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Gluten-Free Diet for Lupus

By Lau Hanly

Lupus affects around 1.5 million Americans. It is a difficult disease to treat because it is known as "the great imitator" -- you may be diagnosed with various other conditions before lupus is considered. Gluten allergies often create similar symptoms to lupus, and trying a gluten-free diet may lead to reduced expression of your symptoms.

Living With Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. Its symptoms are many and varied: extreme fatigue, headaches and fever, arthritic pain in the joints, a rash on the face, edema, ulcers, hair loss and photosensitivity. Generally speaking, the Lupus Foundation recommends eating a balanced diet and avoiding alfalfa, which is associated with flare-ups in symptoms. Avoiding or limiting alcohol is also recommended if you have lupus because it can cause flare-ups or make some of your medications less effective.

Gluten, Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Celiac disease is another autoimmune condition, in which your body's immune system misidentifies gluten as a hostile antibody and attacks the small intestine as gluten is being digested. It is also associated with a range of other autoimmune illnesses. Symptoms of celiac disease are similar to those of lupus: fatigue, anemia, joint pain, migraines, digestive upset and abdominal pain. Some people may not have celiac disease but have a gluten intolerance, which can cause similar but less severe symptoms.

Gluten and Lupus Confusion

Since lupus and gluten intolerance show many of the same symptoms, there have been cases of confused diagnosis. The patients in question had been treated for many years with heavy medication for lupus, including steroids and immunosuppressants, with little success. The diagnosis of a gluten allergy meant that they were taken off the drugs and stopped showing any symptoms after switching to a gluten-free diet. Since both diseases are inflammatory autoimmune diseases, trying a gluten-free diet may help reduce the symptoms of lupus, but make sure you check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medication patterns.

Going Gluten-Free

If you've already been following a healthy diet for your lupus, you may be eating many foods on the gluten-free diet. Colorado State University Extension recommends choosing meat, poultry and seafood, fruit and vegetables, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds, as well as beans and legumes. Some of the grain options available to you include rice, tapioca, quinoa, amaranth and millet. Avoid all food products that contain wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Some oats must be avoided, too, if they are processed on the same machinery as gluten-containing foods. Since many foods contain hidden sources of gluten, read food labels carefully and consult a dietitian for specific instructions before beginning a gluten-free diet.

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