LUPUS AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Herbs, Acupuncture & More
There are a lot of things we don’t understand about lupus yet, but one thing’s for certain: it isn’t a one-size-fits-all disease. Because lupus can look totally different for everyone, it can be frustrating and overwhelming to find solutions to your symptoms. While there’s no magic cure for lupus (yet!), here’s the good news: in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are tried-and-true treatments that help ease many of the common symptoms patients face daily. Studies on TCM treatments in lupus patients have outlined repeated success for reducing pain, inflammation, skin troubles, immune system regulation, and fatigue. We’re here to break down everything you need to know about how TCM can help!
Lupus in TCM
Here’s the thing, the word “lupus” isn’t one you’ll find in the ancient instructional books and teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, TCM has been used to successfully treat many of the symptoms of lupus, like joint pain, inflammation, fatigue, hair loss, fever, rashes, and organ issues. We’ll outline how lupus is approached by TCM practitioners, including some of the terminology you might hear from your practitioner. All physical conditions (including lupus) are believed to stem from internal imbalances of energy. Too much or too little of yin, yang, qi or blood energy create imbalances leading to a ripple effect of negative symptoms.
The majority of lupus-related problems are said to come from a yin deficiency, while a few are related to yang deficiency. What does that look like for you? Yin deficiency symptoms for lupus tend to include; hair loss, aching backs, night sweats, red-flushed cheeks, and menstrual problems. Specific Lung yin deficiencies can include sore throats, afternoon fevers, and dry coughing. On the opposite side of the energy equation, yang deficiencies often stem from the Kidney and might look like; extreme aversion to the cold, weakness in the back, pale face and tongue, painful of menstruation, or daytime sweating.
Due to lupus’ connection to an aggressive immune system, TCM practitioners also often find imbalances in the Liver, which is a key organ related to immunity. This organ works to detoxify the body, maintain the blood, and is connected to the tendons and eyes, feelings of anger, and sour taste. Liver deficiencies can present themselves as joint pain, blurry vision, headaches, numb feeling in the limbs, and light menstruation. Stagnation of qi in the Liver might build up and create sudden bursts of frustration and irritability, or heavy menstruation.
TCM Herbs for Lupus
Get your tea kettles ready, because you can definitely expect to have some medicinal herb teas on the menu. The herbs used to treat lupus vary, simply because the experiences of people with lupus vary widely. A trained herbalist will always prescribe an herbal treatment to best fit the individual instead of following a standardized herb-to-disease prescription. So your lupus-related herbs might be different from the next person with lupus.
Herbs for Regulating the Immune System
If you’re like most people with lupus, your immune system doesn’t know how to take a chill pill and is constantly on red-alert. An overactive, irregular immune system function combined with underactive regulatory immunity is the number one issue for people with lupus. A study on an herbal mix known as ZSQ showed that it was effective to regulate the immune system in mild-to-moderate lupus cases where patients showed a deficiency of qi and yin. The ZSQ herbal mixture was created based on a classic formula known as “Yu Ping Feng San (YPFS)” and consists of radix astragali, rehmannia glutinosa libosch, fructus corni, rhizoma atractylodis macrocephalae, herba hedyotis diffusae, and cortex moutan radicis.
Herbs for Blood Circulation
Got chilly fingers and toes all the time? Proper blood circulation is another common issue for those with lupus. While there are many different herbal treatments related to blood circulation, only a few have been researched specifically for lupus. One clinical trial studied the effects of two herbal mixes used in tandem with modern medical drugs. The first herbal mix is “Zhen Wu Tang” which consists of atractylodes, hoelen, peony, fresh ginger, and others. The second mix is called “Shen Ling Baizhu San” and is made up of codonopsis, hoelen, atractylodes, rehmannia (cooked), coix, eucommia, and cornus. The study found that the lupus patients treated with a combined effort of TCM herbs and modern medicine responded more positively and more quickly than those only treated with the drugs and no herbs.
Check in with your TCM practitioner and medical team to see if these herbal mixtures are an option for you, and remember that each person can require variations in treatment under TCM philosophy.
Acupuncture for Lupus
While acupuncture is used to help ease symptoms of many different diseases, when it comes to lupus, it’s most commonly used for pain management. Whether it’s joint or back pain, or irritating skin trouble, acupuncture has been proven to ease these symptoms in many patients.
One study in Shanghai studied the effects of acupuncture on 25 lupus patients over the course of 10 sessions. By the end of the trial, they found that 80% of patients experienced less joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes. Another case study on 15 patients with discoid lupus studied specifically the effects of acupuncture on the ear. They reported an 87% reduction of cutaneous lesions (localized inflammatory and benign tumors) in these patients.
Like with all TCM treatments, acupuncturists are trained to find the root cause of the symptoms and work to correct that imbalance rather than simply mitigate the present issue. Be prepared to answer extensive questions about your condition and daily experience with it along with your habits and lifestyle. Your answers can help them tailor the acupuncture session directly to your needs, increasing the likelihood of positive results. It’s always a good idea to check in with your medical team to make sure acupuncture is a good choice for you.
Best Food and Drinks for Lupus (H2)
The truth of the matter is there is no “one-size-fits-all” meal solution for people with lupus. Eating foods that are highly nourishing and packed with vitamins and minerals and avoiding processed ingredients is generally recommended. Some say the “Mediterranean diet” of lots of fish, fruits and vegetables, beans, and legumes is typically the most ideal.
Many people with lupus take corticosteroids as part of their prescribed medical treatment. While these drugs might be helpful for treating the condition, they come with serious side-effects such as increased blood pressure, cholesterol, and weakening of the bones that you should attempt to combat with your diet. One of the most important restrictions for people with lupus is reducing the fat and salt you eat. For osteoporosis or bone concerns, you’ll want to boost your calcium intake with foods like spinach, broccoli, collard greens, milk, cheese, and yogurt.
When it comes to increasing blood circulation, stick to fresh citrus fruits, watermelon, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, onion, avocado, and ginger. You should also reduce your alcohol, salt, and caffeine intake and drink more water and green tea. Adding cayenne pepper and a little dark chocolate are said to also help get that blood moving! At the end of the day, it’s important to track how each food affects your body. Keeping a food journal and consulting with your medical team can help your define the diet that best suits your needs.