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Living With Lupus?

My daughter has been diagnosed with lupus and medium vein vasculitis. We are in shock. What can we do to get her immune system healthy?

Answer (Published 12/27/2011)

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE) is an autoimmune disease that can range from mild to life-threatening and can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including arthritis, skin rashes, neurological problems and kidney disease. Fortunately, lupus can, and often does, go into remission - for weeks, months, even years. The more severe forms are difficult to manage medically and conventional doctors use immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisone (a corticosteroid), to control severe symptoms. While these powerful medications may be necessary for short periods, continual use is not wise, because they can reduce the chance that the disease will go into long-term remission naturally.

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One manifestation of lupus is vasculitis, an inflammatory disease of blood vessels. When a blood vessel becomes inflamed as result of immune attack, it can become narrowed, obstructing blood flow. Inflammation can also stretch and weaken blood vessels causing them to bulge or burst. Autoimmune vasculitis is often accompanied by fevers, weight loss, fatigue, and diffuse aches and pains.

I recommend the following measures, which can bring about dramatic improvement in individuals with autoimmune disorders: 

  • Follow my anti-inflammatory diet.
  • Eliminate cow's milk and cow's milk products (substitute other calcium sources).
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables (make sure that they are organically grown).
  • Eliminate polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogenated oils, and all foods (such as deep-fried foods) that might contain trans-fatty acids. Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main fat.
  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Eat wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring or mackerel three times a week or take fish oil supplements (the dosage is two to three grams a day).

The following supplements can also help:

  • Consider taking grape seed extract, a source of powerful antioxidant compounds called OPCS (oligomeric proanthocyanidins). Research has shown these compounds to be useful in protecting blood vessels, making them more elastic and less likely to leak.

Because autoimmune diseases tend to flare and remit in response to emotional ups and downs, I suggest trying some form of mind/body treatment - hypnosis may be especially helpful. Psychotherapy, biofeedback and guided imagery are other good options. You might try consulting a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. I have seen this system produce good results with vasculitis and other forms of autoimmunity.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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