Do you know anyone who struggles with lupus?
It’s one of those diseases where one or two symptoms can quickly turn into fifty.
And it doesn’t just affect one area of the body.
The skin, joints, kidneys, lungs and even the heart, just to name a few, can all be affected at any given time.
And when it comes to the standard medical approach, patients are left to manage each symptom individually (oftentimes with several medications).
Functional medicine takes a completely different approach – one where the focus is on finding and fixing the root cause of disease to achieve true healing.
Simply put, leading researchers and functional medicine practitioners from all across the world agree – the gut is the best place to start to address ALL the symptoms and complications of lupus.
What Is Lupus?
Lupus, also referred to as systemic lupus erythematosus or (SLE), is a systemic autoimmune disease that can affect many different body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. The immune system attacks the body’s tissues and organs, causing widespread inflammation and symptoms.
Lupus can come on suddenly or slowly, can be severe or mild, and is often characterized by periods of flares and remission. No two cases are exactly the same, as the symptoms depend on which organs are affected.
The most common symptoms of lupus are:
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks/nose (and/or rashes elsewhere on the body)
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- Skin lesions, rashes and infections (the skin is involved in up to 70% of cases)
- Anemia and weakness
- Shortness of breath and chest pain
- Dry eyes
- Headaches, confusion and memory loss
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
How Is Lupus Diagnosed?
Diagnosing lupus is difficult because the signs and symptoms vary considerably from person to person and often overlap with many other diseases.
A combination of blood and urine tests, assessing the signs and symptoms, and a physical examination are used to diagnose lupus.
Here are the most common tests for lupus:
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test – The body uses antibodies to fend off foreign substances, and when they’re made to fight its own tissues, it can indicate an autoimmune disease such as lupus. 95% of patients with lupus will have a positive ANA test result. But having a positive ANA test does not necessarily mean you have lupus, so several other criteria must be used.
- Blood test – A complete blood count (CBC) measures the number of red and white blood cells, as well as the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. Results may indicate anemia or a low white blood cell count, both of which are common in lupus.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate – This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus.
- Echocardiogram (ECG) – If your doctor suspects lupus is attacking your heart, an ECG may be helpful to detect issues with the valves or other parts of the heart.
- Urinalysis – An examination of a urine sample may show an increased protein level or red blood cells, which can occur if lupus has affected your kidneys.
- Chest X-ray – If your doctor suspects lupus is attacking your lungs, a chest X-ray may be helpful to reveal inflammation or other abnormalities of the lungs.
- Kidney biopsy – Lupus can affect the kidneys in many different ways, so a small biopsy may be necessary to determine if or how the kidneys are affected.
As you can see, diagnosing lupus isn’t a simple process. It requires an in-depth analysis of multiple factors.
Is Lupus A Genetic Disease?
Lupus has a strong genetic link and is most prevalent among families, women and certain ethnic groups.
The risk of developing lupus is about 20 times higher in siblings of individuals with the disease, as compared to the general population.
Lupus is also two to three times more prevalent among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American women than among Caucasian women. Recent research indicates that lupus affects 1 in 537 young African-American women.
Researchers have identified 100 genetic variants linked to lupus. Genetic variants can be thought of as misprints in our DNA – which is responsible for sending certain messages to the immune system. When a misprint occurs, the immune system gets the wrong message and the result can lead to the development of the autoimmune disease process.
TNFAIP3 is a gene located on chromosome number 6 and is responsible for certain proteins that, when altered, can trigger widespread inflammation like that present in lupus. Several studies show TNFAIP3 has a strong association with SLE.
Despite such powerful evidence in the correlation between specific genes and lupus, genetics alone are not fully responsible for this devastating disease. We must look a little deeper…
Lupus Triggers – Turning The Genes On
The exact cause of SLE is still not entirely agreed upon by health experts, but it’s generally thought that a complex interplay of genes, hormones, and environmental factors are involved.
In genetically susceptible individuals, lupus can be triggered by:
Viral Infections – For years, researchers have suspected a connection between lupus and the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) – commonly known as the agent that causes mononucleosis. But it wasn’t until a study in 2005 that EBV became known as a “lupus catalyst” (i.e trigger).
Chronic or Acute Stress – Those who suffer from lupus report stress as the main reason for a flare. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system via a complex chain of events, which can ultimately lead to an increased risk of infection. Stress-induced immune system suppression reduces the body’s capacity to respond to anti-inflammatory signals and allows inflammation to flourish.
Hormonal Imbalances – The prevalence of lupus in women has led researchers to focus on the role of estrogen. Estrogen production is highest during pregnancy and just before menstruation – two periods where women experience more lupus symptoms. Incidence and severity of SLE also diminish after menopause, a time when estrogen is decreased. Estrogen affects the immune system by targeting the estrogen receptors directly on immune cells.
Heavy Metal Toxicity – Heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and aluminum, have a strong association with chronic illness and autoimmune conditions. Mercury directly damages our tissues, by changing their structure and making them appear foreign to the immune system. The body then attacks the new, unfamiliar tissue and the autoimmune process begins. It is estimated that 8 to 10% of American women have toxic levels of mercury, helping to explain the high rate of lupus in women
Bacterial Infections – Research shows even small amounts of exposure to Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria can trigger the onset of lupus symptoms. One study discovered mice developed lupus-like symptoms (with kidney disease and autoantibodies) when they were exposed to low doses of a protein found in Staph.
These are just a handful of the known, documented triggers. Let’s now shift our focus to how the body can be affected.
Not every person with lupus will develop further complications, but…
The most common complications of lupus include:
- Kidneys – Up to 40% of patients with lupus develop kidney complications, and in children that number jumps to 80%. Swelling in the lower extremities is often the first physical sign that the kidneys are being affected. A urinalysis, a test to examine the urine, may reveal abnormalities such as protein, blood or white blood cells in the urine.
- Lungs – An estimated 50% of lupus sufferers will develop lung issues. One of the most common lung conditions, pleurisy, is often found in those with lupus. The hallmark of this condition is inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs. Acute lupus pneumonitis is also common and is characterized by chest pain, shortness of breath, and a dry cough that may contain blood.
- Heart and Circulatory System – Heart disease has emerged as a major cause of morbidity and mortality in SLE. Recent studies have confirmed that the risk of a heart attack in patients with SLE is increased between nine and fiftyfold over the general population. Lupus is now considered to be an independent risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis – the leading cause of coronary artery disease and a condition highly associated with systemic inflammation.
- Nervous System – In adults, approximately 28 to 40% of neurological symptoms develop before or around the time of the diagnosis of SLE. A retrospective study of 185 Chinese children over a 20-year period found that 11% had neurological symptoms at the time of diagnosis and an additional 16% developed symptoms within one year. The most common conditions include memory loss, migraine headaches, seizures, dizziness, and mood disorders.
The Emotional Weight Of Lupus
Living with lupus isn’t only physically exhausting, but mentally as well.
Those with lupus are highly susceptible to anxiety, depression, memory loss and insomnia (among others).
Some studies report as many as 68% of lupus patients suffer from clinical depression. The depression can be a direct emotion or reaction to having lupus, but medications (i.e corticosteroids and prednisone) can also contribute to depression and other mood disorders.
“Steroid psychosis” is a term used to describe the emotional effects of steroids and “lupus cerebritis” is used to specifically refer to the effects of lupus on the brain.
Anxiety is also common in those with lupus. In a study of 326 Caucasian women, 49% suffered from some form of anxiety including a specific phobia (24%), panic disorder (16%), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (9%).
Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to the emotional side of lupus (keep reading).
The Leaky Gut – Autoimmune Connection
If you’ve been keeping up with the latest information in natural health, you already know it’s nearly impossible to ignore a leaky gut as part of the cause and solution to autoimmune conditions like lupus.
His findings present the idea that in order for an autoimmune disease to develop, 3 conditions must all exist together:
- A genetic predisposition to autoimmunity (i.e. TNFAIP3 in lupus)
- An exposure to the environmental trigger (i.e. Viral Infection)
- Increased intestinal permeability (a.k.a. Leaky Gut Syndrome)
For those with lupus, healing the gut means getting to the root cause of the physical AND mental symptoms, so you can start living again.
Not all three of these are in our control, but healing a leaky gut is one factor that is in our control and it can be done step-by-step with the right plan.
However, the medical community has not fully accepted the role the gut plays in the disease process of lupus.
Medical Treatment For Lupus – Helpful Or Hurtful?
Medical treatment for lupus is based on what signs and symptoms are present and is subject to change as the symptoms do.
The most common medications for the treatment of lupus are:
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs, such as Aleve and Advil, may be used to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus. Common side effects of these over-the-counter NSAIDs include increased risk of ulcers, kidney, and heart problems.
- Immunosuppressants – For severe cases of lupus, drugs that suppress the immune system may be used (Imuran and Trexall being the most common). Side effects of these drugs include damage to the liver, increased risk of infection, fertility issues and an increased risk of cancer.
- Glucocorticoids – Prednisone is one of the most widely used clinical drugs to treat systemic autoimmune disease – and it’s also one of the most concerning. The adverse effects of prednisone range from osteoporosis and increased risk of infections to hyperglycaemia, psychiatric manifestations and cardiovascular disease.
- Biologics – Biologics are medications used to target B-cells for the treatment of lupus. Belimumab is the only approved biological agent for the treatment of systemic lupus and is considered to be more effective when used in conjunction with other treatments. Common adverse effects include infections, headaches, nausea, and fatigue.
The question isn’t necessarily if these drugs will work, but rather how long they’ll be effective for (tolerance) and at what cost.
Speaking of tolerance, the medical definition is “the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance especially with repeated use or exposure.”
In other words, as time goes by, it takes a larger dose or a more potent medication to have the same effect.
It’s a vicious cycle that might lead you to wonder if there’s a better way to treat lupus.
How To Turn Off Autoimmune Disease
Overcoming lupus requires a multifaceted, functional approach. And it starts with healing the gut to begin decreasing system-wide inflammation – and that is exactly what we’re here to help you do.
Ancient and current wisdom both suggest that powerful healing must begin in the gut.
Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, stated “all disease begins in the gut.”
And some 2,000 years later, Fasano and many other leading experts’ research supports the leaky gut – autoimmune connection.
With that said, we’ve hosted a webinar called, “How to Turn Off Your Autoimmunity and Restore a Healthy Immune System.”
It’s completely free, and we walk you through how to address the health of your gut so that your immune system can stop attacking itself.
The topic of autoimmunity is complicated and the amount of information out there can be downright overwhelming. That’s why we’ve done the work for you and why we’re grateful to support you on this journey.
P.S. – What is holding you back from healing? Let us know in the comments below 🙂