What is lupus?

Understanding your condition

There are two main types of lupus, the first being systemic lupus erythematosus (or SLE), which is a systemic, multi organ autoimmune condition where the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks cells of different tissues of the body.

The second generally milder type of lupus is discoid lupus (or chronic cutaneous lupus erythematosus), which presents as a scaly rash on areas of sun exposed skin. A few people with discoid lupus may develop SLE.

Other forms are subacute cutaneous lupus, which presents as milder skin rashes and joint aches; drug induced lupus, which is transient and occurs in reaction to medications; and a rare condition called neonatal lupus affecting babies born to mothers with lupus.

middle aged woman with lupus lying on couch hand to forehead
middle aged woman sitting on couch wrapped in cosy shall holidng mobile phone cup of tea

A natural way to treat lupus

People with lupus often seek holistic, natural treatments to support their health. The personalised, comprehensive and targeted approach to supporting those with lupus can include strategies to lower inflammation, calm the immune system and reduce pain, so that those with lupus can improve their health and get their life back.


Symptoms of lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)

In lupus, the immune system attacks at a cellular level, affecting any tissue or organ in the body. Each person's experience of lupus is different, as different parts of the body may be affected. Episodes generally subside after the initial attack, however, some people undergo brief flares during longer periods of remission.

Symptoms can include:

  • Joint pain and swelling (found in 50% of people with lupus)
  • Muscle pain
  • Swollen glands
  • Unexplained fever
  • Kidney inflammation called lupus nephritis
  • Chest pain, with deep inhalation
  • Loss of appetite / weight loss
  • Skin rashes - made worse with exposure to the sun (found in 20% of people with lupus), often on the face known as a ‘butterfly rash’
  • Fatigue, lethargy and weakness (found in 10% of people, but may be severe and debilitating)
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth or nose ulcers
  • Raynaud's disease - pale / purple fingers and / or toes, when exposed to cold
  • Swelling around eyes and in the legs
  • Photosensitivity (especially to sunlight)
  • Oedema (water retention) to hands, feet and face
  • Anaemia and low iron status
  • Headaches, and inflammation of the nervous system and brain

Lupus occurs predominantly in women, however, 1 in 10 diagnosed with lupus are men, and while they can experience all of the above symptoms, they are more likely to develop:

  • Kidney disease and inflammation
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Unexplained fever
  • Weight loss
  • Serositis - an inflammation of the membrane around the lungs, felt on taking a deep breath
  • Swelling of feet and hands
  • Antiphospholipid antibodies, increasing risk of blood clots and stroke
  • Low white blood cell count, and low iron

Diagnosis of lupus can be difficult, as symptoms mimic a range of conditions and there is no definitive test. Some immune system markers are common to people with lupus, such as Type 1 interferon, complement proteins C3 and C4 dysregulation, in addition to the presence of antinuclear antibodies (ANA) common to autoimmune conditions and anti-Smith antibodies found in 70% of people with lupus. However, the presence or absence of these markers does not definitively diagnose or exclude lupus but may support diagnosis.

Causes of lupus

Like other autoimmune conditions, the definitive cause/s of systemic lupus erythematosus have not been established. However, current research is demonstrating that a complex interaction between genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers are heavily implicated in all  autoimmune conditions. Known as epigenetics, this process explains how in susceptible individuals, triggers such as those listed below can provoke the mistaken attack on ‘self’ cells that defines autoimmune diseases.

The most common risk factors in lupus include:

  • Genetic predisposition / family history
  • Vitamin D deficiency - as a selective immune system regulator, Vitamin D inhibits autoimmune disease
  • Genetic MTHFR polymorphisms which can impair methylation (a process that is essential to healthy detoxification) but in particular simultaneous gene expression of DNMT1, DNMT3A, DNMT3B, MBD2 and MBD2
  • Viruses and infectious agents,(particularly the Epstein-Barr virus, also known as glandular fever or mononucleosis), measles, herpes and in recent evidence SARS-CoV-2
  • Being female
  • Sunlight exposure
  • Gluten and dairy consumption
  • Having Coeliac disease or another autoimmune condition
  • About 10% of all lupus cases are drug induced. Specific medications such as penicillin and other antibiotics, and sun sensitising drugs; sulfa drugs (Bactrim®, Septra®, Gantrisin®, Orinase®, Azulfidine®), and tetracycline drugs (Minocin®) are linked to the development of lupus
  • Smoking / vaping
  • Chronic stress / trauma including adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury (e.g. in dental fillings and fish), toxins, chemicals such as organic solvents
  • Mycotoxins from mould exposure
  • Being of Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Asian, Native American or African descent means a greater likelihood of developing lupus at a younger age, and with higher mortality and more serious complications
  • A 5 fold greater representation of gut species Ruminococcus gnavus found in people with lupus nephritis
  • Digestive disorders such as intestinal hyperpermeability (aka leaky gut), poor gastric secretions, SIBO, IBS, IBD, and fungal infections such as Candida albicans
  • Gut microbiome dysbiosis, in particular, the lack of Bacteroides uniformis (which inhibits growth of Ruminococcus gnavus). Certain dysbiotic bacteria have been associated with autoimmune activation, such as Citrobacter, Klebsiella, and Proteus species

What causes eczema?


Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.


Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

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Lupus treatment - the conventional approach

There is no medical cure for lupus to date. Systemic lupus erythematosus conventional treatment by an SLE specialist includes medications to control symptoms and help manage the condition. Medications are often given in addition to exercise recommendations and lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, avoiding sun exposure and stress management. A new classification criteria based on the signs and symptoms can aid in directing treatment strategies.

Your SLE specialist may prescribe medications such as:

  • Pain relief - paracetamol
  • Inflammation reduction - corticosteroids (not recommended long term), and  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for reducing inflammation (for short term use only, but not for use with kidney disease)
  • Skin and joint symptoms - hydroxychloroquine medications, to reduce immune system activity
  • Control of immune function - disease-modifying  anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which somewhat suppress the immune overactivity
  • Suppression of immune function - in moderate to severe cases immunosuppressant drugs such as azathioprine, mycophenolate, mofetil, cyclosporine, leflunomide, cyclophosphamide and methotrexate

All medications have side effects, with some of these drugs requiring close monitoring by the specialists due to the significance of side effects. Some immune suppressing drugs can also impair the body’s ability to fight off infections.

Conventional treatments do not address the underlying causes or factors contributing to lupus, and along with some very uncomfortable side effects, is why people with lupus often seek natural ways to improve their health after a lupus diagnosis. Alternative treatment options can include the functional medicine approach that supports each person with lupus holistically and naturally.

Natural treatment for people with lupus - the functional medicine approach

From a functional medicine standpoint, natural treatment for people with lupus starts with an in depth history taking, which will look at medical history, genetic predispositions, environmental exposures, diet, medications and more to determine what the root cause triggers may be, and what other contributing factors may be exacerbating symptoms and disease progression.

Your functional medicine specialist will design a detailed, personalised treatment strategy with targeted herbal, lifestyle, and supplemental medicine and dietary changes to address specific symptoms, support organ function, reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system to reduce attacks on the body. They will also factor in maintaining robust immune function for fighting off the usual colds, flu and other viral and bacterial infections.

Depending on the patient and their health picture, these strategies may include:

Testing for:

  • Food intolerances, allergies and sensitivities
  • Gut dysbiosis, intestinal hyperpermeability and parasites
  • Heavy metals, mould and mycotoxin exposure
  • Methylation dysfunction
  • Blood tests depending on your symptoms

Dietary changes:

  • Include / increase consumption of - anti-inflammatory foods, lecithin, Omega 3 fatty acids via wild-caught oily fish (sardine, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring), plant flavonoids found in colourful fruits and vegetables, berries, healthy fats such as coconut, avocado and extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, only grass fed animal foods, garlic, onion, mushrooms, and eggs
  • Avoid all processed foods and soft drinks, sugar, alcohol, coffee, black tea, dairy and wheat, gluten, smoked and cured meats, as inflammatory foods / triggers
  • Increase fibre intake to improve and support gut microbiome diversity and makeup
  • Eliminate identified food sensitivities, allergies or intolerances

Supplementary nutrients:

  • Glycine an amino acid to support antioxidation, liver detoxification, sleep and anxiety
  • Digestive enzymes - to ensure digestion and absorption of vital nutrients
  • Selenium, magnesium, and Vitamin D3 - to reduce autoimmunity
  • Vitamins B6, B12 and folinic acid - for healthy methylation
  • R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, Vitamin C, tocotrienols - antioxidants, energy production
  • CoQ10, resveratrol - antioxidants for heart and nerve health, and energy
  • Precision probiotics for improving gut microbiota diversity and makeup

Herbal medicines:

  • California poppy, Jamaican dogwood, and white willow for pain management
  • Boswellia, turmeric, bupleurum, ginger and cat’s claw as anti-inflammatories
  • Ginkgo biloba, gotu kola,and bacopa for healthy cognitive and nerve function
  • Reishi mushroom and echinacea for immune modulation
  • St Mary’s thistle (Silybum marianum), globe artichoke to support detoxification

Lifestyle medicine:

  • Gentle exercise to maintain mobility, such as walking, Tai chi, yoga and forest bathing, and massage
  • Techniques for building stress resilience via vagal nerve stimulation; singing, gargling, massage, and meditation / mindfulness practices

Topical treatments:

  • Creams or lotions, individually compounded with botanicals, nutrients, minerals, and therapeutic oils to reduce inflammation and irritation of the skin

In addition, your functional medicine specialist will be mindful of optimising immune resilience, for reducing the reactivation of Epstein Barr virus, and for reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and long COVID symptoms.

If you’re looking for holistic, personalised and supportive healthcare that gets results, we’d love to help. One of our functional medicine practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine will guide you towards better health in our unique 6-month program. Working alongside your practitioner and your health coach, you’ll have all the support, health breakthroughs and direction you need to meet your health goals and get back to living life.

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Are you ready for a personalised, natural functional medicine treatment? Our unique model of care was designed with you in mind. Find out how below, then book a call today!


Is lupus hereditary? / Is SLE genetic?

Like all autoimmune conditions, people with a family history of autoimmune conditions may develop systemic lupus erythematosus, also known as lupus or SLE. So, yes a genetic predisposition underlies lupus / SLE.

However, having a genetic predisposition does not guarantee you will develop the disease, as a complex interplay between genetics and environmental triggers is thought to be the cause.

Infections, environmental toxins, such as heavy metals, pesticides, exhaust fumes, smoking, medications and a host of others may be the triggers that turn the genes ‘on’ and start the progression of lupus.

Treating and removing these triggers can provide a significant reduction of symptoms and in some cases remission from the condition, with the guidance of a lupus specialist alongside a functional medicine practitioner who can identify the root cause and contributing factors in your case.

Can functional medicine cure autoimmune disease?

No one can claim to cure any disease.

Functional medicine is a system of holistic, and evidence based medicine that is natural, effective and can be long lasting for as long as the treatment strategy is followed. Functional medicine autoimmune specialists use a range of treatments such as diet and nutrition, supplemental medicine, herbal medicine and lifestyle interventions that can be very effective at treating chronic conditions.

How to treat lupus naturally / What is the best treatment for systemic lupus?

Natural treatment options for people with lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is best done under the care of a lupus specialist alongside a functional medicine practitioner.

A functional medicine practitioner can work with lupus specialists in Melbourne, Australia, and will assess your whole life's medical history, family history, environmental exposures, medications and a variety of other factors to determine the likely root cause, or causes, of your condition and address these rather than simply suppressing symptoms with medications.

Your healthcare team will provide a natural treatment plan to give your body what it needs to heal, and recover wherever it can. This plan can also be used to support you when taking prescribed medications to reduce the side effects of the medications.

Is systemic lupus erythematosus an autoimmune disease?

Yes, it is a condition where the body's own immune system attacks certain parts of itself, mistakenly believing it to be an intruder.

There are a number of theories, with the main one being a process called ‘molecular mimicry’, where a molecule that enters the body is very similar in structure to the tissue that ends up being attacked, or is confused with a pathogen - such as a virus, toxin, bacteria or chemical.

The immune system, already in a heightened state, mistakes a particular cell thinking it is attacking the intruder, then continues to attack it as it has remembered incorrectly what this intruder looks like.

Seeking the help of autoimmune lupus specialists who can work alongside your Melbourne functional medicine practitioner will help you assess your overall health, and create a personalised plan to target the cause. This includes helping to regulate the immune system and remove the triggers that cause the immune system to be confused.

Is there a way to reverse lupus?

No one can guarantee to reverse any autoimmune condition, however, in some circumstances with a carefully targeted, holistic strategy it may be possible to go into remission.

An integrative approach to lupus will give you the best of care to improve your chances of improving your health. The integrative approach includes working with an SLE specialist or lupus specialists alongside a holistic healthcare practitioner like a functional medicine practitioner at Melbourne Functional Medicine.

What is the difference between lupus and systemic lupus?

Lupus is also known as systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE and it is called a systemic or multi-organ autoimmune condition as it can affect any part of the body.

Like all autoimmune conditions, it develops when an individual with a genetic predisposition is triggered and the disease progression is started. In lupus, the particular parts of the cell that are targeted can be anywhere in the body, and therefore it can have a host of symptoms. Every person’s experience of lupus is different as a result.

In addition to the more common SLE, there is a milder, less common form called discoid lupus which generally only affects sun exposed skin as a scaly rash. Some people with discoid lupus may go on to develop systemic lupus.

Other forms are subacute cutaneous lupus, with milder skin rashes and joint aches and drug induced lupus which is transient and in reaction to medications and a rare condition called neonatal lupus affecting babies born to mothers with lupus.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.