Lupus, an autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disease can affect
the central nervous system, all major organs, and skin. Symptoms
include generalized aching, weakness, malaise, fatigue, low-grade
fever, chill, facial rash, sun sensitivity, immune disorders, arthritic-like
pain, joint swelling, stiffness, blood and kidney disorders, seizures,
convulsions, and psychosis.1
Lupus is often misdiagnosed as "flu," and many of the
symptoms resemble those of other environmental illnesses, i.e.,
chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity. Infections,
antibiotics, ultraviolet light, stress, and certain drugs can trigger
the disease. Lupus affects women ten to 15 times more often than
men and seems to have a hormonal connection, particularly to estrogen.2
The current belief is that lupus is organic, originating within
the individual's body, initiated by toxins or genetic disposition.
However, it can also be iatrogenic, caused by many drugs prescribed
for the treatment of other unrelated illnesses. It appears there
are more than 80 different drugs that can bring on lupus symptoms.3
Immune and Autoimmune
The immune system is very complex, composed of many different cell
types that interact in highly interdependent ways not yet fully
understood. Proper functioning of the immune system depends on delicate
control over the growth and development of immune system cells and
hormone-like compounds that regulate them.4 DDT, PCBs, dioxins,
fluoride, and many pesticides can interfere with proper immune function.
DDT, banned for use on food crops in the US, is persistent in the
environment because it breaks down very slowly. It continues to
be produced in foreign countries and is used on food crops shipped
to the US. In some cases, DDT is still used here for mosquito and
malaria control that might otherwise threaten public health. PCBs,
another class of toxic chemicals banned in the 1970s, continue to
be pervasive in our environment. "PCBs and dioxins affect the
thyroid system in diverse, complex, and as yet incompletely understood
ways," warns Dr. Theo Colborn, senior scientist with the World
Wildlife Fund and expert on endocrine-disrupting chemicals.5
Dioxins are the unwanted by-products of incineration, metal smelting,
pesticide manufacture, and chlorine bleached paper. Dioxins are
known to depress the immune system, interfere with thyroid function,
blood glucose levels, sexual development, and testosterone development.
Dioxins can be powerful biological dysregulators, interfering with
proper function of the body's many physiological systems, including
the immune system.6-8
The immune system can be damaged by the overuse of antibiotics,
which can also launch an attack of lupus in susceptible individuals.9
Drugs and pesticides can suppress the immune system, leading to
infectious disease and cancer. Over-stimulation of the immune system
may increase allergic reactions and autoimmune disease, such as
lupus and scleroderma, whereby the immune system mistakes the body's
own normal cells for foreign cells and attacks them.10
A much-overlooked assault on the hormonal and immune systems comes
from ingested or inhaled fission products. When radioactive fission
particles come down in rain and enter the food chain, immune systems
become vulnerable to free-radical damage.11 It might surprise readers
to learn that state health departments periodically test samples
of dairies for levels of radioactive contamination. Ingested fission
products bioaccumulate up the food chain into much higher concentrations
than the naturally occurring isotopes. For example, when cows graze
over large exposed areas, the radioactive iodine will concentrate
in them. When humans, who are at the top of the food chain, ingest
contaminated dairy products, water, fruits, or vegetables, the adverse
effects continue to multiply as the radioactive substances concentrate
in the thyroid or bone marrow.12
Four eminent authorities, Dr. John Gofman, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, Dr.
Thomas Mancuso, and Dr. Alice Stewart, all employed at various times
with the US Atomic Energy Commission or Department of Energy, conclude
there is no level of radiation low enough to be deemed "safe."13
These scientists, in addition to Dr. Helen Caldicott of Australia,
are willing to take a stand on behalf of public health and freely
discuss the subtle, though quite serious, damage inflicted on the
immune system by exposure to low-levels of radiation. This is a
topic much avoided by government and industry.
Fluoride, another extremely toxic substance has a direct effect
on the immune system and can aggravate symptoms for sufferers of
autoimmune disorders, such as lupus. Approximately 30% of the body's
cell protein is composed of collagen. Lupus is a disease of the
connective tissue.14 Fluoride disrupts the synthesis of collagen,
which leads to the breakdown of collagen in skin, muscle, tendon,
ligament, bone, lungs, kidneys, trachea, cartilage, and more, according
to research conducted at the All India Institute of Medical Science.15
Fluoride is used in many steroid drugs as a means of transporting
those drugs through the body. Lupus sufferers might benefit by avoiding
ingesting fluoride from all sources and finding a toothpaste without
fluoride, available from most health food stores. Some pesticides
contain fluoride,16 as well as estrogen-mimicking chemicals. It
is a good idea to wash all fruits and vegetables. Whenever possible,
Chemicals are everywhere, yet we know very little about them. There
are more than 70,000 chemicals in daily use, but less than 20% have
been tested for adverse health effects. The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) scientists studying human tissue found residues in
excess of 400 chemicals.17 The adverse effects of low-dose exposures,
repeated exposures, and synergistic exposures to multiple chemicals
remain unclear, not so the continual rise of disorders of the immune
system such as cancer, asthma, allergies, and lupus.
Early signs of pesticide poisoning are flu-like symptoms (achiness,
fatigue, weakness, chest pains, headaches, numbness, tingling, and
depression). Dr. Sherry Rogers, a physician specializing in environmental
medicine in Syracuse, New York, reminds us that pesticides are registered
with the US EPA because they are potentially dangerous, not because
they are safe to use,18 even though the chemical industry works
hard to convince us of their safety.
Many scientists are now focusing on a class of chemicals called
endocrine disrupters, which interfere with, or mimic, the action
of hormones, thereby upsetting the normal growth, behavior, and
reproduction of wildlife. Scientists are wondering, since these
compounds are harming wildlife, what harm they might be doing to
The endocrine system in animals and humans functions basically the
same way – a complex network of glands (thyroid, ovaries,
testes, pancreas, adrenals, parathyroid, thymus), organ tissue (the
intestines) that secrete hormones. Hormones act as chemical messengers
carrying important instructions throughout the bloodstream to affect
growth, metabolism, reproduction, and other functions elsewhere
in the body.20 Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can interfere with
this delicate process by sending the wrong signals, or blocking
the right signals, all with disastrous consequences to an individual's
health.21 Dioxins, PCBs, DDT and its metabolites are recognized
as endocrine disrupters. Research has found that some plastics,
though less well known, are also recognized as hormone mimics. Plasticizers
may leach from wraps and containers into fatty foods and from landfills
into the environment.22
Women diagnosed with lupus appear to have very low levels of testosterone,
because their bodies break down the hormone more rapidly than usual.
High doses of estrogen, such as those contained in some birth control
pills, can instigate lupus-like symptoms and aggravate existing
lupus. The menstrual cycle and pregnancy (times of great hormone
fluctuation) can also bring on lupus symptoms.23
Diet and Exogenous
While there have been very few studies on lupus and diet some anecdotal
information indicates a low-protein, low-fat diet has been helpful
for some lupus patients.24 An environmental perspective on this
piece of the puzzle would associate low-protein, low-fat diet with
avoidance of meat and dairy products. Modern meat and dairy production
is associated with high antibiotic use, added hormones, and grain
contaminated with estrogen-mimicking pesticides, all of which seem
to have major roles in the lupus drama. Many of the estrogenic chemicals
are lipid-soluble, attach to fatty substances in meat and dairy
products, and bioaccumulate up the food chain with humans receiving
the highest doses in the foods they eat. Not only are we subjected
to an overdose of prescription antibiotics, but heavy meat and dairy
eaters get a steady diet of additional antibiotics with their food.
Perhaps this should be looked at more closely for lupus patients,
since it is recognized that antibiotics can trigger symptoms in
Dr. Janet D. Sherman from Alexandria, Virginia, suggests that women
with breast cancer have fat tissue biopsies done to evaluate their
body's load of chemical toxins. It would be interesting to learn
about the body's level of chemical residue for lupus patients as
well. Perhaps this information would increase our understanding
of immune disorders and environmental risk factors. A new paradigm
for diagnosing, treating, and preventing this disease is needed.
Fungicides designed to kill mold on fruit and vegetable crops can
interfere with our production of hormones. Other pesticides attack
the nervous system and have the ability to destroy a family of enzymes
that perform vital body functions in maintaining good health.25
The body adapts to chemical exposure by producing more enzymes,
which are used in the process of detoxification. "Pesticides
are difficult for the body to completely detoxify and eliminate,
and the leftover metabolites can trigger cancer and autoimmune diseases,"
states Dr. Sherry Rogers. "Once an individual's detoxification
capacities are overwhelmed, progressive and subtle symptoms gradually
develop and health is destroyed."26
The detoxification system works through enzyme reactions in every
cell in the body, primarily in the liver and gut wall. Based on
genetics, diet, and total load of environmental contaminants, individuals
vary greatly in their ability to detoxify chemicals. A healthy person
with a high detox enzyme level can handle 40 times the amount of
a toxic chemical as someone with a low enzyme level.27 Dietary factors
rank high in the detox process. According to Dr. Rogers, a meat-rich
diet alters the type of bacteria in the bowel, which reduces the
efficiency of the secondary phase of the detox process, thereby
setting the stage for myriad health problems to manifest.28
Could lupus be caused by an overload of environmental chemicals
that damage the immune system, disrupt the endocrine system, and
weaken the body's ability to detoxify itself? Should lupus be included
in the growing list of environmental illnesses?
Most research to date has been focused on looking for drugs to mitigate
the symptoms. Some of these drugs actually worsen the disease in
the long run by adding to the individual's load of toxic chemicals.
A better strategy might include an emphasis on prevention by looking
more closely at all the pieces of puzzle, particularly the environmental
"Lupus Hope – In a study at the University of Tokyo,
herbs were given to four people with lupus who had resulting kidney
problems made worse by taking standard anti-inflammatory drugs such
as predisone and azathioprine…Three patients stopped having
relapses and were able to stop the drugs once they started taking
an anti-inflammatory Chinese blend with bupleurum (Bupleurum falcatum)
as the main ingredient. A study from the Research Institute of Oriental
Medicine found that a component in this herb has a protective action
on kidney cells. The Oriental Medicine Research Center at the Kitasato
Institute in Tokyo reports that traditional Japanese Kampo medicines
containing Oriental licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) also treat
inflammation. Another person taking high doses of steroids to treat
lupus was given anti-inflammatory curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma
longa) and bromelain from pineapple (Ananas camosus), to help absorb
it. She slowly tapered off and then stopped taking her drugs, according
to John O'Hearne, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Family Practice
at the University of Colorado in Boulder."29
1. McTaggart L. What Doctors Don't Tell
2. Lahita R.What Is Lupus? The Lupus
Foundation of America, Inc.
3. McTaggart, op cit.
4. Fagin, D, Lavelle, M. Toxic Deception.
New Jersey: Carol Publishing; 1996.
5. Colborn T, et al. Our Stolen Future.
New York: Penguin Group; 1996.
6. Montague P. Rachel’s Environmental
Health Weekly. Issue 536.
7. Steingraber S. Living Downstream, An
Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. Massachusetts:
8. Gibbs L. Dying from Dioxin. Boston:
South End Press; 1995.
9. McTaggart, op cit.
10. Fagin, op cit.
11. Gould J, Goldman B. Deadly Deception
Low-Level Radiation. High-Level Cover-Up. New York: Four
Walls, Eight Windows; 1991.
14. McTaggart, op cit.
17. Rogers S. Are Chemicals Making Me Sick?
A Primer on Chemical Sensitivity. Baltimore: Phillips Publishing;
19. Repetto R, Baliga S. Pesticides and
the Immune System: The Public Health Risks. Washington, DC:
World Resource Institute; 1996.
20. Colburn T, et al. Our Stolen Future.
New York: Penguin Group; 1996.
21. Hormone Mimics – They're in Our Food. Should We Worry?
Consumer's Report. June 1998: 52-55.
23. McTaggart, op cit.
25. Rogers S, op cit.
29. The American Herb Association.
1996; 12 (4): 16.