Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

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Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2016-11-11 (EDT)

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disorder that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Causes Infections, Environmental Toxins, Stress, Prescription Medications
See Also Musculoskeletal Conditions, Autoimmune Disease
Books Books on Infections, Allergies, Intolerances
Articles Articles on Infections / Allergies / Sensitivities
Article Multifactoral Approach to Treating Lupus, NDNR, 2011 March

Naturopathic Assessment

Causal Factors

In order to stimulate the innate ability of the body to heal the causes of disease must be identified and addressed. With SLE environmental factors are primary, but other factors also need to be considered.


  • Stress can worsen the symptoms and progression of SLE.[1], [2]


  • Volatile organic compounds, such as formaldehyde and other industrial chemicals, can induce the onset of SLE by promoting the formation of auto antibodies.[3] This occurs after one or more of these chemicals binds to tissue in the body, forming haptens. A process that can cause the immune system to attack the body tissue to which the chemical bound, even after the chemical is no longer there.[3]
  • Excessive ultra violet light exposure is associated with the onset of SLE.[1]
  • Infections including Epstein Barr virus, and parvovirus, are sometimes associated with the onset and progression of SLE.[1]

Medical Interventions

  • Prescription Medications
  • Estrogen containing hormones can be associated with the onset and progression of SLE.[1]
  • History of antibiotic use has been linked to increased risk of SLE.
  • Dental Work
  • Dental amalgams that contain mercury have been linked to the onset and progression of SLE.[4] Mercury exposure has been shown to induce the formation of antinuclear antibodies in rats.[4] Antinuclear antibodies are commonly found in patients suffering from lupus.[4]

Diagnostic Testing

  • Diagnostic tests for SLE include:[2]
  • Approximately 70% of people with SLE test positive for anti-double stranded DNA antibodies (meaning that their immune system has made antibodies to their own DNA).
  • The anti smith antibody test is very specific for SLE.
  • Approximately 50% of SLE patients have a decreased white blood cell count, and most have a decreased red blood cell count. Kidney function tests are typically also run.

Related Symptoms and Conditions

The conditions that are commonly associated with SLE include:[3][2]

  • Kidney Disease such as glomerulonephritis.
  • 1/3 of people with SLE develop heart or lung complications such as:
  • Orthopaedic complications such as avascular necrosis of the hip joint.
  • Sjogren's syndrome
  • Both Lyme Disease and HIV can present with similar symptoms as SLE. Therefore, these diseases should be ruled out before a diagnosis of SLE is made.[2]
  • Roughly 20% of SLE patients test false positive for syphilis.[2]


SLE is a chronic autoimmune disease that leads to long-term inflammation.

  • Intestinal mucus membrane hyperpermiability can contribute to SLE.[5] When the gut is hyperpermiable, antigens and gut derived microbial toxins are able to cross from the intestines into circulation in quantities that are much higher than normal. This can cause chronic systemic inflammation.[4][5]
  • Impaired liver function contributes to SLE.[4] The liver cleanses the blood by removing antigens, toxins, and large protein molecules from it.[4] If these substances are not removed from the blood by the liver, the immune system begins to destroy them. Healthy body tissues can be targeted and damaged in this process.[4][5]


There are a number of symptoms associated with SLE. How the conditions manifests is different for each person. Almost everyone with SLE has joint pain and swelling that affects the fingers, hands, wrists, and knees. In order to be classified as having SLE you typically need to have joint pain and at least three of the symptoms below:[3]

  • fatigue or sense of uneasiness or discomfort
  • rashes, such as a "butterfly" rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose, or the rash can be widespread.
  • sun sensitivity and worsening of any rash in the sun
  • weight loss
  • hair loss
  • chest pain when taking a deep breath (due to inflammation of the lining of the heart and lungs)
  • fevers for no other cause
  • mouth sores
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • dry eyes and dry mouth (due to Sjogrens syndrome)

Other symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected:[6]

  • Brain and nervous system: headaches, numbness, tingling, seizures, vision problems, personality changes, depression, cognitive dysfunction
  • Digestive tract: abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • Heart: abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Lung: coughing up blood and difficulty breathing
  • Skin: patchy skin color, fingers that change color when cold (Raynaud's phenomenon)
  • Hormonal: premenstrual worsening of symptoms

Naturopathic Treatment

Article Systemic lupus erythematosus: Complementary management strategies and case reports, IHP, October 2008

The goal of naturopathic treatment is to support and work in tandem with the healing power of the body and to address the causal factors of disease with individual treatment strategies. SLE is an autoimmune disease that requires a multi-faceted approach to treatment. It is common for the treatment strategy to be co-managed with a rheumatologist.[1]

It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor before engaging in any treatment plan.


Lifestyle recommendations include:

Article Multifactoral Approach to Treating Lupus, NDNR, 2011 March
  • Reduce fat and remove beef and dairy from the diet.[1] Beef and dairy contain the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine, which aggravate SLE.[1] Meat and dairy can contribute to impared kidney function in people with SLE.[2]
  • Identify food allergies and food sensitivities and remove them from the diet.[1] Consuming foods that one is allergic or sensitive to can cause/increase intestinal hyperpermiability.[5] This can lead to an increase in the amount of antigens entering portal circulation, and can increase the stress on the liver and the immune system, as well as contribute to autoimmunity.[5], [4]
  • Regularly eat non-starchy vegetables such as; celery, zucchini, summer squash, crookneck squash, green beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, radish, asparagus, cucumber, tomato, onion, garlic, kohlrabi, and bell peppers. Non-starchy vegetables contain organic salts/electrolytes, which are necessary for proper liver function.[4]
  • Consuming vegetable broth (preferably home made with fresh vegetables) helps to replenish organic salts/electrolytes necessary for proper liver function.[4]
  • Fresh, uncooked, vegetable juice contains active enzymes that helps the liver filter chemicals and convert them to products that can be excreted from the body.[4]
  • Avoid alfalfa sprouts and alfalfa tablets, as they contain L-canavanine which can increase kidney damage, and antinuclear antibody titers.[1]
  • Supervised short-term fasting can help to ameliorate SLE.[3] It can also shorten the early stages of glomerulonephritis.[3]
  • Ensure you drink adequate water.
  • Exercise improves cardiovascular health, and decreases stress.[2]
  • People with SLE should get plenty of sleep, as it is essential for proper immune function, and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.[2]
  • Smoking increases the risk of developing blood clots and heart disease in people with lupus.[2]

Naturopathic Therapies

The prescribing of naturopathic therapies requires the guidance of a naturopathic doctor as it depends on a number of factors including the causal factors, a person's age, prescription medications, other conditions and symptoms and overall health. It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor prior to taking any natural therapies.

Naturopathic Therapies for SLE include:

  • Avoid the amino acids tryptophan and 5-hydroxy tryptophan, because they can induce autoantibody formation in people with SLE.[1]
  • Detoxify the body by regularly using a sauna to induce sweating.[4]
  • Apply a castor oil pack over the liver to assist liver function and detoxification.[4]


Co-Authored by:

Dr. Iva Lloyd, BScH, RPE, ND[1]
Dr. Raymond Trott, ND
  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Prousky Jonathan, Hoffer Abram (2008) Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Clinical Nutrition CCNM Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Dibner Robin, Colman Carol (1994) Lupus Handbook for Women, Simon and Schuster.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Pizzorno Joseph E, Murray Michael T (1997) A Textbook of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition Churchill Livingstone.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 Moore Sharon (2000) [Lupus, Alternative therapies that work] Healing Arts Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Bergner Paul (1999) Audio recording. Systemic Lupus Recorded at the Pacific North West Herbal Symposium. Tree Farm Tapes.
  6. PubMed Health