Lupus and nutrition: what (not) to eat?

Lupus and nutrition: what (not) to eat?
Lupus and nutrition: what (not) to eat?

In this article

Lupus and nutrition: what (not) to eat?


There are no prohibited foods for systemic lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, specialists agree that patients should avoid certain foods and eat the healthiest diet possible to control symptoms. What are their nutritional recommendations?

Also read: What is lupus and how do you recognize it?

Lupus, an autoimmune disease

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Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system turns against the body and produces autoantibodies that initiate an inflammatory process. Systemic lupus can attack any part of the body (skin, joints, organs). It differs from cutaneous lupus, which only affects the skin and is generally less severe. The disease manifests itself in the form of flare-ups, followed by periods of remission, during which the symptoms disappear. There is no cure, but it is possible to stabilize the patient with proper treatment and lifestyle changes.

There is no single food that causes or can cure lupus. However, a healthy diet is an important aspect of the overall strategy to manage the disease.

Also read: What is an autoimmune disease?

What to eat if you have lupus?

In general, people with lupus should eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products. These nutrients are thought to help reduce inflammatory symptoms, maintain muscle strength, reduce the risk of heart disease and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Mediterranean Diet: A 2021 study showed that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduction in inflammation and cardiovascular risks in people with systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Omega-3: Studies show that omega-3 can have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels and inhibit inflammation. They are found in oily fish, linseed oil, rapeseed oil and walnut oil. Try to eat fish twice a week and choose oily fish (rich in omega-3).
  • Foods rich in antioxidants: Studies show that people with lupus may have higher levels of “oxidative stress.” Antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Calcium: Treatment of lupus (steroids) can have an effect on patients’ bone health. It is important to include calcium-rich products in your diet: choose low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) and eat green vegetables. If you have a deficiency, your doctor can prescribe calcium supplements.
  • Vitamin D: Healthy bones also depend on good vitamin D levels. However, in the case of lupus, it is advisable not to expose yourself to too much sunlight. A vitamin D supplement may therefore be advisable.

Also read: Getting pregnant if you have lupus (SLE).

Lupus: Which Foods to Avoid?

Certain foods can help maintain inflammation, while others increase the risk of complications. Steroids, which are usually prescribed to treat the disease, can cause weight gain. And weight gain can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, which lupus already promotes. These are the products you should avoid.

  • Processed foods high in saturated fats: fried foods, processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, hamburgers), red meat, butter, cream, sauces, etc. They can increase cholesterol levels and contribute to inflammation.
  • Sugar: It’s important to limit sweets and make sure you get enough exercise to maintain a healthy weight. But sugar is also thought to have a negative impact on inflammation. One study even found significant links between free sugar consumption and disease activity.
  • Salt: Too much salt can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. These are two potentially serious consequences of lupus. Eat as little salt as possible.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol also provides a lot of calories and can make you gain weight. So don’t go too far. You cannot drink it at all if you are taking steroids or methotrexate.
  • Alfalfa can also cause lupus flare-ups. An amino acid known as L-canavanine is thought to be involved. It could activate the immune system and increase inflammation in people with lupus.
  • Garlic: Certain compounds in garlic may also stimulate the immune system and cause lupus flare-ups. However, there is no scientific consensus on this.

Also read: My story: living with lupus


Last updated: May 2024

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: Lupus nutrition eat


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