Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of your body. If you are suffering from lupus you probably already know that it can affect your joints, skin, blood, and kidneys. But you may not know that it can also affect the health of your bones. This occurs for a variety of different reasons.

Low vitamin D levels are often found in people with lupus. This is partially because lupus can cause you to be photosensitive, or sensitive to sunlight. Going out in the sunlight may cause you to get a rash, fever, fatigue, or joint pain.[1] Because of this, your doctor has probably told you to avoid going out in the sunlight, and when you do, to wear sunscreen and a hat. Since the sun is the best natural source of vitamin D, you likely are not getting enough vitamin D naturally. This can cause your bones to weaken over time.

It is also very common to treat lupus with steroids, such as prednisone or methylprednisolone, to help control many of the symptoms of lupus. While this type of medication certainly helps to improve lupus, if they are taken over a long period of time, usually for more than 3 months, they can weaken your bones or even cause osteoporosis.[2]

So what can you do to improve the health of your bones and prevent yourself from getting osteoporosis?

To keep bones strong, the calcium recommendations for the general population are as follows: [3]

  • 1,000 mg of calcium per day if you are under the age of 50
  • 1,200 mg if you are a woman over the age of 50.
  • Men over the age of 70 should take 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
  • The upper limit is 2500 mg/day for those between 19-50
  • For those over the age of 70, the upper limit is 2000 mg/day

Adequate vitamin D is also important for bone health and here are the health authority recommendations: [3]

  • 600 IU (International Units) for those older than 1 yr
  • 800 IU  of vitamin D per day for those over 70 yrs
  • The upper limit for people over 9 yrs is 4000 IU / day

While some of these nutritents can come from your diet, you should consider taking a supplement if you don’t eat or drink a lot of dairy products, live in a northern climate with little sunlight, or use sunscreen when you are outdoors.

You should also get plenty of weight bearing exercise, avoid smoking, and avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

If you have weakened or brittle bones you could be at risk of breaking one of your bones. It is a good idea to speak with your doctor about having a bone density test to see if you already have osteopenia or osteoporosis.

 

Dr. Carrie Noriega is a Ddrops Guest Blogger. She is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist, medical writer, and mom who is passionate about women’s health and empowering women to take charge of their own health. She enjoys writing about complex scientific information in an easy to understand manner in order to help people live healthier, happier lives.

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[1] Lupus Foundation of America. What is photosensitivity. https://resources.lupus.org/entry/what-is-photosensitivity. Accessed January 2, 2018.

[2] National Institute of Health. What People With Lupus Need to Know About Osteoporosis. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/osteoporosis-lupus. Accessed January 2, 2018.

[3] Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2011, p. 1015. https://www.nap.edu/resource/13050/Vitamin-D-and-Calcium-2010-Report-Brief.pdf. Accessed January 2, 2018.