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How nutrition can help manage lupus

Living with lupus can be challenging, but including a well-balanced diet as part of a treatment plan can help reduce flare-ups and improve symptoms.

May 14, 2024

How nutrition can help manage lupus

An estimated 1.5 million Americans have a form of lupus — an autoimmune disease. Living with lupus and the symptoms can be challenging, but incorporating a healthy, balanced diet can help minimize the effects to manage the disease more successfully.

What is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue and can affect the skin, joints and internal organs. This can lead to inflammation in many parts of the body, where symptoms range from mild to life threatening. There are four kinds of lupus with systemic lupus accounting for 70% of all lupus cases.

Lupus is more common than you may think

Statistics from the Lupus Foundation of America show how common lupus is and who is most often affected:

  • 90% of people living with lupus are women
  • People with lupus typically develop the disease between age 15 and 44
  • 1 in 3 lupus patients suffer from multiple autoimmune diseases
  • Lupus is two to three times more prevalent among Black, Hispanic/Latina, Asian American, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women than among white women

Lupus symptoms

Often referred to as “the great imitator,” lupus can sometimes be difficult to diagnosis since the condition can share symptoms with other diseases. Plus, some symptoms may come and go, making it challenging to pinpoint the cause. For those living with lupus, the most common symptoms include:

  • Pain or swelling in the joints
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog and memory loss
  • Hair loss
  • Butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose
  • Chest pain during a deep breath
  • Headaches
  • Loss of balance
  • Sensitivity to light

Among lupus patients, 65% list chronic pain as the most difficult part of living with the disease. While there is currently no cure, finding the right treatment plan can lessen the effects of lupus and help improve the overall quality of life. This may include medications, alternative treatments and lifestyle changes. Using food as medicine is another tool that can help.

Benefits of a healthy diet in managing lupus

Following a well-balanced diet can help those living with lupus to reduce inflammation and lessen the frequency and severity of their symptoms. Many people can identify which foods can trigger a lupus flare, or a time when symptoms worsen and cause a person to feel sick. Incorporating proper nutrition and avoiding certain foods can play a key role in managing lupus symptoms and reducing inflammation in the body.

According to a recent study, lupus patients who incorporated more plant-based foods and limited processed foods, sugar, gluten and animal products reported improvements in their symptoms. Specifically, respondents said their dietary changes lessened fatigue, joint and muscle pain and helped improve their mood.

What to eat when living with lupus

Getting proper nutrition can be important for lupus management and choosing a variety of healthy foods can offer the most benefits. One study showed that following a Mediterranean diet helped support immune function, while reducing inflammation, disease activity and the risk of cardiovascular disease in those living with lupus.

Recommended options to add to your diet include:

  • Foods rich in Vitamin D like eggs, fortified cereal, mushrooms, salmon and yogurt
  • Foods rich in Vitamin B6 like chickpeas, bananas, pineapple, grapes, carrots and avocados
  • Foods rich in Vitamin C like strawberries, citrus fruits, green peppers, broccoli and cabbage
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Fatty fish like salmon and sardines

There are also several foods that are linked to increased inflammation and can lead to lupus flare-ups. Eliminating or limiting certain foods, like those that are highly processed or high in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium can help regulate the immune response and lower the severity of lupus symptoms.

Mom’s Meals® can help

With nine condition-specific menus and 60+ meal options, we help make managing chronic illness and improving overall health an easier and tastier experience. Through convenient, home-delivered meals, you can enjoy a variety of nutritious options that are medically tailored, including lower sodium, gluten free and vegetarian — all beneficial for individuals living with lupus.

Plus, each option is designed by professional chefs and registered dietitians in USDA-inspected kitchens, so you can count on delicious, high-quality ingredients that support a well-balanced diet.