Four young women and lupus purple ribbon
Health, Science

How Lupus Is Linked To Food Allergies And Mental Health

Are lupus and food allergies linked at all? If you have read our previous articles, you will know that the immune system is responsible for allergic reactions to foods.  But did you know that it is also the root cause of lupus?


What Is Lupus?

Lupus is a systemic autoimmune illness in which the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues [1].  There are two main forms: Discoid Lupus Erythematosis, which mainly affects the skin, and sometimes the joints; and the more common Systemic Lupus Erythematosis, also known as SLE. The focus of this article is SLE, which will be referred to by its commonly-known name of ‘lupus’.  ‘Lupus’ means wolf in Latin: this condition gets its name from the characteristic butterfly-shaped rash that appears on the face across the nose and cheeks, and other parts of the body. It was historically thought to resemble a wolf bite [2]. Lupus is an episodic condition, which means that sufferers alternate between periods of being well, and episodes of symptoms.  It is caused by widespread inflammation that affects the joints and skin and can cause irreversible damage to organs.

Symptoms of lupus include joint and muscle pain, together with extreme lethargy and tiredness that won’t abate no matter how much you rest.  Rash, anaemia, depression and headaches are also symptoms, as are hair loss, chest pain and mouth or nose ulcers. Symptoms vary from person to person and depend on the part of the body that is affected by the condition.  Lupus is also known as ‘The Great Pretender’ because its symptoms mimic many other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose [3].


How Lupus Is Linked To Food Allergies And Intolerances?

We know that our bodies are comprised of both physical and psychological components that usually work in harmony with each other. The immune system is one of these, its role being to protect our bodies from harmful substances.  However, both lupus and food allergies are due to an overactive immune system. Widespread inflammation mediated by the immune system is responsible for the symptoms of these conditions. Studies show that allergies to nightshade vegetables (potatoes, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers) are common in people with lupus [1], as is a sensitivity to alfalfa.  Alfalfa contains L-canavine, an amino acid thought to be involved in inflammation processes, so this may be why. Gluten intolerance is also common in lupus sufferers [4].

It is important to remember that the presentation of both lupus and food allergies vary widely from person to person; as such any links between the two are likely to vary as well.  If you suffer from lupus and think your symptoms are increased with certain foods, the best way to monitor this is to keep a food diary like AlliApp in order to track any triggers.  

The Gut In Lupus And Food Allergies

Gut health is vitally important in autoimmune conditions like lupus and food allergies.  One reason for this is that a large proportion of the immune system is based in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  If the gut is damaged, it can become ‘leaky’, allowing large molecules such as toxins and undigested food molecules to pass through into the bloodstream, causing inflammation [4].  One of the main dietary causes of gut damage is gluten and other wheat proteins including amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATI) [4]. As the bloodstream supplies the entire body, these inflammatory processes can then cause a ‘cascade effect’ throughout the entire system, resulting in various symptoms.    


The Brain-Gut Link

The brain passes signals to its component parts, and other areas of the body via chemicals called neurotransmitters, which have various effects according to their nature.  Scientists have emphasised the relationship between the gut and the brain. Reasons for this include the fact that both these parts of the body share many identical neurotransmitters, chemicals that mediate communication between the brain and other parts of the body. Glutamate is one of these chemicals, and research has shown that it plays an important role in GI tract disorders [5].  As such, if the gut becomes inflamed due to a food allergy or intolerance, or another autoimmune condition like lupus, then these signals are shared with the brain. If your digestive system is ‘unhappy’, this is transmitted to the brain.

Recent studies have also shown a possible link between glutamate and symptoms commonly seen in lupus, such as ‘brain fog’, anxiety and stomach complaints.  Antibodies produced during a lupus flare are thought to attack the cells that enable glutamate to function correctly in the body [6]. The fact that people who generally suffer from chronic stomach complaints also suffer from lethargy and low mood supports this.

This all sounds quite alarming, but with the right approach, it is possible to ease your symptoms especially if you notice them worsening after you eat or drink anything.  Being aware of what you are ingesting and any effect on your physical wellbeing and mood is a good way to monitor this.


Mental Health In Lupus And Food Allergies

Research has shown that people affected by lupus have higher levels of depression and anxiety compared to the general population [7].  The same can be said for those with severe food allergies and intolerances [8]. This may be due to inflammatory processes in either condition directly impacting the brain and gut; or indirect factors such as the huge impact that these chronic conditions have on daily life.




  1. Kelli Roseta (2018): ‘Lupus and Allergies’. Kaleidoscope: Fighting Lupus.  Available online at: [Accessed 18/10/18]
  2. Lupus UK (2015): ‘What is Lupus?’.  Lupus UK.  Available online at:  [Accessed 18/10/18]
  3. Mayo Clinic (October 2017): ‘Lupus’. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.  Available online at:   [Accessed 19/10/18]
  4. Semedo D (2016): ‘Wheat Proteins May Trigger Inflammation in Lupus and Other Chronic Conditions’.  Lupus News Today.  Available online at:   [Accessed 20/10/18]
  5. Julio-Pieper M, O’Connor RM, Dinan TG, Cryan JF (2013). ‘Regulation of the brain-gut axis by group III metabotropic glutamate receptors’. Eur J Pharmacol. 2013 Jan 5;698(1-3):19-30
  6. NIH/National Institute Of Arthritis And Musculoskeletal And Skin Diseases (2001): ‘Lupus Brain Damage Pathway Illuminated’.  Science Daily 2018.  Available online at:  [Accessed 25/10/18]
  7. Howard P (2017): ‘Coping With Depression and Anxiety’. Lupus UK.  Available online at:  [Accessed 20/10/18]
  8. Teufel M et al (2007): ‘Psychological Burden of Food Allergy’. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jul 7;13(25):3456-65

Dr Nicky, PhD, MBPsS - AlliApp Science

Nicky has a background in Radiography, Neuroscience and Psychology research. She is Mum to two girls, aged thirteen and eleven; both of whom have a combination of severe food allergies, food intolerances, asthma, eczema and hay fever. As such, she has spent her entire life as a parent finding ways to manage this, with a huge focus on food preparation, educating her daughters’ peers and their families about allergy awareness, and diet.

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