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Alternative Medicine and Lupus, Part 3

The omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in fish oil and flaxseed oil supplements may be beneficial for treatment of multiple lupus symptoms. People with lupus sometimes develop heart problems both as a result of long-term corticosteroid use and the effects of the disease itself, which can cause inflammation of the lining of the heart or scarring of the heart muscle due to repeated inflammation. Omega-3 has been proven to help prevent heart disease, and has been used to lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, prevent the development of blood clots, and reduce the risk of heart attack. In addition, fish oil and flaxseed supplements have been found to help relieve inflammatory symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and there is some evidence that flaxseed (not flaxseed oil) may be helpful for treatment of damage to the kidneys sometimes caused by lupus, known as lupus nephritis.

Vitamin D in combination with calcium and magnesium helps strengthen bones and ward off osteoporosis, and calcium and magnesium are beneficial to cardiovascular health as well. The amino acid carnitine may help improve heart function by lowering blood levels of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It has also been used with some success to treat chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), an illness that causes extreme tiredness, muscle pain, depression, and mental confusion, symptoms that are also common to lupus. L-tryptophan, another amino acid, has been used to treat some forms of depression, and may help relieve the stress and anxiety that can trigger a lupus flare.

There are also some herbal supplements that may be beneficial to those suffering from SLE. Pycnogenol (Pinus pinaster), an extract taken from the bark of the French maritime pine, contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) and other bioflavonoids that help reduce inflammation, and preliminary studies performed with both humans and animals suggest that Pycnogenol may help reduce inflammatory symptoms in those with systemic lupus erythematosus. Oral supplements of Pycnogenol have also been found to reduce the redness caused by ultraviolet light, and may be beneficial to lupus patients who are typically sun-sensitive.

Other herbs commonly used to reduce inflammation include yucca (Yucca breviofolia), nettle (Urtica dioica), turmeric (Curcuma longa), bromelain (extract of Ananas comosus, or pineapple), and feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). Feverfew may be especially helpful to those with SLE, since it is not only an anti-inflammatory, but has also been shown in some studies to mimic the effects of NSAIDs and corticosteroids. In addition, feverfew is generally accepted as an effective treatment for migraine headaches, a condition that often accompanies this disease.

Herbal supplements containing St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) may help treat symptoms of depression common to those diagnosed with lupus (in some studies it performed as well or better than pharmaceutical antidepressants), while valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) are noted for their calming, sedative effect on the central nervous system. In addition, gingko (Gingko biloba) has a long history of use for improving overall brain function, and may be helpful to those with lupus experiencing cognitive difficulties.

People with lupus should not neglect the use of topical preparations to help ease their inflammatory symptoms. Many topical applications have known anesthetic or anti-inflammatory properties that provide short-term relief of painful muscles and joints. Creams containing hyaluron, gold, aurum (a combination of aspirin, camphor, and menthol), or quotane may be helpful. Some patients may find comfort in the warming sensation they receive from massage with peppermint oil, tea tree oil, camphor oil, or Cayenne (Capsicum) creams, which can relieve pain and boost circulation to tender muscles. Such creams work because they act as counterirritants, which distract the brain from the pain signals that other nerves are sending. When using these creams it is important to avoid exposure to mucous membranes and eyes, and wash hands after application. In addition, it is highly recommended that those with lupus scrupulously apply sunscreen and avoid long periods of exposure to sunlight, which is known to exacerbate symptoms of both discus and systemic forms of lupus.

For people with lupus who do not respond well to traditional medications, especially those individuals in which traditional medications cause lupus symptoms to flare, vitamin and mineral supplements present an alternative form of treatment. However, it is important to note that some natural supplements may contain alfalfa, a supplement that anyone with SLE should avoid—alfalfa contains the amino acid L-canavanine, which has been shown to cause lupus flare-ups. Also, keep in mind that, like prescription medications, natural supplements could cause unintended side effects or lupus flares in sensitive individuals, and any course of treatment must be first approved and then monitored by the patient’s treating physician.

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