5 Steps to Reverse Lupus
March 18th, 2018
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE or lupus) is an autoimmune disease that can affect multiple systems of the body. This debilitating and sometimes life-threatening condition affects an estimated 5 million people worldwide and can involve the skin, joints, internal organs, and nervous system.1
As with all autoimmune conditions, lupus is a disease of the immune system. Your immune system has a very sophisticated mechanism for keeping you safe that it uses to identify the foreign substances that you come into contact with every day, such as allergens, toxins, infections, and even food. If your immune system deems anything dangerous, it will produce antibodies to ward off the harmful intruders.
Lupus occurs when your immune system does not successfully differentiate between the intruder and your own body. 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. No matter what organ or system is being attacked, all autoimmune diseases are similar in that they are an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself.
By supporting, rather than suppressing, your immune system and restoring it to optimal function, you can reverse autoimmune conditions such as lupus and eliminate your symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Lupus
Symptoms of lupus vary widely and can range range from mild to severe, even life-threatening. Nicknamed “The Great Imitator,” lupus mimics other diseases because it impacts multiple bodily systems and 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 often missed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms are vague and can match those of other conditions. 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, instead viewing it in terms of isolated systems, with a separate 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 your kidneys, and a dermatologist for your skin.
However, this type of “specialized” treatment ignores the reality that all of your bodily systems are interconnected. Functional medicine, on the other hand, looks at the health of the entire body based on the fact that the health of one organ affects the function of the others. Rather than simply treating the symptoms, functional medicine aims to get at the underlying root causes of disease.
5 Underlying Root Causes of Lupus
If you suspect that you have lupus, I recommend taking a functional medicine approach to uncover what caused your immune system to go rogue and attack your own tissues in the first place. Below are the top five underlying causes of lupus.
Your gut is somewhat permeable to allow very small molecules (micronutrients) pass through the intestinal wall. It’s how you absorb your food. Many factors can damage your gut, including gluten, infections, medications and stress. This damage allows much larger particles such as toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to “leak through” your gut and enter your bloodstream, triggering an immune response. We know from the research of Dr. Alessio Fasano that leaky gut is a necessary precursor to autoimmunity, meaning if you’re dealing with lupus, you also have a leaky gut. Not to mention, your gut is where nearly 80% of your immune system lives. So in order to overcome lupus, you must first repair your gut.
Gluten is one of the leading causes of leaky gut and inflammation, and has been linked to more than 55 diseases.2 The majority of symptoms of gluten intolerance are not digestive in nature–rather, they appear as neurological issues such as pain, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbances, behavioral issues, fatigue and depression.
Gluten can also lead to what’s known as molecular mimicry. The gluten protein, gliadin, resembles many of your body’s own tissues, particularly thyroid tissue. If you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a leaky gut, your immune system releases gliadin antibodies every time you eat gluten. Because gliadin looks so similar to your own tissues, sometimes these antibodies mistakenly attack other organs and systems, from the skin to the thyroid to the brain. This case of mistaken identity often leads to full-blown autoimmune disease.
Toxic molds (mycotoxins) and heavy metals such as mercury are the two main toxins I see in those with autoimmune conditions. Mycotoxins are highly toxic substances produced by toxic molds. Only about 25% of the population carries the genes to be susceptible to the effects of mycotoxins.3 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. Mercury overload is far more common than many people think. We’re exposed to mercury in our air and water, the fish we eat, amalgam fillings, cosmetics, and vaccines. I recommend heavy metal testing for all of my patients with autoimmunity, using a pre- and post-DMPS urine challenge test. I also recommend that anyone with mercury amalgam fillings find a biological dentist and have them removed.
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 with a number of bacteria and viruses. For example, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been shown to trigger lupus in some individuals.4
Levels of stress-related illnesses are on the rise, and stress, both emotional and physical, has been shown to trigger and intensify autoimmune disorders. Stress is your body’s response to a threat–a wound, injury, or infection. Acute stress revs up your immune system to help you 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 and actually suppresses your immune system. This can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions, and can lead to the reactivation of latent viruses linked to lupus, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
5 Steps to Reverse Lupus
1. Repair your gut
Because of the leaky gut autoimmune connection and the huge role your gut health plays in your immune system, repairing your gut is the very first place to begin in reversing any type of autoimmune condition. I use the 4R approach to repairing the gut with my patients, and in all of my books and programs.
- Remove. Remove the bad. The goal is to get rid of factors that negatively affect the environment of the GI tract, including inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs, as well as toxic foods, including sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Finally you’ll want to eliminate gut infections from Candida overgrowth, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and parasites.
- Replace. Replace the good. Add back the digestive enzymes required for proper digestion.
- Reinoculate. It’s critical to restore beneficial bacteria to reestablish a healthy microbial balance in your gut. High-quality, high-concentration, probiotics can help repair your gut and strengthen your immune system. I recommend 100 billion CFUs (colony forming units) while dealing with a leaky gut, and 30 billion CFUs as a maintenance dose.
- Repair. It’s essential to provide the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself. One of my favorite supplements is collagen which is rich in amino acids that quite literally, “seal the leaks” or perforations in your gut by repairing damaged cells and building new tissue. Another one of my favorites supplements is L-glutamine, an amino acid that helps to rejuvenate the gut wall lining.
2. Optimize your diet
I recommend that everyone remove gluten from their diets because it’s simply an inflammatory food, and this is particularly critical for anyone with an autoimmune condition. I also highly recommend that anyone with an autoimmune condition remove all grains and legumes from your 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. My cookbook, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, contains over 150 specially designed recipes to help make following an autoimmune-friendly protocol easy and delicious!
3. Find and treat infections
Have your doctor test for infections such as herpes simplex virus (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
I recommend having your MTHFR genes tested, as this genetic mutation can impact how you detoxify mercury and other heavy metals. There are multiple options for heavy metal testing, however I’ve found the DMPS “challenge” test to be the gold standard. To assess whether someone is being exposed to mycotoxins, I use the test from Real Time Lab. If either heavy metals or mycotoxins are an issue for you, work on minimizing your exposure to these toxins, and be sure to support your detox pathways while you work to flush them out.
5. Relieve your stress
I believe that we should ALL benefit from regularly working on stress relief! Take care of yourself by adopting stress-relieving strategies, such as exercise, meditation, yoga, art, or whatever works for you. The key is to choose something that you will enjoy and stick with. I personally 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.
Whether you’re dealing with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s or one of the hundreds of other autoimmune conditions out there, you have the power to beat your symptoms, regain your energy, and feel like yourself again. By following these steps to uncover the root cause of your illness, you CAN reverse your disease and live a life full of optimal health!
Ready to get started? The Myers Way® Autoimmune Solution Program will show you how to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to support your immune system, achieve your goals, and take back your health.