Lupus and vitamin D deficiency are commonly seen together, with each condition influencing the other.

Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and organs. The disease can affect various systems in the body, leading to a wide range of symptoms, including joint pain, skin rashes, and fatigue.

People with lupus often avoid sunlight to prevent disease flare-ups, which, in turn, can contribute to vitamin D deficiency. Conversely, low vitamin D levels may weaken the immune system, potentially exacerbating lupus symptoms.

The link between lupus and vitamin D deficiency is complex and bidirectional, meaning both factors can influence each other.

Lupus leading to vitamin D deficiency

People with lupus often have photosensitivity, which means their skin is sensitive to sunlight. Sun exposure is a primary source of vitamin D, as the skin produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet B radiation.

Due to the risk of skin rashes and disease flare-ups triggered by sunlight, individuals with lupus may avoid sun exposure or use protective clothing and sunscreen. This avoidance of sunlight can lead to reduced vitamin D synthesis in the skin and, over time, contribute to vitamin D deficiency.

In addition, certain medications used to treat lupus, such as corticosteroids, can lead to low vitamin D levels. In fact, a 2011 study discovered that individuals taking corticosteroids were twice as likely to have severe vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to lupus

On the other hand, evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the development or worsening of autoimmune diseases, including lupus. Vitamin D plays a significant role in immune system regulation, including the inhibition of certain immune responses.

Can vitamin D supplements make lupus worse?

That’s unlikely. Vitamin D supplements are safe and low cost, and they can help people manage lupus.

Vitamin D not only improves symptoms, but it has anti-inflammatory effects that benefit the muscles, joints, and heart in people with SLE. It also supports the immune system, reducing the risks linked to vitamin D deficiency.

However, if people have a reaction or notice an increase in lupus symptoms, they should stop taking the supplement and discuss it with their doctor.

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Vitamin D deficiency can manifest with a range of symptoms, some of which may overlap with typical lupus symptoms.

Here are common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency:

Research from 2020 suggests that people with low vitamin D may experience cognitive issues, such as memory loss. Similarly, research from 2021 suggests that cognitive impairment is a common issue in SLE, affecting memory, executive function, and attention.

Vitamin D deficiency and SLE can contribute to each other, which may make cognitive issues more significant.

Addressing vitamin D deficiency can help people manage lupus symptoms and support their overall health.

Supplements and treatments can help address vitamin D deficiency:

  • Vitamin D supplements: The main way to treat vitamin D deficiency is by taking vitamin D supplements, which come in two forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D3 is often preferred because it’s better at increasing vitamin D levels in the blood.
  • Sunlight exposure: While individuals with lupus often need to avoid excessive sun exposure due to photosensitivity, some controlled sunlight exposure can help the skin produce vitamin D.
  • Dietary sources: Vitamin D-rich foods include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna), egg yolks, fortified dairy or plant-based milk, and fortified cereals.
  • Calcium supplements: Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from the diet. If a person is deficient in vitamin D, their body may not absorb enough calcium, which is crucial for maintaining strong bones and preventing conditions such as osteoporosis.

Learn more about vegan vitamin D alternatives and other ways to increase vitamin D levels.

It’s important for people with vitamin D deficiency to undergo regular blood tests to check their levels and make sure the supplements are working to address the deficiency.

In addition, certain medications used to manage lupus, such as corticosteroids, can lead to vitamin D deficiency. A person’s healthcare team can adjust their lupus medications or recommend additional treatments to reduce this risk.

The relationship between lupus and vitamin D deficiency is complex, with each condition influencing the other. Many individuals with lupus avoid sunlight due to potential skin complications, and certain lupus medications, such as corticosteroids, can increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Conversely, low vitamin D levels can worsen lupus and other autoimmune disorders and lead to symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive issues.

People dealing with both lupus and vitamin D deficiency should discuss any concerns with their doctor. Doctors can offer guidance for effectively managing both conditions for better overall well-being.