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Lupus and Nutrition: Foods to Avoid

While there is no specific “lupus diet,” there are foods that people with lupus need to avoid.

Medically reviewed in January 2021

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system makes antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues. In the most common form of lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), these antibodies can attack virtually any area of the body, including joints, skin, organs, blood vessels, and nerves. This can result in a wide variety of symptoms and has the potential to be disabling.

There is no cure for lupus, but the condition can be managed with treatment. Treatment often involves avoiding things that make symptoms worse, as well as medications that ease symptoms and control disease activity. Focusing on overall health is also an important aspect of treatment.

Lupus and nutrition
There is no specific “lupus diet” that can control and manage the disease, but nutrition should be a focus of treatment. Depending on the way that lupus can impact the body—and the medications being used to treat lupus—people with lupus may have additional nutritional needs or restrictions. Because everyone’s health is different, and lupus affects different people in different ways, your best source of information about your specific nutritional needs is your healthcare providers.

People with lupus are advised to follow a diet that promotes overall health. A diet should consist of plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. People with lupus are also advised to avoid and limit their consumption of processed foods, alcohol, and foods and beverages that contain saturated and trans fats, high amounts of sodium, and high amounts of sugar.

Additionally, there are some specific foods that people with lupus are advised to avoid.

Garlic
Some of the literature about lupus and diet recommends people with lupus avoid garlic. The reason for this is that garlic contains a number of substances that boost immune system activity. When a person has lupus, the immune system is overactive, and these substances found in garlic may increase that overactivity and lead to the worsening of symptoms. However, more research is needed to make a definitive recommendation. If you notice that any particular food or ingredient is associated with a flare, avoid that food.

Alfalfa sprouts, seeds and supplements
Alfalfa is a flowering legume plant. Immature alfalfa sprouts and supplements made from alfalfa plants are touted for their nutrient content and health benefits. Consuming alfalfa sprouts, seeds, and/or supplements has been associated with lupus flares. This is believed to be caused by an amino acid (L-canavanine) contained in the seeds and sprouts of alfalfa plants. This amino acid boosts immune system activity. This amino acid is also found in mung bean, another legume.

Vitamins, dietary supplements and herbal supplements
Do not take herbal or nutritional supplements without consulting your healthcare provider. Too much of specific vitamins and nutrients can stimulate disease activity and put a person with lupus at a greater risk of complications.

Your healthcare provider may recommend certain supplements or vitamins to your nutritional needs. For example, people with lupus are often deficient in vitamin D.

Talk to your healthcare provider
Remember, there is no substitute for talking to your healthcare provider about the foods you are eating and the foods you should be eating. If possible, people with lupus and other autoimmune diseases should work with a registered dietitian to address their specific needs.

In addition to good nutrition and healthful eating, it is important to focus on other key components of overall health, including exercise, getting enough quality sleep, reducing stress, and taking care of mental health. These are additional topics that people with lupus should be discussing with their healthcare providers.

Sources:
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Patient Education: Lupus."
MedlinePlus. "Lupus."
Lupus Foundation of America. "Lupus nutrition FAQs."
Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. "Diet."
Rachel Meltzer Warren. "Lupus Diet: What to Eat to Avoid Lupus Flares." Creakyjoints.com.
Medical News Today. "How to cope with lupus."
Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. "5 Things to Avoid if You Have Lupus."
Lupus Foundation of America. "Your Lupus Flare Plan."
Sherril Sego. "Alfalfa: weighing the risks and benefits." Clinical Advisor. May 5, 2017.
RxList. "Alfalfa."
Tohid Hassanalilou, Leila Khalili, et al. "Role of vitamin D deficiency in systemic lupus erythematosus incidence and aggravation." Autoimmunity Highlights, 2018. Vol. 9, No. 1.

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