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“Lupus” or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is yet another autoimmune disease in which there is an immune reaction to your own tissues. Lupus can affect many different organ systems in the body and is separated into several different categories based on which organs or systems are most affected. Lupus can be a devastating condition, as it can cause a lot of pain and visible symptoms like rashes and hair loss. It usually also requires staying out of the sunshine. Officially, there is “no cure.” But is there hope for lupus sufferers? Yes!

What is Lupus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines lupus as “a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body.” It is most often (9 out of 10 times) diagnosed in women of child-bearing age – ages 15 to 44. Doctors recognize several types of lupus, including SLE (the most common and most serious form, which affects the whole body), Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (affecting the skin only), Drug-induced lupus (which usually goes away when the drug is stopped), and neonatal lupus (a rare type that only affects newborns). This article will be covering SLE, referred to simply as “lupus.”

Again, SLE is the most serious because it affects the entire body. That’s what makes it so frustrating. Lupus patients may get a handle on one set of symptoms only to discover a new set of symptoms popping up. It is truly a systemic condition. Because Lupus affects so many body systems, you can have quite the variety of symptoms, including:

  • Muscle and joint pain – These are very common and tend to affect the neck, thighs, shoulders, and upper arms. Pain and stiffness with or without swelling.
  • High fever – Over 100 degrees F is common and may be due to inflammation or infection.
  • Rashes – These often occur from sunlight exposure. The most tell-tale one is a butterfly-shaped rash across the face.
  • Chest pain – Inflamed lungs.
  • Hair loss – Bald spots are common.
  • Sun or light sensitivity – Photosensitivity may cause rashes, fever, fatigue, or even joint pain.
  • Kidney problems – “Lupus nephritis” occurs in about half of lupus sufferers. Symptoms may include swollen ankles, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
  • Mouth sores – Canker sores may appear on the roof of the mouth, gums, inside cheeks, or on the lips.
  • Chronic or extreme fatigue – Fatigue that doesn’t improve with sleep.
  • Anemia – May be the cause of fatigue.
  • Memory problems – Brain fog, forgetfulness, or confusion.
  • Blood clotting – Blood clots in the legs or lungs. May lead to heart attacks, strokes, or miscarriages.
  • Eye disease – Inflamed, dry, or eyelid rashes.

Those ultimately diagnosed with lupus may be diagnosed (or misdiagnosed) with a number of other autoimmune or other disease conditions before finally arriving at lupus.

How is it Diagnosed?

You may be surprised to learn that there isn’t a single test for lupus. Doctors arrive at a lupus diagnosis by a process of elimination. They will generally start by asking about your personal medical history and then ask whether your family has a history of lupus or other autoimmune condition. The actual testing will usually involve:

  • A complete physical exam – Including a skin assessment to look for lupus-related rashes.
  • Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test95% of those with lupus have positive ANA results. But it’s possible to have a positive ANA if you have another autoimmune disease or an infection.
  • Additional blood or urine tests – At The Wellness Way, this may include an immune panel.

What causes lupus or any type of dis-ease? It all goes back to each person’s unique combination of traumas, toxins, and thoughts and how they interact with genetic susceptibility.

What Causes Lupus? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts

The concept of the 3 Ts originally comes from the field of chiropractic. However, it also applies to autoimmune diseases like lupus. These three factors place stress on the nervous system, which then translates throughout the body. Here’s how trauma, toxins, and thoughts contribute to lupus.

Trauma and Lupus

Lupus is often initially triggered by a traumatic event of some kind. “Trauma” can even refer to initial infection, like a situation of food poisoning, which puts a huge amount of stress on the body. Some traumas that may be behind a lupus diagnosis include:

  • Childhood trauma
  • A traumatic injury
  • Sexual assault/rape
  • Car Accident
  • Being a witness to violence or natural disaster
  • Military combat –PTSD
  • Divorce
  • Death in the family
  • Severe illness or infection
  • Surgery
  • Having a baby –major stress on the body

Toxins and Lupus

“Drug-induced lupus” is unfortunately very common. Medications are a huge biochemical stressor leading to a lupus diagnosis. However, it doesn’t have to be synthetic to be a toxin. Toxins that may contribute to lupus include the following:

  • Medications for other conditions, like seizures, high blood pressure, or rheumatoid arthritis. (There is an actual diagnosis for “drug-induced lupus”)
  • Cancer treatments – Cancer immunotherapy drugs may lead to drug-induced lupus.
  • Fungal infections – Those with lupus tend to have antibodies to baker’s yeast, suggesting candida infection/overgrowth.
  • Viral infections – Scientists have also confirmed that Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), known for its role in chronic fatigue syndrome and autoimmune diseases, is also a lupus trigger.
  • Bacterial infections – Even small exposures to Staphylococcus aureus (staph infections) can trigger a lupus-resembling inflammatory disease.
  • Mold toxinsMold toxins directly affect the gut, increasing your risk of autoimmune conditions like lupus.
  • Heavy metal toxicity Mercury, aluminum, and/or lead toxicity can also lead to lupus by triggering an autoimmune response. Mercury can damage our tissues, altering their structure and making them seem like foreign invaders.
  • Vaccines – Including the novel COVID-19 injections. Mercury, aluminum, and lead may also be contaminants in the vaccines, compounding the problem.
  • Sugar – Sugar in excess acts like a toxin in the body, leading to inflammation, leaky gut, and lupus flares.

If you’re in a stressed state while being exposed to traumas or toxins, it can compound the problem. An emotional nervous system weakens the body’s ability to effectively respond to physical and chemical stressors.

Thoughts and Lupus

The category of “thoughts” as a stressor refers to chronic emotional stress that causes a person to stay in a constantly triggered state. Stress impacts our nervous system through our thoughts. Downstream, that means it impacts the intestinal microbiome, hormones (like cortisol), and neurotransmitters (like histamine and adrenalin). This can increase inflammation and pain and decrease our energy levels.

Research published in August of 2020 confirms the link between psychological stress (acute or chronic), the development of a leaky gut, and a diagnosis of autoimmune disease. Stress both increases your risk of developing lupus and exacerbates symptoms if you already have lupus.

Here are some lifestyle and emotional contributors to negative thoughts and resulting chronic illness or disease.

  • Watching or reading the news (fear/worry)
  • Emotional stress from marriage, financial, career, or other issues
  • Overwhelm from major life changes, such as marriage, a new baby, graduation, divorce, or even moving to a new city.
  • Grief/feelings of loss
  • Pent up anger

A general feeling of dis-ease can eventually lead to disease. All these stressors in their various forms negatively impact the nervous system, which alters the gut, the liver, and the immune response. Everything moves out of a state of homeostasis (balance), and into a state of emergency. Everything is connected…

The Swiss Watch Principle and Lupus

At The Wellness Way, we describe the systems of the body as working together like the gears of a Swiss watch. Consequently, if one of the “gears” is somehow restricted, it will affect all the other gears, and the watch will not work like it’s supposed to. That’s also the case in the human body. When something in the gut is “off” or the immune response is jacked up, the rest of the body will suffer.

Gut Dysbiosis and Lupus

Addressing dysbiosis and healing the gut may be the most crucial aspect of resolving lupus and autoimmune disease in general. According to researcher Dr. Alessio Fasano, the situation leading to autoimmune disease can be described as a 3-legged stool: 1) genetic predisposition, 2) “leaky” gut, and 3) and an environmental trigger – which we categorize into trauma, toxins, and thoughts.

Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the bacteria species that naturally inhabit the intestinal tract. This imbalance causes inflammation, which can keep the gut perpetually compromised as a barrier. This “leaky” gut allows undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream, causing an immune response.

A paper published in Frontiers in Immunology in 2021 showed that gut dysbiosis was common in SLE sufferers. Lupus patients had a lower ratio of Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes species compared to healthy controls. Firmicutes bacteria were protective, lowering the symptoms score. Overall, the gut bacteria of lupus patients were pro-inflammatory and associated with an autoimmune disease in general. Infection with R. gnavus was also common in lupus sufferers compared to healthy people.

The gut is just one of the many gears of the “Swiss watch” of the body. When it is out of balance, the immune response is out of balance, and you end up with a seemingly random collection of symptoms.

Lupus, Food Allergies, and The Immune Response

The immune response is very much connected to the digestive system, as the gut controls 70 to 80 percent of the immune response. If what we eat causes an immune response in the gut, the inflammation tends to translate to other parts of the body, particularly those areas where we have a physiologic vulnerabilities. That’s how food allergies can cause joint pain, rashes, or brain fog.

As mentioned, lupus is considered an autoimmune condition. Autoimmunity means there’s an immune response to “self.” It occurs when the immune response has adapted to the presence of some sort of trigger –one or more of the 3 Ts. As a result, there’s an increase in inflammation and antibodies to a particular tissue of the body.

One principle that comes into play when you have of an out-of-balance immune response is something called “molecular mimicry.” Molecular mimicry refers to the fact that certain food components mimic certain tissues of the body. An example is the grain protein gluten and thyroid tissue. If someone has an autoimmune thyroid condition, there’s an immune response to the thyroid. If that person eats gluten, the immune response ramps up the antibodies, and more thyroid tissue is destroyed.

One of the indications the immune system is out of balance is the presence of food allergies. When the immune system is ramped up, there’s more of a response to innocent healthy foods. Eating those foods aggravates the immune system, leading to more inflammation and symptoms.

Hormone Balance and Lupus

Hormones have a massive influence on the immune response, which is why more women suffer from lupus and other autoimmune conditions. Most cells of the immune system have estrogen receptors, which is why estrogens have so much influence over innate and adaptive immune responses. Progesterone and androgens calm the immune response while estrogens, in general, stimulate the immune response, aggravating lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

However, it depends on the types of estrogen and the types of autoimmune disease. Research has confirmed the role of hormone balance in lupus. It’s not necessarily that those with lupus have increased blood levels of estrogens. Women with lupus don’t overall have higher estrogen levels, but they do have increased estrogen metabolism. Lupus patients may have more estrone metabolites overall, which can make them more susceptible to the disease.

While researchers are looking to estrogen-blocking drugs and other medications to improve life for those with lupus, The Wellness Way has other ways to support you in achieving balanced hormones.

The Wellness Way Approach to Lupus

Wellness Way doctors understand how the systems of the body all work together. You can’t just address symptoms of lupus and expect to make a lasting change. That’s why The Wellness Way Approach includes delving deep into underlying traumas, toxins, and thoughts that lead to dis-ease in the body. We don’t guess; we test. We run tests for underlying food allergies that are causing inflammation. We do stool testing to look for gut dysbiosis that could be contributing to lupus. We can also test your hormones and immune response. The exciting thing is watching the antibodies regulate as the body becomes balanced. The body was designed to heal itself; we just need to find what’s getting in the way of healing. Contact a Wellness Way clinic near you to get started on your healing journey.

Resources:

  1. Lupus Basics | CDC
  2. Lupus in Women | CDC
  3. Lupus Symptoms | CDC
  4. Diagnosing and Treating Lupus | CDC
  5. ANA Testing – Testing for Lupus | Lupus Research Alliance
  6. Anti-Saccharomyces cerevisiae antibodies in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Association of Epstein-Barr virus with systemic lupus erythematosus: effect modification by race, age, and cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 genotype. – Abstract – Europe PMC
  8. Chronic Exposure to Staphylococcal Superantigen Elicits a Systemic Inflammatory Disease Mimicking Lupus | The Journal of Immunology (jimmunol.org)
  9. Frontiers | Mycotoxin: Its Impact on Gut Health and Microbiota (frontiersin.org)
  10. Dementia associated with toxic causes and autoimmune disease – PubMed (nih.gov)
  11. Cutaneous findings following COVID-19 vaccination: review of world literature and own experience – PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Psychological Stress, Intestinal Barrier Dysfunctions, and Autoimmune Disorders: An Overview – PMC (nih.gov)
  13. Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
  14. Gut Microbiota, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
  15. Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Novel Insights into Mechanisms and Promising Therapeutic Strategies – PMC (nih.gov)
  16. The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies – PubMed (nih.gov)
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