Lupus: Support and Survival

Vitamins and Nutritional Management of Lupus
People living with chronic illnesses have nutritional requirements well beyond those of the general public. The disease process places excessive demands on the entire system while interfering with the ability of the body to assimilate basic nutrients. It is hardly possible to nourish a chronically ill person with the best of diets without some type of supplement.

Add the fact that SLE patients frequently have gastric distress and variable appetites, and the nutritional task becomes even more daunting. An early study by Cook and Reading (1985) demonstrated the beneficial effects of nutritional supplementation of SLE patients.

It is essential for those with lupus to take a regimen of a high-potency, easily assimilated, vitamin-mineral product. Avoid the commercial one-a-day formulations. Despite the public's fascination with finding a single magic pill, it takes a number of nutrients to produce improved health, and that cannot be combined into one tablet.

SLE patients must also plan to avoid the most common serious complications of their disease. Certainly, the possible vascular involvement would weigh heavily in favor of a low saturated fat diet, the benefit of which is shown in early research in animals with lupus- like disease (Corman, 1985). Likewise, the potential kidney problems suggest a diet relatively low in protein as well as low in salt (because kidney malfunctions lead to high blood pressure).

Steroid Therapy Side Effects and Nutrition

Many lupus patients have no choice in the use of steroid therapy. They must take these drugs or suffer catastrophic organ involvement. Some side effects of steroids may be mitigated with the proper supplements.

The most significant example is the loss of calcium leading to osteoporosis. Proper nutritional treatment of osteoporosis involves a delicate balance of minerals, far beyond simply taking calcium.

Additionally, steroids may cause potassium levels to decrease. When this occurs, oral replacement is required. Because steroids can release clots of fat into the blood stream, nutritional supplements which break down fats are recommended.

Another possible result of steroid therapy is cognitive confusion and loss of concentration. If this occurs, there are many supplements available. Finally, steroids may deplete vitamin B6, vitamin D, and zinc. These substances require supplementation. Note that B-complex vitamins also are depleted by aspirin and indomethacin (Lupus Alert, 1988), common anti-inflammatory medications.

Drugs not supplements, are standard treatment for lupus. But some experts believe that these nutrients may help ease symptoms.

                             Nutrient Daily Amount / Application

                 Beta-carotene          25,000 international units
                 Calcium                   1,000 milligrams
                 Selenium                  50 micrograms
                 Vitamin C                1,000 milligrams
                 Vitamin D                 400 international units
                 Vitamin E                 1,000 international units
                 Zinc                         15 milligrams


Do NOT take supplements (including herbs) that ENHANCE the immune system. Paients with Lupus want to subdue the immune system to rid the body of symptoms.

Anyone with lupus should be taking vitamin and mineral supplementation only after discussing it with his or her physician.

Vitamin D can be toxic in large amounts, so doses exceeding 600 international units should be taken only under medical supervision.

It's a good idea to consult your doctor before taking vitamin E in doses exceeding 600 international units daily. If you are taking anticoagulant drugs, you should not take vitamin E supplements.

Specific Symptom Treatment

The complexity of SLE causes symptoms in many sites, in many ways. It is possible to treat some of these with supplements:

Osteoporosis. Besides being a side effect of steroid use, osteoporosis can occur as a direct result of lupus.

Pain. There are several supplements recommended for the chronic achiness common in lupus. Two amino acids, dl-phenylalanine and tyrosine (500 mg taken 2 or 3 times a day) are capable of  elevating brain endorphin levels. Endorphins are the body's natural pain killers, and raising their availability can reduce pain.

Another substance used to limit pain is melatonin. Not only does melatonin have analgesic effects, but it also appears to potentiate the effects of other analgesics. The best usage of melatonin is at bedtime, when 500 mcg to 10 mg help to lower pain and improve sleep.

Arthritis. Because most lupus patients have some form of arthritic symptoms, from mild to disabling, SLE may be treated with many of the same supplements used in the Arthritis protocol. These substances include antioxidants, glucosamine, chondroitin, and essential fatty acids (particularly, gamma-linolenic acid or GLA).

In addition to the recommendations for pain listed above, there are specific natural arthritic pain products such as ArthroPro and Natural Pain Relief for Arthritis, that utilizes agents used in European clinics as the primary treatment for joint inflammation.

Systemic inflammation. Earlier studies have also shown the efficacy of essential fatty acids such as those contained in perilla, flax, or fish oil supplements. Alexander, et al. (1987) demonstrated a reduction in glomerulonephritis (kidney disease), and a significant rise in longevity in a fish oil supplemented group of lupus-prone animals, as compared to groups given either saturated fat or corn oil supplements.

Robinson et al. (1985) stated that fish oil "had the most striking protective effect seen thus far in any animal model of inflammatory disease." These results were supported by Kelly, et al. (1985), who showed that fish oil suppressed lupus in mice, delaying renal disease and prolonging survival.

DHEA. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that the body may convert into both androgens and estrogens for various uses. DHEA has multiple interactions with the body's immune system and the excess or lack of this substance produces significant effects on an autoimmune disease such as SLE.

An impressive study on the effects of DHEA on SLE was conducted by researchers at Stanford University Medical Center. The study group consisted of 50 females, 37 premenopausal and 13 postmenopausal, with mild to moderate SLE. Test subjects were treated with long term (up to 1 year) therapy of 50 to 200 mg daily of oral DHEA.

The results showed that DHEA therapy was associated with a decrease in SLE disease activity as measured by the SLE Disease Activity Index Score, patient global assessment, and physician global assessment compared to baseline. Prednisone doses were concurrently reduced. These improvements were sustained over the entire treatment period.

Testosterone. This hormone appears to play a significant role in the body's autoimmune system.  There is evidence indicating that hormone balances in SLE patients may be disrupted, and that proper regulation may be therapeutic. Females must be more careful about using testosterone as there may be a more narrow therapeutic dosage range.


Systemic Lupus Erythematosis is a complex disorder of the immune system that may affect multiple systems of the body, and symptoms range from mild to fatal. Its causes are not fully understood, but probably involve genetic and environmental factors.

Medical treatment for lupus utilizes a variety of pharmaceutical approaches from aspirin to steroids to chemotherapy, some of which produce side effects nearly as bad as the illness itself. To support and enhance treatment, this protocol suggests lifestyle adjustments and nutritional supplements to mitigate specific symptoms and systemic inflammation.

The prognosis for SLE patients has improved dramatically in the last several decades, and newer, safer drugs are becoming available. An overall cure awaits some major breakthrough, probably in the field of genetic engineering.


High potency, easily assimilated, multi-nutrient vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended

A low salt, low saturated-fat diet.

Calcium and magnesium supplementation to offset bone loss (especially important when taking steroids).

Potassium, vitamins B6, D, and E, and zinc to offset nutritional depletion due to the use of steroids.

Melatonin, 500 mcg to 10 mg, to lower pain and induce sleep.

For arthritic symptoms, antioxidants, glucosamine, chondroitin, and fatty acids such as gamma-linolenic acid and eicosapaentaenoic acid (EPA).

DHEA, to boost autoimmune function and decrease disease activity.


Contact the Lupus Foundation of America or the local Chapter that serves your area for more information about lupus, or the programs and services the LFA offers including support group information and physician referral.

Lupus Foundation of America., Inc.
1300 Piccard Drive, Suite 200
Rockville, MD 20850-4303
301-670-9292  800-558-0121

Information gathered from :

Searching for  ways to deal with the depression, the frustrations, the questions about lupus, I joined a support group online.  LUPIES has been a wonderful gift.  I have learned more from the information I found on the support web site from other sufferers of Lupus than I did from my doctor.
Thank you fellow Lupies!    With a very special thank you to Deanna!
May your days be pain free!

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