Could gut health be the key to understanding lupus?
12/09/2019 // Ethan Huff // Views

New research published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases has identified an interesting link between lupus and imbalanced gut bacteria, suggesting that probiotic optimization may be one of the keys to better managing this debilitating illness.

After investigating the microbial makeup of 78 female participants, 61 of whom had previously been diagnosed with lupus, scientists from New York University (NYU) found that women with lupus have as much as a five times higher concentration of the Ruminococcus gnavus bacterium in their guts compared to women without lupus.

Representing the first time that science has uncovered this strong of a link between lupus and gut health, what this study reveals is that microbial ratios in the guts of people with lupus are noticeably different than they are in healthy people – which further suggests that lupus could have more of an environmental cause, originating in the gut, and less of a genetic one as is widely believed.

R. gnavus, in case you're not familiar with this particular bacterium, is known to "leak" through the gut lining. With regards to lupus, the extremely high levels of R. gnavus that we now know accompany it are thus believed by some to be an immune trigger for this particular autoimmune disease – and potentially others as well.

Evidence to support this theory is perhaps most apparent during lupus "flare-ups," when levels of antibodies that fight R. gnavus spike dramatically in patients' bloodstreams. What this suggests is that R. gnavus may actually be the cause of these flare-ups, worsening lupus symptoms, if not even triggering them.


"Our study strongly suggests that in some patients, bacterial imbalances may be driving lupus and its associated disease flares," says Dr. Gregg Silverman, M.D.., an immunologist and the study's senior investigator.

To read more stories about the science-based links between diet, gut health, and disease, be sure to check out

High levels of R. gnavus also associated with diverticulitis, another serious gut condition

Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology identified a similar relationship between excess levels of R. gnavus and diverticulitis, another gut condition marked by small bulges that develop in the wall of the large intestine.

Researchers involved with this case study identified two separate patients with diverticular disease that both had overgrowths of R. gnavus – suggesting that if levels of this bacterium can be effectively reduced and brought into proper balance, that this other gut condition might subside, and possibly disappear entirely.

Dr. Silverman is convinced that the link between R. gnavus and lupus, anyway, will eventually lead to better diagnosis methods that involve the use of blood tests to identify R. gnavus antibodies in the blood. From this, it might also be possible to start treating lupus naturally using probiotics, fecal transplants, and specialized diets, all for the purpose of keeping R. gnavus levels in check.

"These results suggest that there is a huge environmental component to the development of this disease and the flares that occur," writes Gretchen Lidicker, MS, for

"There's still a lot left to learn, but according to the researchers, the presence of this bacteria – and the fact that it can leak through the gut lining – could be an immune system trigger of the disease," she adds.

These findings also support the gut-brain theory of disease, affirming the findings of another study we reported on that identified a link between lupus and dementia.

It would seem as though the gut damage associated with lupus also affects brain function, having a direct connection to so-called "lupus fog," which is often described as "difficulty concentrating, remembering facts, and expressing oneself."

Some of the natural solutions for addressing lupus fog include eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising regularly, consuming plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, and exposing your skin to plenty of natural sunlight (or taking vitamin D3 supplements).

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