What is lupus? Symptoms and natural remedies

General Healthcare

  8 Minutes
Lupus is a chronic and non-infectious autoimmune disease. Mostly it is systemic. Do you understand what this really means? Here’s what you need to know about this illness, why there’s no need to be ashamed about it, how to go about easing symptoms and managing it naturally.

We demystify lupus, explain it in simple language, make it super easy to understand, and tell you why a return to nature can support lupus sufferers to live more fulfilling and pain-free lives. We also explain why although some forms of lupus might be incurable, they may be reversible. Let’s start.

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder. It is a disease of the immune system. To understand lupus, we need to understand the basics of the immune system and what we call the inflammatory response.

The immune system is designed to protect us from harmful invaders called pathogens and to keep us safe from the infections that they cause. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, worms, and protozoa are all pathogens. They cause a wide range of diseases and infections including everything from the common cold and bronchitis to meningitis and pneumonia as well as many other illnesses.

The immune system is found throughout our bodies. It is made up of different types of cells that do different things to keep us safe from these invaders.

There are five basic groups of cells in the immune system with many different sub-structures that do different and complicated things. But at a basic level, they do three things.

Firstly, they recognise invaders as dangerous, foreign, and harmful. Then they work to neutralise them.

Secondly, they activate the immune response. This is also called the inflammatory response. The first responder cells are sent out to trap the invaders or pathogens. This also starts the healing process and causes inflammation which also causes swelling. Experts believe this to be the root of all pain too.

Thirdly, they remember who the invaders are so they can respond automatically and more efficiently next time. Then they clean up and remove the dead stuff.

Top tip: Learn all about the immune system by listening to this podcast here.

With lupus, the immune system that’s designed to protect you from germs becomes hyper-vigilant and hyperactive. It can’t differentiate between what’s harming you and what’s protecting you. It starts to attack itself, especially the connective tissue in the body.

Did you know? 45% of your body is made up of connective tissue. That’s almost half of you. It protects, supports, and gives structure to all the other parts of you including your tissues and organs. It helps to store fat, transfer nutrients, and fix the body. Connective tissue is made up of cells, fibres, and something called the extracellular matrix, which is a gel-like liquid that gives you substance. Some kinds of connective tissue are blood, bone, cartilage, fat, and the ones that make up our lymph nodes.

So, in lupus, every time there is an invader or infection, the immune system completely overreacts. This causes constant inflammation, especially in the connective tissue. Where there is inflammation, there is pain. The body constantly feels like it is under attack and ends up hurting itself. Inflammation causes littles tears in the connective tissue which it needs to repair. This creates scar tissue in the internal organs making them a little inflexible too. This process is exhausting because your body uses a lot of energy to constantly repair itself.

Chronic means that once you have it, it stays with you a long time, and in some cases it is incurable. However, some forms of lupus are reversable. It’s worth noting that lupus is not contagious, you can’t pass it on or get it from anyone else… unless it is neonatal lupus which is passed on from mother to baby but this kind is rare.

There are four different types of lupus but 70% of people have the type that affects the whole body. This means it creates a disorder in the entire system making it systemic. It is called systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE.

When somebody says that they have lupus, chances are that they have this type of lupus. The other types of lupus are lupus of the skin, lupus caused by medication where the symptoms are very similar to SLE, and lupus that babies get which is also reversable.

Although anyone can get it, 90% of all diagnoses are women. 80% of people develop lupus between 15 and 45 years of age.

What are the typical symptoms of lupus?


During an attack or lupus flare-up, the immune system creates a lot of inflammation in the body. This not only causes pain, but it can also cause scar tissue in many organs because of the connective tissue.

The organs that are most affected are the heart, joints, kidneys, and lungs. It can also affect the brain, and as a result the way you think and remember things. That’s because your organs aren’t working the way they should because they think you are sick and working to repair themselves the whole time.

Blood is also a connective tissue. Issues with the circulation system including cold hands and feet as well as icy fingers and toes are also common. This is called Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Other classic symptoms include skin disorders such as skin rashes, typically on the face over the nose and cheeks in the shape of a butterfly called a malar rash. This also makes sense. This area of the body is most exposed to the sun and the elements and to pathogens.

Fatigue and tiredness, fever, mouth ulcers and swollen ankles and lymph nodes as well as weight loss and hair loss are regular symptoms of lupus. Other symptoms include brain fog, forgetfulness, headaches, and sometimes seizures.

Symptoms are mostly episodic meaning that they come and go. They can be mild or so severe that they are disabling and life threatening. During times of wellness, people with lupus are said to be in remission.

Because it’s an immune system illness, it often goes undiagnosed due to social stigma and misunderstanding. It is also known as the great imitator and is often misdiagnosed as something else. This often leads to isolation and depression.

Did you know?

  • 90% of all adults with lupus are women.
  • Lupus is two to three times more prevalent among women of colour than among white women.
  • 65% of sufferers list chronic pain as the most difficult aspect of lupus.
  • One in three lupus patients have multiple autoimmune diseases.
  • Lupus was among the top 20 leading causes of death in females ages 5-64 years old.
  • 55% of lupus patients report a complete or partial loss of income because they can no longer work due to complications brought on by lupus.
  • Slightly more than 30% of lupus sufferers have been partially disabled by the disease.
  • One in four lupus sufferers currently receives a disability grant in the USA.
  • 90% of people with lupus can live a normal lifespan if they manage the disease proactively.

Source: The Lupus Foundation of America.

What are the types of lupus?

The word lupus comes from the Latin word meaning ‘wolf’. It was coined by the thirteenth century physician and surgeon Rogerius who used the word to describe the malar rash that appears on the nose and cheeks when you get lupus because he said it looked like a wolf’s bite.

We know now that this rash doesn’t always appear when you get lupus. We also know that there are four different types of lupus.

  1. Cutaneous lupus:The skin is our largest organ. It is a natural barrier to the outside world. It keeps you safe from harmful invaders. Cutaneous lupus is a type of skin lupus, and it accounts for about 10% of all lupus cases. There are two types of this lupus but what you need to know is that it causes rashes and lesions.If the lesions form in places that are not exposed to the sun and become thick, scaly and form scar tissue, it is called discoid lupus erythematosus or DLE.If the rash or lesion forms on parts of the body that has been exposed to the sun, heals quickly, and does not leave scars, it is called subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.Both forms of this lupus may cause skin discoloration and pigmentation although the second kind is less likely to do so.Did you know? Psoriasis is a common, chronic (long-term) skin disease. We have identified five key areas to address psoriasis in a natural way here.
  2. Drug-induced lupus:As the name suggests this type of lupus is caused by high doses of certain pharmaceutical medications. About 10% of sufferers are estimated to have this type of lupus. The symptoms are almost identical to chronic lupus. There are about 100 types of commonly prescribed medications that are said to induce this lupus.The lupus appears after continuous treatment with these medications. It is known to eventually go away when you stop taking these medications. Typically, after six months and after a good detox. However, the scar tissue that lupus causes in the vital organs as a result from using these medications is not reversible.The most prescribed medication known to induce this lupus include:
    • Hydralazine – this is a type of medication used to treat high blood pressure, especially in pregnancy.
    • Isoniazid – is a type of antibiotic specifically used to treat and prevent the reactivation of mycobacterial infections. It is commonly used to treat tuberculosis (TB).
    • Minocycline – a broad spectrum antibiotic called a tetracycline that is used to treat chest infections, urinary tract infections, skin infections, tick-bite fever and even some sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  3. Neonatal lupus:This is not considered a true and chronic form of lupus. This is passed on from mothers to their babies for no known reason. It is thought to happen when the mothers’ immune system tries extra hard to protect their babies. Babies are born with this type of lupus. At birth, the new-born is likely to have a rash, liver issues and problems with blood counts. Most of the time babies outgrow this type of lupus after six months without any serious lasting complications. However, in very rare cases children may develop heart defects called congenital heart block. This affects the rhythmic pumping action of the heart muscles.
  4. Systemic lupus erythematosus:This is the most rampant form of lupus. Most people have this type of lupus. It affects almost every organ of the body. In the long term, it most commonly affects the major organs including the heart, brain, lungs and especially the kidneys. Many lupus sufferers report having circulation problems, seizures and issues with their memory, problems breathing and most commonly, kidney damage.

How do you get lupus?

The exact cause and reason behind lupus is unclear. What we do know is that people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus have a lot more of one type of antibody called antinuclear antibodies.


These attack the heart of your own cells, especially the part of your cell called your nucleus. This is important because it contains your genetic material and it is also the control centre of the cell telling all the other parts of the cell what to do.

Because lupus is so common in women, research suspects that an imbalance in oestrogen levels may increase the risk of acquiring lupus. One theory is that birth control pills tend to be high in doses of artificial oestrogen and progesterone which tricks the body into preventing ovulation. Another theory is that oestrogen levels are also higher during childbearing years and that the imbalance is caused here – or possibly a combination of both.

Other risk factors that may increase the chances of getting lupus include the ongoing use of certain synthetic medications, being exposed to poisons and pollutants, smoking and unhealthy living, diets that cause a lot of acid in the body, and certain infections by things like viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus that causes glandular fever. Constant radiation from the sun without sun protection and genetic factors are also expected to play a role.

How is lupus diagnosed?

Confirming a diagnosis can only be made by a registered doctor. If lupus of any kind is suspected, doctors conduct a physical examination, consider your symptoms, and then routinely conduct the following tests to make and confirm a diagnosis.

Specialist doctors called rheumatologists usually confirm the diagnosis and treat advanced cases.

    • Urine Test:

This is the cheapest and the simplest way to check whether someone has lupus nephritis. If lupus goes untreated, it tends to affect the kidneys first. It makes sense because the kidneys are our filters and are also mostly made up of connective tissue. The body’s first mode of defence is to try and filter out toxins, which is why it affects the kidneys eventually. Someone with lupus or another autoimmune illness tends to have high levels of protein as well as red and white blood cells in their urine.

    • ANA Test:

This test checks for the presence of antinuclear antibodies. 96% of patients with lupus test positive for these but so do people with other autoimmune diseases.

    • FBC/CBC Test:

This means a full blood count and is also sometimes called a complete blood count. Here the labs assess the health of the blood and look at the numbers of red blood cells and white blood cells. The test should also confirm your platelets which are specialist cells designed to help blood clotting. The test will also look at the levels of inflammatory markers in your blood.

  • Tissue biopsy:Specialists remove tiny amounts of skin and tissue from certain organs of the body. They then examine them under microscopes to see exactly what’s going on. They check whether it is indeed lupus or whether it is perhaps another bug such as a bacteria, fungi or virus that is causing the harm.

What is the recommended approach to treating lupus naturally?

The natural approach to treating lupus is holistic, systemic, and supportive. This means you need to look at every area of your well-being, treat the whole-body system and then continue to support the lupus patient’s body, mind, socially and even work to lift their spirits!

The goal is to enter remission and stay there. Why? Long-term inflammation will cause damage to the vital organs because of the scarring it causes to the connective tissue.

Remember that this type of tissue makes up half of every person. Inflammation is the root cause of pain. Inflammation also causes scarring. Too much scarring in the long run means that the vital organs can’t work efficiently and will eventually stop working as a result.

This can be done in various ways.

Address diet and nutrition:

  • Lupus patients should maintain a well-balanced diet that reduces acidity in the body by introducing more whole foods, fresh fruit, and vegetables as well as raw nuts and seeds. Also try to eat more fermented foods to keep the gut healthy.
  • Try to limit processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and limit alcohol. Be cautious of fizzy drinks, caffeine, citrus fruit, tomatoes, and spicy food.
  • Eating too much white bread and puthu, cakes and cookies, chips and sweets, and things like fried foods and shisa nyama or pap and vleis from the braai causes acid to build-up in the body.
  • Always drink at least 2 litres of clean water a day to help your body flush out the poisons.
  • Listen to the acidity podcast here or read the article to learn more about how to manage it.

Address lifestyle:

  • Check what medications you are taking. The strongest and harshest medications are not always the best medications. They can cause damage to the internal organs. They might hurt your connective tissue including heart, kidneys, and lungs.
  • If you have a chest infection, try and get it treated quickly so that it doesn’t develop into something more serious. Always try a natural remedy first for colds and flu symptoms such as A.Vogel Echinaforce. Resort to antibiotics only when really necessary for confirmed bacterial infections. Your doctor will advise you accordingly.
  • Have six to eight hours of sweet uninterrupted sleep a night. This is when the body repairs itself.
  • Exercise gently and rest when you need to. Constantly moving when you are not healthy causes more damage to the body and may cause lupus or flare-ups. If you are not healthy or have some form of sickness, be sure to get healthy before exercising and walking long distances. Do exercise gently when you are healthy.
  • Wear sun protection… always. It doesn’t matter if you are melanin rich or not. The statistics do not lie. The sun causes damage and this causes inflammation in the body.

Consider natural supportive remedies:

The following natural products are clinically proven to reduce inflammation, reduce pain and modulate the immune system. This means that they help the immune system to respond more appropriately. They are safe to use in the long-term alongside other medicines.

  • Bio-Strath – This is a 100% natural, Swiss plasmolysed herbal yeast supplement that contains 61 of the 100 nutrients your body needs daily. It helps to bring about order and balance in the body, with supportive herbal ingredients for every system inside the body. It has the unique ability to increase vitality, support immunity and the recovery from illness, fatigue, and stress.
  • A.Vogel Echinaforce – This is the most extensively researched and scientifically proven Echinacea product on the market. It’s been around for at least 60 years. It is made from freshly harvested Echinacea purpurea only, resulting in a product with significantly higher levels of the anti-inflammatory active ingredient, Alkylamides. It is anti-inflammatory (inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines), and it is an Immune system modulator (interacts with cannabinoid type 2 receptors within the immune system).
  • A.Vogel Multiforce – This is a source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as citrate and bicarbonate salts (alkalising minerals) and has a systemic alkalinising effect. It supports the body’s acid buffering mechanism by supplying essential alkaline minerals required to combat a typical acidogenic diet (high in animal protein and low/deficient in fruit, vegetables, and minerals) and lifestyle, thereby assisting in addressing the negative consequences thereof.
  • THRESHHold Real MSM – Methylsulphonylmethane (MSM) is an organically bonded form of sulphur found in nature and naturally occurring in the human body, essential for healthy connective tissue with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Did you know? Around 70% of your immunity originates in your gut. A healthy gut also manages inflammation. This can prevent and help manage many illnesses and conditions such as autoimmune diseases including lupus, and how you experience pain. By managing the health of your gut, you manage the health of your microbiome which will help you regulate your inflammatory response.

  • A.Vogel Molkosan – This is made from lacto-fermented whey, and is a prebiotic food supplement. It assists in promoting better digestive health. It can be taken either alone, before or alongside a probiotic supplement.

If you’d like any further information, feel free to get in touch with the Living Naturally team on our helpline – Tel: +27(0)31-783-8000, Mondays to Fridays between 09:00 – 16:00.


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