Do you or a loved one suffer from lupus? Would you like to understand more about this sometimes mysterious disease and learn how to naturally manage your condition?
Lupus Awareness Month runs throughout October. Raising the profile of the disease as well as understanding the impact it has is important because lupus can have a major effect on wellbeing and quality of life.
Going by its full title of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE, lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting the whole body. A growing list of diseases are now recognised as autoimmune, meaning the immune system has gone rogue, attacking body cells after mistaking them for invaders.
Most autoimmune diseases attack one part of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints, and Type 1 diabetes the pancreas, but lupus attacks multiple areas at the same time, meaning it’s linked with a wide variety of possible symptoms. It’s believed more than 50,000 people in the UK suffer from lupus, but many more remain undiagnosed because their symptoms are mistaken for other diseases.
If you’re affected by lupus you might find you suffer from skin rashes, often on your nose and cheeks in a butterfly shape, joint pain and extreme fatigue. Other symptoms include headaches, light-sensitive skin, mouth sores, high temperature and hair loss – although many more symptoms than this have been linked with lupus.
The wide-ranging symptoms are due to damage and inflammation caused by the immune system in different areas of the body such as the liver, kidneys, lungs, joints and heart. If the inflammation spirals out of control, lupus can be life-threatening, so it’s important to take the condition seriously.
Why the immune system behaves in this way doesn’t come down to one factor, but a combination of circumstances.
Digestive health is incredibly important for the proper functioning of your immune system. The bacteria living in your gut microbiome educate and train your immune system, teaching it to distinguish between friend and foe. So if your microbiome isn’t in good shape, your immune system won’t be able to properly identify what’s harmless and what isn’t, meaning it may react inappropriately, launching a full-blown attack on body cells. This results in inflammation and pain.
A leaky gut is closely connected with the development of autoimmune disease. If the lining of your intestines becomes inflamed and permeable, toxins and undigested food particles will be allowed to access your bloodstream. Because these substances are unfamiliar to your immune system, it will be put on red alert, and constant stimulation may mean it starts to lose its selectivity. Leaky gut also tends to cause food intolerances, and many people with lupus are intolerant to gluten.
Because ten times more women than men suffer from lupus, it’s thought to be connected with hormone imbalance. Lupus is often sparked off after childbirth, or at puberty and menopause when hormones are in flux.
Lupus often appears after a viral infection. Viruses can cause your body to attack its own DNA, and may even lie dormant in cells after the initial infection has been resolved, causing immune dysfunction.
There appears to be a genetic link, so if one of your family members has lupus or another auto-immune condition like rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes or MS, you may be more likely to develop the disease.
Environmental factors linked to lupus include stress, excessive sunlight, moulds, toxins such as pesticides, metals like mercury and lead, and foods like sugar and processed fats. All these factors spark off inflammation and suppress the immune system.
Many people find their symptoms flare up and die down, something common to many autoimmune conditions and this is because your immune system is not static over time. Knowing this can give hope because it means your immune system is not permanently broken, but it’s not behaving as it should.
Conventional medicine sees the immune system as being too active, so steroids and other medications are given to dampen down this overactivity. Immunosuppressant medications can cause unpleasant side effects, plus you’ll be susceptible to picking up viruses and bacterial infections. And don’t forget these medicines are only suppressing symptoms, they aren’t treating the cause of the disease. Like putting a plaster over a dirty wound, the problem will come back even though you can’t see it.
It’s more accurate to think about the immune system as being not selective enough – unable to distinguish between good and bad. While dampening down the inflammation causing the pain is important, so is supporting your immune system so it can do its job properly.
Functional medicine delves deeply into your past health history, diet and lifestyle to discover what’s causing your immune system to malfunction. Functional diagnostic tests are incredibly useful to examine what’s going on in your body. This knowledge can then enable a personalised strategy to be put together for you – because everyone is different – to heal your gut, optimise your nutrition, remove toxins and manage stress.
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