Autoimmunity occurs when the body’s immune system identifies its own cells versus those of a foreign invader, and responds to these invaders, and lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin, tissues, and organs. In other words, it damages the body. The symptoms of the disease are variable. According to The Lupus Foundation of America, some of the symptoms include headaches, fatigue, anemia, and even hair loss. Causes of the disease differ, but is ultimately due to an attack of the immune system on self-cells. Essentially the body attacks and destroys itself.
Recently, I learned that my cousin, a sophomore in high school, was diagnosed with lupus. And recently, pop artist Selena Gomez was diagnosed with the disease as well, shedding light on the extreme commonality and need for a public discussion about lupus. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have the condition and more than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported each year. Estimates say that almost 5 million people suffer from lupus worldwide. The disease is more prone to be diagnosed in women in their childbearing age (15-44), and is 2-3 times more likely to affect African-Americans than Caucasians. Some physicians and patients are trying to manage their lupus through the very simple approach of nutrition.
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and interviewing Sagdrini Jalal, who is the executive director of the Project Generation Gap (PGG) Community Garden—a local community garden in Snellville, Georgia that aims to educate the public on sustainability practices, gardening, and promote healthy eating and lifestyle. Sagdrina was diagnosed with lupus when she was born. Her father, a Vietnam Veteran, was exposed to Agent Orange before she was born, which she suspects to be the cause of her disease. Her work with PGG is deeply connected to her illness experience, especially in one way in which she manages her symptoms: her diet.
Sadgrina, pictured on the left, and a few local and Emory volunteers
Sadgrina’s diet is approximately 75% plant based. Her meat consumption consists of only hormone-free grass-fed and free range meats. Since she suspects the cause of her disease was chemically induced, she avoids as many chemicals as possible. She also eats foods that promote balance in the body—natural anti-inflammatories such as ginger and turmeric and live foods such as sprouts and wheat grass, ingested as fresh as possible.
Research conducted in 2012 looked at the role of diet and nutrition in Lupus patients. The authors examined foods and lifestyle choices that prevent an inflammatory response in the body. The article concluded that a diet high in vitamins, minerals, poly- and mono-unsaturated fats, and antioxidants, while moderate in protein and energy, can reduce the inflammatory activity.
Surprisingly, Sadgrina is practically drug free. The only medication she semi-regularly takes is aspirin due to antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, in which the normal proteins in her blood are attacked. This blood clotting disease affects roughly 25% of patients diagnosed with Lupus. Most people diagnosed with Lupus are on some form of steroids or aspirin, which only manages the symptoms of inflammation. Sadgina’s approach? “Staying symptom free,” so that she is not just “managing the symptoms, but trying to stay clear of the disease.”
- Lupus: When the Body Attacks Itself | NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring14/articles/spring14pg8.html
- The Lupus Foundation of America, http://www.lupus.org/
- Klack, Karin, Bonfa, Eloisa, & Borba Neto, Eduardo Ferreira. (2012). Diet and nutritional aspects in systemic lupus erythematosus.Revista Brasileira de Reumatologia, 52(3), 395-408. Retrieved October 15, 2015, from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0482-50042012000300009&lng=en&tlng=en.