With May being Lupus Awareness Month, next week University of Rochester Medical Center rheumatologist Jennifer Anolik, M.D., Ph.D., will offer a free public talk that sheds light on how sensible eating and fitness habits can help patients better manage the disease.
Titled "Nutrition and Lupus: Myths and Realities," the event is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6, in the auditorium of St. John's Home, 150 Highland Ave.
Lupus, like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, is an autoimmune disease in which the body fails to differentiate between itself and menacing invaders. Instead of warding off viruses and other harmful foreign materials, it confusedly turns out "auto-antibodies" directed at its own cells and tissues, resulting in inflammation, pain and even damage to the joints, skin, and critical organs such as the heart, kidneys and the brain.
Lupus affects close to one and a half to two million people nationwide; 90 percent are women, most often stricken in their childbearing years. While most people find it to be a controllable disease - perhaps experiencing fatigue, joint pain, or a rash, for instance, but otherwise managing well with medicine and consistent monitoring by their doctors - a smaller subset of patients suffer a more extreme disease course, sometimes facing life-threatening problems. Anolik's talk will explore both the myths and realities related to if and how lupus sufferers can harness the power of a balanced diet and regular exercise to alleviate some of those symptoms, thereby grabbing some control of their disease.
"Unfortunately, there's no cut-and-dried cure or treatment for lupus," said Anolik, who not only researches the disease's basic mechanisms, but also works with fellow rheumatologists to treat 400 lupus patients throughout Western New York. "Many patients are grasping for something proactive they can do to help manage the condition. Thankfully, there's some reasonable data that suggests that some dietary decisions can help individuals with lupus live a healthier life."
For instance, by reducing sodium and cholesterol intake to control blood pressure - and by learning to discern between good fats, like omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flax and eggs, among other food sources), and bad fats (e.g., saturated, trans fats) - people with lupus can help offset their risk for early-onset cardiovascular disease, a commonly related condition.
"These are basic health habits I'd recommend to anyone," Anolik said. "But for lupus patients, some of them seem to have added value. Take omega-3 fatty acids, for instance - their benefits are touted for even healthy adults, but we have evidence that they may also help curb disease flare-ups."
Anolik will also talk about herbal supplements and vitamins - pointing out some that lupus patients should explicitly avoid (Echinacea, for instance, which fires up the immune system); she'll also explore the common misconception that, because something is natural or herbal, it's implicitly safe, and more is better,
"That's not always the case," she said.
The talk, one of two annual events sponsored by the Lupus Foundation of America's Genesee Valley chapter, comes on the heels of a new national awareness campaign launched earlier this month. Led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Ad Council, the campaign caters to women, featuring journals and diaries maintained by real women, and offering online discussion forums where patients can connect, ask questions, and find support.
To learn more about lupus and tour the interactive campaign materials, visit www.couldihavelupus.gov. For more information on the University's related specialty clinics, visit www.urmc.rochester.edu/medicine/air/SpecialtyClinics.aspx, or call Shirley Parks at (585) 341-7900 or Maria Allen at (585) 275-7167.