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Handling Autoimmune Disease Naturally, Part I: Lupus

Many natural healthcare practitioners have noted the enormous rise in autoimmune disease in that past few decades. More than ever before, people are getting diagnosed with diseases that manifest with strange, sometimes invisible, symptoms. Many of these diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjörgen’s syndrome, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves disease, Type I diabetes (and others which may be autoimmune, like multiple sclerosis, asthma, and psoriasis), puzzle modern Western medicine.

Since we talk to a lot of customers who suffer from autoimmune diseases, we are starting a series on various autoimmune conditions. We hope to illuminate what these diseases are, some of the underlying causes, and natural remedies that may help. While we are not medical doctors, we want to provide information to help our customers make informed decisions about their health.

For part I of our autoimmune disease series, we will focus on lupus.

What is Lupus?

The Lupus Foundation of America explains:

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body). Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years.

In lupus, something goes wrong with your immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs (“foreign invaders,” like the flu). Normally our immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from these invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues (“auto” means “self”) and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body. Lupus is also a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better).”Lupus manifests in different forms, such as:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus
  • Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus
  • Drug-induced lupus
  • Neonatal lupus

Symptoms of lupus

Symptoms of lupus vary based on the type, but common symptoms of lupus include:

  • Pain or swelling in joints
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever with no known cause
  • Red rashes, most often on the face
  • Chest pain when taking a deep breath
  • Hair loss
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Swelling in legs or around eyes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen glands
  • Feeling very tired

It can take a long time to correctly diagnose lupus. Doctors perform physical exams, look at medical history, blood work, and biopsies to make a diagnosis.

What Causes Lupus?

As with most autoimmune conditions, we aren’t sure exactly what causes lupus. In all likelihood, it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors that trigger lupus. Factors like stress, sunlight, and exposures to certain drugs or viruses can trigger the onset or a flare-up of lupus.

Natural Therapies for Lupus

◊A good multivitamin

A multivitamin (in addition to a balanced diet of course) can help prevent nutrient deficiencies, especially those that patients are unaware of. Our staff prefers food-based multivitamins. They are easier to digest, which is important for patients who may have compromised gut function and also makes them less likely to cause nausea.

◊Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been found to be low in patients with autoimmune disease, including lupus patients. Since sun exposure causes flare ups in some lupus patients, they may be particularly at risk for vitamin D deficiency. While most doctors will say that vitamin D levels greater than or equal to 50 nmol/L are sufficient, autoimmune patients need higher levels. Aim to get your serum vitamins D levels over 100 noml/L. This may require taking higher doses of a vitamin D supplement (~10,000 IU/day) with a source of fat to improve absorption until ideal levels are reached. Consult with a knowledgeable health care provider to discuss the ideal strategy for getting your vitamin D level up.

◊Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, and a few other foods, are very important for reducing inflammation, which can trigger and worsen lupus. To ensure you’re getting enough, a good bet is to take a concentrated fish oil supplement providing about 1400 mg EPA and 1000 mg DHA daily.

Possibly Effective Natural Supplements for Lupus

Based on the actions of these herbs, they may be effective in modulating the immune system and reducing symptoms associated with lupus. However there are not yet conclusive studies that prove their effectiveness. You can experiment and see what works for you, but it also would be wise to consult with a well-informed herbalist who has success working with autoimmune patients.

◊Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus or Huang Qi)

This Chinese herb is an immune tonic that helps support normal levels of immune cells and their function. It may be effective in normalizing the immune function in lupus patients, but only preliminary studies have been conducted; more research is needed to confirm or disprove astragalus as a possible lupus therapy.

◊Reshi (Ganoderma lucidum, G. tsugae or Ling Zhi)

Photo by Eric Steinert

Reishi is a medicinal mushroom that is revered for its amazing healing properties. It has a broad range of uses, including balancing stress response, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and immune response. It’s ability to inhibit, active, and modulate the immune system is probably its most notable quality. Since it can modulate immune function and ease allergic reactions, it may be useful for people with lupus.

◊Peony glucosides (Radix Paeoniae Alba or Bai Shao)

Peony can reduce pain, inflammation, and even the antibodies that are markers of lupus activity. Peony is also a great choice for someone who is already on Western medical treatment for lupus. “In patients receiving only mainstream drug therapy, rates of remission were 6.4%, while rates of partial remission were 29.0%, and those for whom it was ineffective was 64.5%. However, in those patients who received peony glucosides plus standard medical treatment, the results were 20.7% for remission, 51.7% for partial remission, and only 27.6% ineffective after 3 months of supplementation.

Look out for future posts about other autoimmune conditions

Until then, please share with us: Do you or any of your loved ones have lupus? Have you tried any natural treatments? What has worked for you?

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