The immune system must balance between being sensitive enough to protect against infection, and become sensitized to attack the body's own proteins (autoimmunity). During an immune reaction to a foreign stimulus, such as bacteria, virus, or allergen, immune cells that would normally be deactivated due to their affinity for self-tissues can be abnormally activated by signaling sequences of antigen-presenting cells. Thus triggers may include viruses, bacteria, allergens (IgE and other hypersensitivity), and can be aggravated by environmental stimulants such as ultraviolet light and certain drug reactions. These stimuli begin a reaction that leads to destruction of other cells in the body and exposure of their DNA, histones, and other proteins, particularly parts of the cell nucleus. The body's sensitized B-lymphocyte cells will now produce antibodies against these nuclear-related proteins. These antibodies clump into antibody-protein complexes which stick to surfaces and damage blood vessels in critical areas of the body, such as the glomeruli of the kidney; these antibody attacks are the cause of SLE. Researchers are now identifying the individual genes, the proteins they produce, and their role in the immune system. Each protein is a link on the autoimmune chain, and researchers are trying to find drugs to break each of those links.[10][56][57]


Tingible body macrophages (TBMs) – large phagocytic cells in the germinal centers of secondary lymph nodes – express CD68 protein. These cells normally engulf B cells that have undergone apoptosis after somatic hypermutation. In some people with SLE, significantly fewer TBMs can be found, and these cells rarely contain material from apoptotic B cells. Also, uningested apoptotic nuclei can be found outside of TBMs. This material may present a threat to the tolerization of B cells and T cells. Dendritic cells in the germinal center may endocytose such antigenic material and present it to T cells, activating them. Also, apoptotic chromatin and nuclei may attach to the surfaces of follicular dendritic cells and make this material available for activating other B cells that may have randomly acquired self-specificity through somatic hypermutation.[63] Necrosis, a pro-inflammatory form of cell death, is increased in T lymphocytes, due to mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and depletion of ATP.[64]
Research has demonstrated evidence that a key enzyme's failure to dispose of dying cells may contribute the development of systemic lupus erythematosus. The enzyme, DNase1, normally eliminates what is called "garbage DNA" and other cellular debris by chopping them into tiny fragments for easier disposal. Researchers turned off the DNase1 gene in mice. The mice appeared healthy at birth, but after six to eight months, the majority of mice without DNase1 showed signs of systemic lupus erythematosus. Thus, a genetic mutation in a gene that could disrupt the body's cellular waste disposal may be involved in the initiation of systemic lupus erythematosus.
Lupus nephritis is one of the most common complications of lupus. (13) People with lupus nephritis are at a higher risk of developing end-stage renal disease, requiring dialysis or a transplant, says Kaplan. Symptoms of the condition include high blood pressure; swelling of the hands, arms, feet, legs, and area around the eyes; and changes in urination, such as noticing blood or foam in the urine, needing to go to the bathroom more frequently at night, or pain or trouble urinating.
The panel concluded that both options (GCs plus CYC and GCs plus RTX) were associated with large benefits and moderate harms in comparison to GCs plus placebo in patients with acute neurological manifestations. No studies comparing these two options were identified. In terms of SLE and severe neurological manifestations, clinical trials with GCs plus CYC focused on both general neurologic manifestations, and on seizures, psychosis, myelitis, peripheral neuropathy, brain stem disease and optic neuritis, specifically. No data were found regarding other neuropsychiatric manifestations. The panel significantly weighted the fact that the certainty of the evidence was better for CYC than RTX and that RTX was only evaluated in refractory patients.
Inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs, or pleuritis, can occur in people with lupus. This can cause symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, says Luk. The pain can worsen when taking a deep breath, sneezing, coughing, or laughing. (18) Pleural effusion, or fluid around the heart and lungs, may also develop and can cause shortness of breath or chest pain, says Caricchio.
Research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils may help manage high triglycerides and heart disease (see references at end of this summary). There have not been any studies, however, that show a reduced disease activity with lupus. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, bluefish, herring, mullet, tuna, halibut, lake trout, rainbow trout, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pecans, canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, and are part of a heart-healthy meal plan.
Genetic factors increase the tendency of developing autoimmune diseases, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disorders are more common among relatives of people with lupus than the general population. Moreover, it is possible to have more than one autoimmune disease in the same individual. Therefore, "overlap" syndromes of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus and scleroderma, etc., can occur.
A healing lupus diet can help improve gut health in those with lupus by preventing allergies, reducing deficiencies and slowing down free radical damage. In fact, due to how autoimmune disorders develop, a low-processed lupus diet high in antioxidants is usually key for managing any autoimmune-related symptoms, including those due to arthritis, thyroid disorders, etc., which often overlap with lupus symptoms.

Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is an antimalarial medication found to be particularly effective for SLE people with fatigue, skin involvement, and joint disease. Consistently taking Plaquenil can prevent flare-ups of lupus. Side effects are uncommon but include diarrhea, upset stomach, and eye-pigment changes. Eye-pigment changes are rare but require monitoring by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) during treatment with Plaquenil. Researchers have found that Plaquenil significantly decreased the frequency of abnormal blood clots in people with systemic lupus. Moreover, the effect seemed independent of immune suppression, implying that Plaquenil can directly act to prevent the blood clots. This fascinating study highlights an important reason for people and doctors to consider Plaquenil for long-term use, especially for those SLE people who are at some risk for blood clots in veins and arteries, such as those with phospholipid antibodies (cardiolipin antibodies, lupus anticoagulant, and false-positive venereal disease research laboratory test). This means not only that Plaquenil reduces the chance for re-flares of SLE, but it can also be beneficial in thinning the blood to prevent abnormal excessive blood clotting. Plaquenil is commonly used in combination with other treatments for lupus.

Gluten can also lead to what’s known as molecular mimicry. The gluten protein, gliadin, resembles many of your body’s own tissues, particularly thyroid tissue. If you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a leaky gut, your immune system releases gliadin antibodies every time you eat gluten. Because gliadin looks so similar to your own tissues, sometimes these antibodies mistakenly attack other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This case of mistaken identity often leads to full-blown autoimmune disease.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue resulting in inflammation, particularly of the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain. It develops most commonly in women between the ages of 15-45, and occurs more often in African-American, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians. Men can get lupus too. Lupus is not infectious or cancerous. People with lupus may have many different symptoms affecting various parts of the body. Some of the most common symptoms are extreme fatigue, painful or swollen joints (arthritis), unexplained fevers, skin rashes and kidney problems. Lupus is characterized by “flares” or periods of illness and remission. Warning signs of a flare can be increased fatigue, pain, rash, fever, abdominal discomfort, headache or dizziness. Learning how to recognize these signs can help people maintain better health and reduce or ward off a flare. Currently, there is no cure for lupus but it can be managed effectively with drugs, and most people with lupus lead an active, healthy life.
One common early symptom that can be indicative of lupus is a photosensitive rash, meaning a rash that develops in response to sun exposure, particularly on the face and upper arms, says Dr. Kramer. Other early symptoms are unexplained fever and pain, swelling, and stiffness of multiple joints. Complications such as inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs or heart can also occur early on, he adds.
Nitrogen in the blood in the form of urea, the metabolic product of the breakdown of amino acids used for energy production. The normal concentration is about 8 to 18 mg/dL. The level of urea in the blood provides a rough estimate of kidney function. Blood urea nitrogen levels may be increased in the presence of dehydration, decreased renal function, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, or treatment with drugs such as steroids or tetracyclines.
There are assertions that race affects the rate of SLE. However, a 2010 review of studies which correlate race and SLE identified several sources of systematic and methodological error, indicating that the connection between race and SLE may be spurious.[100] For example, studies show that social support is a modulating factor which buffers against SLE-related damage and maintains physiological functionality.[100] Studies have not been conducted to determine whether people of different racial backgrounds receive differing levels of social support.[100] If there is a difference, this could act as a confounding variable in studies correlating race and SLE. Another caveat to note when examining studies about SLE is that symptoms are often self-reported. This process introduces additional sources of methodological error. Studies have shown that self-reported data is affected by more than just the patients experience with the disease- social support, the level of helplessness, and abnormal illness-related behaviors also factor into a self-assessment. Additionally, other factors like the degree of social support that a person receives, socioeconomic status, health insurance, and access to care can contribute to an individual’s disease progression.[100][101] Racial differences in lupus progression have not been found in studies that control for the socioeconomic status [SES] of participants.[100][102] Studies that control for the SES of its participants have found that non-white people have more abrupt disease onset compared to white people and that their disease progresses more quickly. Non-white patients often report more hematological, serosal, neurological, and renal symptoms. However, the severity of symptoms and mortality are both similar in white and non-white patients. Studies that report different rates of disease progression in late-stage SLE are most likely reflecting differences in socioeconomic status and the corresponding access to care.[100] The people who receive medical care have often accrued less disease-related damage and are less likely to be below the poverty line.[102] Additional studies have found that education, marital status, occupation, and income create a social context which contributes to disease progression.[100]
Rheumatologists may not discuss the topic of nutrition with their patients, which is “mainly due to the complex nature of the disease, and doctors often do not have time to discuss diet when there are so many other topics to cover,” Gibofsky explained. “Many rheumatologists will admit that diet is not their area of expertise and will instead refer their patient[s] to meet with a registered dietitian (RD) who can better help with these questions.”
Unfortunately, there are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria for SLE. However, many doctors use the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 11 common criteria. These criteria were designed to identify subjects for research studies, so they are very stringent. If you currently have four or more of these criteria or if you've had them in the past, chances are very high that you have SLE. However, having less than four doesn't rule out SLE. Again, additional testing may be necessary to inform a formal diagnosis. These criteria include:
Changes in ESR over time can help guide a healthcare professional toward a possible diagnosis. Moderately elevated ESR occurs with inflammation, but also with anemia, infection, pregnancy, and old age. A very high ESR usually has an obvious cause, such as a marked increase in globulins that can be due to a severe infection. A rising ESR can mean an increase in inflammation or a poor response to a therapy. A decreasing ESR can mean a good response, though keep in mind that a low ESR can be indicative of diseases such as polycythemia, extreme leukocytosis, and protein abnormalities.
In recent years, mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) has been used as an effective medication for lupus, particularly when it is associated with kidney disease. CellCept has been helpful in reversing active lupus kidney disease (lupus renal disease) and in maintaining remission after it is established. Its lower side-effect profile has advantage over traditional immune-suppression medications.
Vasculitis, antiphospholipid antibodies, and renal failure are commonly found in patients with lupus; these conditions greatly increase the risk of developing pulmonary emboli. The diagnosis in a patient with shortness of breath, hemoptysis, and pleuritic chest pain is commonly made with ventilation-perfusion scans or computed tomography (CT) angiography. The CT angiogram demonstrates a filling defect in the left anterior segmental artery (arrow).

While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. There may have been an initial mishap — sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain — arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system). A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.


Angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels from the existing vasculature. It occurs throughout life in both health and disease, beginning in utero and continuing on through old age. No metabolically active tissue in the body is more than a few hundred micrometers from a blood capillary, which is formed by the process of angiogenesis. Capillaries are needed in all tissues for diffusion exchange of nutrients and metabolites. Changes in metabolic activity lead to proportional changes in angiogenesis and, hence, proportional changes in capillarity. Oxygen plays a pivotal role in this regulation. Hemodynamic factors are critical for survival of vascular networks and for structural adaptations of vessel walls.

Gluten can also lead to what’s known as molecular mimicry. The gluten protein, gliadin, resembles many of your body’s own tissues, particularly thyroid tissue. If you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a leaky gut, your immune system releases gliadin antibodies every time you eat gluten. Because gliadin looks so similar to your own tissues, sometimes these antibodies mistakenly attack other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This case of mistaken identity often leads to full-blown autoimmune disease.
“It’s always difficult for children and parents to live with the idea that lupus is chronic,” says Pascual. That means the child has many more years worth of living with the condition than if he or she were diagnosed later in life. And because this disease is lifelong and may involve complications such as nephritis, doctors need to manage it aggressively.
In addition to the oral antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, doctors may prescribe topical steroids for lupus rash. Steroids or antimalarials may also be injected directly into rash lesions. (8) Topical creams containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus that modulate the skin’s immune response may help manage lupus rash. Oral thalidomide, which affects the immune response, may be prescribed if other therapies don’t work. Doctors may also recommend that people with lupus rash avoid the sun and other ultraviolet light sources and wear sunscreen.

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