I’m a little more than 6 months into this lupus adventure and have figured out some things that clearly trigger my symptoms, like a poor night of sleep or work/parenting stress. Sun makes things worse and running makes things better, which makes spring and summer workouts complicated. I’m also starting to notice that there may be other things triggering these symptoms and wondering if I need to pay attention to food more closely. With my flare a week or so ago, things seemed worse after we went out for Valentine’s Day lunch, which is part of what made me wonder if something I eat or drink (perish the thought!) might make things worse. We all know I’m not particularly into restrictive diets or avoiding foods willy nilly, but I thought it was worth looking into what kind of things I need to think about in terms how I eat to help my lupus symptoms. After all, food can and should be part of maintaining overall health, not just the “enemy” in terms of weight loss and weight maintenance.
The most important thing to remember in terms of food and lupus is to maintain a healthy diet, just like everyone is supposed to eat, with lots of fruits and veggies, lean proteins and calcium containing foods while avoiding processed foods and saturated fats. Not only are these things good for us in general, they can also help minimize some of the things that occur as complications of lupus and as side effects of lupus medications, like an increase in heart disease seen in lupus patients and an increase in osteoporosis or brittle bones because of the sun avoidance and decreased vitamin D, as well as a side effect of some medications. I try to do all of those things anyway, so I was reassured by most of what I read in mainstream resources. This kind of diet can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is important in minimizing the stress our poor joints are already experiencing, maintaining our cardiovascular health as much as we can, and because some believe that obesity itself can worsen systemic inflammation.
However, I did run across a few interesting things that I wasn’t aware of. I didn’t realize that there’s a compound in alfalfa sprouts, which I commonly include in my salads if I eat at a salad bar, that can trigger lupus flares and was recommended as something to avoid in almost every source I looked at! (L-canavanine, if you’re curious) Distressingly, a lot of resources also recommend avoiding garlic because it can stimulate the immune system. I felt so betrayed by the John Hopkins Lupus center for including garlic in its list of things to avoid because I can’t dismiss Hopkins as whack-a-doo medicine. Sigh.
Caffeine is on some lists, as is alcohol (although most say small amounts are fine) and sugary foods. In both of my most recent flares, I had both sweets and alcohol in the 24 hours before. It’s telling that I’m much more willing to consider the possibility of giving up sweets (or at least avoiding them as much as I can) than I am willing to give up alcohol. Obviously, I’d do whatever I needed to in order to stay healthy, but please don’t take away my wine!
Another thing I ran across was the idea of nightshade foods, like white potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, triggering symptoms for some people. For the nightshade foods, it appears that some people are sensitive and some aren’t so you have to experiment a bit. Really, with all of the autoimmune diseases, our individual triggers are going to vary. That’s why I’ve been careful to stick to more mainstream, evidence supported sources of information in my “research” because there are so many individual stories out there and those things may not be universally true.
I’m working on keeping track of what my symptoms are and what I may have been exposed to in the day preceding the symptoms, especially things on this list. I’m realizing now how difficult it is to completely avoid these things! I’m trying to avoid nightshade plants for the next few weeks and then reintroduce them to see if they are a trigger for me. The avoidance of peppers is killing me because that includes a huge number of my spice mixes and spice mixes used with food in general! I have a whole new respect for people with food allergies and I’ve only been doing this for a few days.
Aside from highlighting how hard dealing with food restrictions must be, I’m also newly appreciating the importance of food in my overall health. Healthy foods can be medicine and we need to respect them as such. By being aware of how what we eat makes us feel, we could all learn a lot about ourselves.
Have you ever had to avoid certain foods because of allergy or intolerance? What was the thing you found hardest to give up? I confess, I’d rather live a life without cheesecake than a life without wine and I am not even willing to consider a life without coffee at this point, even if caffeine is also on this list.
Note that I’m not a dietitian or rheumatologist so none of this is medical advice! Just my thoughts as I travel this new road!
Web MD Lupus Diet
Molly’s Fund The Lupus & Diet Dilemma
The John Hopkins Lupus Center Diet