Can a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet Help Lupus?
Reports show that fasting and plant-food diets can improve symptoms of autoimmune conditions, but TrueNorth wants to get more specific.
The TrueNorth Health Center has specialized in treating patients with water-only fasting and an exclusively whole-plant-food diet for 35 years. Clinicians and researchers at TrueNorth Health are interested in the effects of water-only fasting followed by long-term adherence to an exclusively whole-plant-food diet free of salt, oil, sugar, and gluten on lupus disease activity. Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy tissue. Lupus is particularly devastating because it can damage any organ as well as multiple organs at the same time.
“Lupus is particularly devastating because it can damage any organ as well as multiple organs at the same time.”
Although lupus survival rates have increased over the last 50 years, long-term morbidity from disease progression and adverse treatment effects can result in physical disability and psychosocial challenges that impact one’s quality of life and ability to work. This disease leads to substantial direct and indirect cost to individuals and society, which disproportionately affects disadvantaged populations. Costs are driven by disease activity and disease damage.
Lupus Nutrition Research
Diet is emerging as a cost-effective treatment for chronic inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune disorders such as lupus. There are reports showing that fasting and plant-food diets improved clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, another autoimmune condition. There have been a number of studies on the effects of individual dietary components, especially those found in plant foods, on lupus.
Only three published case reports exist that describe dietary intervention beyond specific nutrient supplementation on lupus patients. These reports showed that patients had positive improvements after implementing dietary changes (research in animals further supports these findings).
What Causes Lupus?
Why a person gets lupus is not fully understood, but environment, epigenetics, gut health, and inflammation have all been connected to its disease risk and/or progression. The biological mechanisms that regulate lupus are also complex and poorly understood. This complexity makes it difficult to treat lupus and has made it difficult to find effective treatments.
Since lupus can affect any organ, it causes a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations, depending on the damaged tissue. Symptoms may include extreme fatigue, fever, joint pain, skin rashes, photosensitivity, shortness of breath, and chest pain. When clinical symptoms are present, laboratory tests—including complete blood count, electrolyte analysis, kidney and liver function tests, markers of inflammation, and more specific measures of autoantibodies (anti-nuclear, anti-dsDNA, etc.)—can be performed to substantiate the findings. There are currently no tests available that can definitively diagnose lupus, so it is diagnosed using a combination of clinical evidence and laboratory results.
Lupus Treatments and Side Effects
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for lupus. It is conventionally managed using treatments such as corticosteroids, antimalarials, and cytotoxic/immunosuppressive drugs that primarily act by reducing inflammation and immunological responses through nonspecific mechanisms. These treatments manage the disease to varying degrees, but at the cost of patients having a higher vulnerability to infectious diseases and risk of other serious side effects.
The treatment relies on a discussion with your doctor, which takes into account the clinical and biological manifestations, risks and benefits, and affordability. Despite existing treatments and decades of active research, there remains an important need for effective therapies with low risk of adverse events.
TrueNorth Health Foundation is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. The guiding principles that inform the work of the Foundation rests on the understanding that the human organism has tremendous internal capacity for building, maintaining, and recovering health when exposed to a health-promoting environment. Central to that understanding is the well-documented observation that, except in unusual circumstances, health is the result of healthy living and disease the result of unhealthy living. When it comes to necessary medical or other therapeutic intervention, the ideal goal should be the recovery of health and not merely palliation of symptoms.
The Foundation hopes to empower people of all ages to maximize their health potential. Most people seem relatively healthy during their young years and middle age regardless of their individual health practices. But, too often, these same people spend the later years of their lives in a markedly debilitated state, unable to enjoy life to the fullest. A primary goal of the Foundation is to learn the steps people can take to maximize the length and quality of their lives.
* This article was featured in the Summer 2019 issue of the National Health Association’s magazine, Health Science. It was reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Goldhamer from the TrueNorth Health Foundation.
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