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Functional medicine approach to lupus

Functional medicine approach to lupus

Functional medicine approach to lupus

Lupus, also called SLE, which stands for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects people in Perth and Australia wide.  Lupus can affect many different parts of the body and there is no cure for lupus.

About 20,000 people in Australia and New Zealand have lupus. About 9 in 10 are women and the majority develop the condition between 15 and 45 years. [1]

Common signs and symptoms of lupus include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, insomnia, GI issues and skin rashes. All these symptoms can be indications of other health problems, so lupus can take some time to diagnose.

Traditional medications for lupus include corticosteroid drugs, NSAID pain relievers, thyroid medications and synthetic hormone replacement drugs, some of which have unwanted side effects.

There is, however, a natural approach to lupus treatment that is available for people who don’t wish to take pharmaceuticals or would like to reduce their use. Removing autoimmune triggers, targeted supplements, exercise and a healthy tailored diet and lifestyle can work towards managing symptoms and improving overall immune function.

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. There are a number of different types of lupus, but the most common one is SLE.

Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems, including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.

Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening. This depends on the parts of the body that are being attacked by the immune system.

What causes lupus?

The medical community has not agreed upon its exact causes, but we know that genetics and lifestyle play a part in causing inflammation.

Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus. It is triggered by number of factors that cause the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s own healthy tissue such as infections, certain drugs, allergic reactions, viruses, emotional stress, estrogen disruption due to pregnancy or birth control, hormonal imbalances, poor digestion, metal toxicity or even sunlight. [2]


Signs and symptoms of lupus

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other ailments. The most distinctive sign of lupus — a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks — occurs in many, but not all cases of lupus.

The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • joint pain, stiffness and swelling
  • butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose or rashes elsewhere on the body
  • skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure
  • dry eyes
  • Headaches, confusion and memory loss [3]
  • loss of appetite and loss of weight
  • hair loss
  • muscle aches
  • feeling generally unwell
  • ulcers in the mouth
  • inflammation of the lining of the lungs (the pleura) or the sac around the heart (the pericardium), making you feel short of breath or giving you pain in the chest
  • kidney problems
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which fingers and toes turn blue or white in the cold
  • depression
  • seizures
  • problems with eyesight
  • swollen glands
  • problems with tendons, causing your fingers to pull in abnormal positions
  • anaemia (a low level of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells) [4]

The functional medicine approach to Lupus

While there’s no cure for lupus (SLE), there are natural treatments can help control symptoms and reduce autoimmune activity.

It is estimated that over 50 percent of patients with lupus have used complementary medicine to reduce symptoms and manage their health. Trials of natural treatments for lupus demonstrate supplements such as vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, N-acetyl cysteine and turmeric are effective in reducing inflammation. Cognitive-behavioural therapy and other counselling interventions also have a positive impact on improving mood and quality of life in people with SLE. [5]

Functional medicine is about discovering the root causes of your health issues, and its no different for lupus.  Clinically we find addressing gut imbalances, supporting methylation, balancing biochemistry and removing triggers can improve SLE dramatically.

There are a number of underlying causes of lupus that your functional medicine health practitioner can help you to uncover. They include:

Leaky gut

We know that leaky gut is a precursor to autoimmune disease. When the intestinal walls are damaged due to infections, stress, medications and food intolerances, large food particles and toxins leak through your gut and enter your bloodstream, triggering an immune response. Repairing your gut with diet and probiotics will reduce symptoms of lupus.


Optimising the methylation cycle and ensuring folates, B12, SAMe and supporting nutrients are functioning correcting and in correct ratio’s is vital in SLE and other autoimmune conditions.  Having an imbalance in the folate and methionine pathway has many detrimental downstream effects.

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten can cause leaky gut, triggering an immune response and exacerbating your symptoms. Trying a gluten-free diet can go a long way towards reducing symptoms of lupus and lessening the number of lupus flares you may experience.  An AIP diet is the optimal diet for Lupus.


Toxic moulds (mycotoxins) and heavy metals are the two primary toxins that are detected in those with autoimmune conditions. The heavy metal mercury is toxic to our bodies and its recommended to be tested for mercury and other toxins.


Bacteria and viruses can often be a trigger for lupus. Testing for bacteria, parasites and viruses is recommended to enable a treatment plan to be put into place.


Both emotional and physical stressors trigger and intensify autoimmune disorders such as lupus. Chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation which, in turn, suppresses your immune system. This can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions, and lead to the reactivation of latent viruses linked to SLE. [6]

The role diet plays in treating lupus

Research tells us there is a clear benefit to the creation of a personalised diet for patients with lupus and a functional medicine health practitioner can assist you to create a diet plan that is easy to sustain for best results. A well-designed diet can “help preserve the body’s homeostasis, increase the period of remission, prevent adverse effects of medication (especially systemic corticotherapy), and improve the patient’s physical and mental well-being.” [7]

Reducing the number of calories you eat each day is beneficial to the immune system, reducing symptoms and fatigue.


How to eat if you have lupus

Eat plenty of fibre – beneficial fibre feeds good bacteria and allows them to grow and maintain balance in the gut microbiome. Vegetable fibre is the best.

Avoid excessive red meat – switch from commercial red meat to fatty fishes, such as tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel. These types of fish have plenty of Omega-3s, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids that help protect against heart disease and stroke.  Red meats should be grass fed and organic.

Eat fewer trans fats and processed foods
Everyone should avoid these highly inflammatory foods but if you have lupus, it’s even more important to avoid them for symptom management.

Avoid garlic and alfalfa – garlic contains joene thiosulfinates and allicin, which can impact your immune system and trigger lupus flares. Alfalfa contains L-canavanine in its sprouts, which is an amino acid and can also lead to symptom flares.

Avoid alcohol – they may interact with any medications you may be taking

Avoid salt – for people with lupus, there is already a higher risk of developing heart disease, so eating too much salt, which can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease, is best avoided.

Avoid nightshade vegetables – Some people with lupus find that they’re sensitive to nightshade vegetables. These include white potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers and eggplant.

Switch refined grains for whole grains

Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, as well as at least one fruit per day

Increase your intake of omega-3 – consume plenty of fresh fish, consume cold pressed olive oil, avocados, flaxseed oil and other good sources of omega-3


What supplements to take if you have lupus


Take a probiotic – take a high-quality probiotic to ensure your gut microbiome is healthy and to prevent bacterial overgrowth in the guy.

Take Vitamin D – Because you need to keep out of the sun, you’ll most likely need to take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with more severe disease activity.[8]

Take Vitamin C – vitamin C prevents cardiovascular complications, reduces inflammation and antibodies level, retinoic acid also reduces antibodies level

Take Vitamin B – Vitamins from B complex improves clinical symptoms, reduce TG and LDL-C

Take curcumin (turmeric) – turmeric is shown to be beneficial to lupus nephritis


Lifestyle changes you can make to reduce lupus symptoms

In addition to eating a healthy diet as outlined about and supplementing with beneficial vitamins, increasing your exercise and managing your stress levels with meditation and other relaxation techniques can work towards symptom management.

You will also need to manage your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, especially sunlight, which can cause a flare.

How we can help

As lupus symptoms often mimic symptoms of other health problems, it is best to have a functional medicine health practitioner guide you through testing and treatment options. At Advanced Functional Medicine, we support our patients to identify underlying pathologies that may be affecting your lupus and then create a plan to support your body.

Call us now or fill out the form below to discover how we can support you to manage your pain and symptoms.

The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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