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Food for Thought: Does the food we eat impact lupus?

Sunday, May 28, 2023

What is lupus?

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own tissues. In this fight against itself, the body makes immune complexes that deposit in various places, such as the joints, kidney, skin, and brain. Over time, patients with SLE can experience symptoms related to damage of affected organs, such as kidney failure and heart attack. Patients can also experience flares, which are periods of time when there is an increase in disease activity. 

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) can damage various organs over time, such as the joints, kidney, skin, and brain. Created with

How does diet impact lupus? 

Evidence shows that our diets influence the severity and progression of SLE1. This is promising because it suggests that if we understand how diet affects SLE, we may be able to alter our diets to reduce flares or slow disease activity. One reason SLE is affected by diet is because the foods we eat alter the amount and type of inflammation in our body, which affect autoimmune processes that drive SLE1. Higher levels of inflammation are also associated with obesity. 35% of SLE patients are overweight and 39% are obese. Obesity causes increased fatigue, increased  inflammation, and lower functional capacity in patients with SLE2. Additionally, cardiovascular disease risk, the leading cause of death in SLE patients3, can be modified by diet4. Therefore, diets that reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease may be beneficial for SLE patients.

What are the diet recommendations for lupus?

Diets high in fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil are associated with decreased SLE disease activity. Created with

Western diets have been shown to lead to higher levels of inflammation as compared to other diets5. In comparison, a diet including Mediterranean foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil, and excluding meat and refined sugars is associated with less SLE disease activity and damage6. Tobacco consumption has also been shown to increase disease activity7. Meanwhile, omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been shown to reduce inflammation and SLE disease activity. Diets with a low glycemic index helped to reduce fatigue in SLE patients. Diets with a low glycemic index include foods that are less likely to change blood sugar levels, reducing the insulin-spike that follows meals. Consuming these foods can reduce the risk of insulin resistance and obesity as a result. These foods include low-sugar fruits (apples, oranges, and blueberries), vegetables (broccoli, peas, leafy  greens), oatmeal, legumes, beans, lean fish and meat, milk, and yogurt.

Key takeaways

Overall, research suggests that a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, protein, and polyunsaturated fats may help reduce disease activity and improve symptoms in patients with SLE. Meanwhile, foods high in sugars, alcohol, and tobacco may worsen disease activity and symptoms. 

Note that this article was written for academic purposes and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician prior to making any dietary changes.


  1. An update on diet and nutritional factors in systemic lupus erythematosus management. (2017, March 15). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  2. Immunomodulatory Effects of Diet and Nutrients in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): A Systematic Review. (2020, July 22). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  3. Diet and lupus: what do the patients think? (2019, April 26). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  4. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention by Diet Modification: JACC Health Promotion Series. (2018, August 21). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  5. Nutrition and Cardiovascular Health. (2018, December). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  6. Beneficial effect of Mediterranean diet on disease activity and cardiovascular risk in systemic lupus erythematosus patients: a cross-sectional study. (2021, January). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  7. Healthy lifestyle habits for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: A systemic review. (2016, February). Retrieved May 22, 2023, from
  8. Diet and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): From Supplementation to Intervention. (2022, July 22). Retrieved on May 22, 2023, from
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