Some Signs That You May Have Lupus (and How To Recover From It).
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE or lupus) is an autoimmune disease that can affect multiple systems of the body. This sometimes life-threatening condition affects an estimated 5 million people worldwide and can involve the skin, joints, internal organs, and nervous system.
Like other autoimmune diseases, lupus occurs when your body is trying to defend itself against something potentially dangerous, such as an allergen, a toxin, an infection, or even a food, but it does not successfully differentiate between the intruder and your own body. Your immune system has a very sophisticated system for keeping you safe that leads it to identify all of the foreign substances that you come into contact with. If your immune system deems anything dangerous, it will produce antibodies to ward off the harmful intruders.
In lupus and all autoimmune disease, this process fails. Mistaking your own tissues for foreign substances, your body turns these antibodies against itself, wreaking havoc on and destroying your organs.
Most autoimmune diseases affect one specific system, for example Rheumatoid Arthritis involves the joints and Multiple Sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord. Lupus, on the other hand, affects more than one system simultaneously. In any case, all autoimmune diseases are similar in that they are an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself.
Signs and Symptoms of Lupus
Symptoms of lupus range from mild to severe, even life-threatening. Nicknamed “The Great Imitator,” lupus mimics other diseases due to its involvement of multiple bodily systems and the fact that symptoms often come and go, or change entirely.
The most common symptoms of lupus are:
• Joint pain and swelling
• A butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks
• Hair loss
• Ulcers in the nose and mouth
• Edema (water retention) in the hands, feet, and face
• Photosensitivity (sensitivity to light, especially sunlight)
• Raynaud’s Disease (extremities turning white or blue when exposed to the cold)
How is lupus diagnosed?
Lupus is not easily diagnosed because it looks like so many other illnesses. Generally, a doctor will review your medical history and your family history, and look for signs of systemic inflammation. Because lupus can involve the internal and external organs, a doctor will rely on observation as well as laboratory testing in order to make a lupus diagnosis. There is no one test for lupus–generally, many different criteria will need to come together, and it can take years to reach a diagnosis.
Conventional Treatment for Lupus
Conventional medicine is focused on managing the symptoms of lupus rather than finding the root cause. For this reason, treatment is based solely on medications. The first line of treatment for lupus is to prescribe drugs for specific symptoms, such as diuretics for fluid retention or aspirin for pain. Next, a doctor will usually prescribe a corticosteroid such as prednisone, which has a variety of unpleasant and dangerous side effects. Long term prednisone therapy can cause muscle wasting and osteoporosis, and those side effects require additional monitoring and medication. If the steroids stop controlling the symptoms, then a host of other serious medications are prescribed that either modulate or suppress the immune system as a whole. Plaquenil and belimumab (Benlysta) are some of the drugs used, and they have very harsh side effects including hair loss, muscle atrophy, blood disorders and increased susceptibility to infections.
Conventional medicine does not look at the body as a whole, but instead sees it in terms of isolated systems, with a doctor for each one. Generally, lupus patients are under the care of a rheumatologist and a doctor who specializes in the area in which they are experiencing symptoms, for example a nephrologist for kidneys, and a dermatologist for skin.
But bodily systems are not actually separate. Functional medicine looks at the health of the entire body based on the fact that the health of one system affects the function of the others. It aims to get at the real cause of disease.
Five Underlying Causes of Lupus
If you suspect that you have lupus, I recommend you take a functional medicine approach and find the underlying cause for your immune system going rogue and attacking its own tissue. Below are the top five.
Gluten has been linked to more than 55 diseases and is often called the ‘big masquerader’. The reason for this is that the majority symptoms of gluten intolerance are not digestive in nature but rather neurological such as pain, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbances, behavioral issues, fatigue and depression.
In order to absorb nutrients, the gut is somewhat permeable to very small molecules. Many things including gluten, infections, medications and stress can damage the gut, allowing toxins, microbes and undigested food particles–among other things–directly into your bloodstream. Leaky gut is the gateway for theses infections, toxins and foods like gluten to begin to cause systemic inflammation that leads to autoimmunity. You must heal your gut before you can heal yourself.
Toxic molds (mycotoxins) and heavy metals such as mercury are the two main toxins I see in those with autoimmune conditions. Mycotoxins are very toxic substances produced by toxic molds. Only about 25% of the population carries the genes to be susceptible to the effects of mycotoxins. Conventional environmental mold testing only tests for levels of mold spores and does not test for mycotoxins. I use a urine mycotoxin test in my clinic to determine if someone has been exposed to toxic molds.
Mercury is toxic to our bodies and can be one piece of the puzzle for those with lupus and other chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, other autoimmune diseases, neurological disorders and cancer. I then recommend heavy metal testing using a pre and post DMPS urine challenge test. I also recommend that all my patients find a biological dentist and have their mercury amalgam fillings removed.
Infections and Stress
Scientists have suspected for years that infections from bacteria, viruses, and other toxins were likely to blame for the development of conditions like lupus. And while they have not been able to identify one single culprit, they have found strong correlations between a number of bacteria and viruses. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been shown to trigger lupus in some individuals.
Levels of stress-related illnesses are on the rise, and stress, both of the emotional and the physical variety, has been shown to trigger and intensify autoimmune disorders. Stress disrupts many different types of immune function through several distinct pathways. Stress is the body’s response to a threat–a wound, injury, or infection. Acute stress revs up the immune system to help us deal with an immediate crisis, and then calms it back down once the threat is removed. On the other hand, chronic stress (the kind we face in this day and age) leads to long term inflammation that never really shuts off, creating autoimmune disease. Once the autoimmune response is in place, immediate stress only exacerbates it.
The Myers Way Approach to Lupus
1. Remove gluten, grain and legumes from diet
I recommend that all of my patients remove gluten from their diets because it’s simply an inflammatory food. For my patients with autoimmune diseases, like lupus, I highly recommend removing all grains and legumes from the diet as well. These foods contain proteins known as lectins, which act as a natural pesticide for crops and can wreak havoc on the lining of your gut. Changing your diet is the first step in getting well. I created The Myers Way Comprehensive Elimination Diet eCourse which you can do at home, and it’s the foundation that I use with my patients to begin recovering from illnesses. There is a special autoimmune protocol in the eCourse.
2. Heal the gut
Healing the gut is essential to healing yourself, as I mentioned before. For this reason, I created The Myers Way Guide to the Gut eCourse to help guide you through the exact same steps I use with my patients to heal their guts. I also have many articles explaining my 4R approach to healing the gut and gut-healing supplements.
3. Find and treat infections
Have your doctor test for infections such as HSV and EBV. Monolaurin from coconut oil can be very effective treatment for both HSV and EBV. Lysine and a lysine-rich diet is effective at treating HSV infections.
4. Test for heavy metals and mycotoxins
We are exposed to heavy metals in a number of different ways: amalgams, fish consumption, and the environment. I recommend having your MTHFR genes tested and doing a DMPS chelation challenge test through a functional medicine practitioner to determine if mercury or other heavy metals are an issue for you. Real Time Labhas the test I use for assessing if someone is being exposed to mycotoxins.
5. Manage stress and Support the Immune System
I suggest to all my patients that they prioritize stress reduction. Take care of yourself by adopting some stress-relieving strategies, such as exercise, meditation, and art. If you are having trouble relaxing, try a yoga class or a guided meditation. I use a heart rhythm pacer called InnerBalance, an app that coaches you to breathe in line with your heartbeat. Even giving yourself five minutes to sit quietly with a fragrant cup of herbal tea (caffeine-free, of course!) can work wonders for your adrenal glands.
Take the time to pause and live in the moment; try not to worry about what might happen next, or things that you cannot control. Remember that this is not a selfish action–it’s a necessary step to regain your health.
I also support the immune system with supplements such as vitamin D, omega-3 fish oils, and glutathione, which are powerful immune modulators, meaning that they can help support your immune system. Vitamin D has been shown to help regulate the immune system. Omega 3 fish oils help to reduce inflammation in the entire body. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the body which can help reduce inflammation and improve detoxification.