit into everyone’s diet safely…as long as they are taken in moderation. A healthy diet for someone with lupus should be based on anti-inflammatory properties and include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can also be a healthy addition to the diet, as it helps to reduce inflammation in the body. This diet should be low in saturated fat and foods with added sugar. One following this diet should limit the amount of times they choose fast food for their meals. They should limit sugar laden beverages (soda, fruit punch, sweetened coffee drinks), and limit red meat and saturated fat. It has also been suggested that those with lupus may have some food intolerances to dairy and to wheat. Ongoing research is needed to determine evidence for this.

Johns Hopkins discussed other things that those with lupus should avoid. They recommend patients avoid consumption of garlic, which may rev up your immune system. Normally people want an active immune system but unfortunately, “the enhancement of immune response is counterproductive in people with autoimmune disease such as lupus, because their immune system is already overactive. As a result, people with lupus and lupus-like signs should avoid cooking with garlic and adding it to food.”

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