In our blog, Lupus Treatment Options: Lupus Medications, we covered many of the most common pharmaceutical treatments for lupus. We also recently posted a blog on the first FDA approved lupus drug in 50 years, Benlysta. Because we recognize that there are also alternative treatments to biomedicine and pharmaceutical drugs, we wanted to take some time to address these alternative medications and therapies in this blog.
Complementary and Alternative Supplements and Treatments for Lupus
Flaxseed: Flaxseed contains a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, which may decrease inflammation in the body. Some studies have found that kidney function may improve in lupus patients who have kidney problems, such as like lupus nephritis. Abdominal pain and bloating can be side effects of taking flaxseed.
Fish Oil: Fish oil supplements that contain the Omega-3 fatty acid, may be beneficial for people with lupus. Preliminary studies have shown some promise but more study is still needed. Nausea, belching, and a fish taste in the mouth are some side effects you may experience while taking fish oil supplements. Read more about this topic in our blog, The Lupus and Diet Dilemma.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is an antioxidant and is commonly found in whole milk, liver, and some fortified foods. Beta-carotene is a pro-vitamin found in carrots and many colorful vegetables that are then converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A protects against free radicals (harmful substances in your body) which can damage DNA and lead to cancer and other diseases, and has anti-inflammatory effects.
A lack of enough vitamin A has been linked to inflammation in the intestines, lungs, and skin. For some people, taking vitamin A supplements could reduce the inflammation that contributes to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, acne, and lung disease.
Vitamin D: People with lupus have shown some benefits from taking Vitamin D supplements. In recent testing, high doses of vitamin D were safe and appeared to temper some of the destructive immune system responses believed to cause lupus. Research is pointing to an immune-regulating role for vitamin D.*
Vitamin E: This vitamin supplement comes in several different forms. The alpha-tocopherol type of Vitamin E may help prevent heart disease by slowing the release of inflammatory substances that damage the heart.* Alpha-tocopherol also might be effective for easing lung inflammation related to allergies. However, because studies were conducted on animals, it’s not yet clear whether the results will translate to humans.
DHEA: DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone that is effective in treating some people who have symptoms of mild to moderate lupus. Particularly, it seems helpful with hair loss (alopecia), joint pain, cognitive dysfunction and fatigue. It also can be helpful with fighting against osteoporosis. Some side effects of taking too much DHEA may include: acne, oily skin, sweating and facial hair growth. This is due to the fact that it is a mild male hormone. It is important to talk to your doctor before taking DHEA because many over-the-counter supplements are not regulated and may not be effective. If your doctor thinks you should try DHEA, it is always best to obtain it from a compounding pharmacy.
Curcumin/Turmeric: Curcumin, the active ingredient in the herb turmeric, has been studied and shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. The spice has been used for centuries as a medicine in cultures all over the world. It has been known to help pain, and may help diminish some lupus symptoms. Be cautious about taking high doses for long periods of time, since it can lead to diarrhea, indigestion and nausea. Also, those with gallbladder problems, diabetics, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking turmeric.
Boswellia Extract: The active ingredient in boswellia extract is better known as the traditional frankincense. Yep, you heard right…the same frankincense sang in Christmas carols, and notably mentioned in the Bible as a gift for baby Jesus. This same spice, acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. This is due to its ability to reduce the body’s production of leukotrienes, which promote inflammation. Boswellia has been successfully used to treat lupus, RA, Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis. It can also be helpful against gastrointestinal inflammation. People who are sensitive to it may experience stomach upset and diarrhea and acid reflux.
Ginkgo Biloba: Or “ginkgo” is an herb that has been used in traditional chinese medicine for thousands of years. The extracts from the herb are high in concentrations of flavonoids and terpenoids. These molecules are antioxidants and improve blood flow which can help with Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a common lupus overlap condition.
Pine Bark: Pine bark extract (pinus pinaster) may help improve lupus inflammation and lupus symptoms. There has not been a tremendous amount of research on the subject, but one study did find that it provided a reduction in SKEDAI scores (Stefanescu 2001).
Myers Cocktail: This infusion therapy is a method processing vitamins, minerals, detoxifying and alkalizing agents directly into the bloodstream by IV. By bypassing the digestive system, it is rapidly absorbed. The ‘Myers Cocktail’ contains 7 B-vitamins, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, selenium, glutathione and bicarbonate. It is used for both acute and chronic illnesses and some even use it for maintaining optimal wellness and preventing disease. It has been used for autoimmune diseases like lupus, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, allergies and celiac disease. It is not approved by the FDA and is not covered by insurance.
Evening primrose oil: Used to treat inflammation, evening primrose oil is associated with alleviating rheumatoid arthritis.*
Alternative Lupus Therapies/Treatments
Complementary/Alternative Lupus Treatment: Precautions
Sources: mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus, lupus.org/answers/entry/can-I-treat-lupus-with-complementary-and-alternative-medicines, progressivehealthri.com, lifeextension.com/protocols/immune-connective-joint/lupus, hubpages.com/health/Boswellia-for-Health, livestrong.com/article/92038-vitamins-lupus, medicalnewstoday.com, health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/alternative/alternative-medicines-for-lupus-erythematosus
*All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus. **All resources provided by Molly’s Fund are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns.