Chocolate and cocoa products may help reduce inflammation, which may benefit people with autoimmune conditions such as lupus. However, there is no conclusive evidence that chocolate can reduce lupus symptoms.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect different parts of the body. With an autoimmune disease, the immune system cannot tell the difference between healthy tissues and pathogens. It mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and cells, causing a variety of symptoms.

The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States and at least 5 million worldwide have some type of lupus. It is more common among females aged 15-44 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that lupus symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. Early diagnosis and treatment of the condition by a rheumatologist may improve someone’s outlook.

Experts advise people with lupus to eat a healthy diet as part of an overall treatment strategy. This article discusses whether chocolate may benefit someone with lupus. Additionally, it explores other foods people with lupus may wish to include and limit in their diet.

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Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases notes that no definitive research shows that special diets help with lupus symptoms. Instead, they advise people with lupus to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

However, a 2016 review looked at 33 studies investigating the effects of cocoa-rich products such as dark chocolate on markers of inflammation. In people with lupus, inflammation occurs due to the body attacking its own tissues, causing various symptoms and sometimes permanent tissue damage.

The review concluded that consuming flavanol-rich cocoa may affect inflammation by reducing the activation of inflammatory agents such as monocytes and neutrophils, which are white blood cells. Flavanols are a type of flavonoid, a natural substance found in certain plant-based foods that may have a range of health benefits.

However, the authors noted that there is currently little evidence to support the anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa consumption. They commented that the effects depend on the extent of the inflammation and the type of cocoa products someone consumes. They stated that further conclusive research is necessary.

It is also important to note that different types of chocolate have varying amounts of cocoa content, and some may be high in sugar and saturated fat, which may contribute to inflammation.

Although there is no particular “lupus diet” that experts recommend, it may be best for people with the condition to aim to eat a healthy, balanced range of foods.

The Lupus Foundation of America advises people to include the following in their diet:

However, they note that if someone has lupus nephritis, a kidney disease caused by lupus, they may need to limit certain foods. A person with this condition will need to speak to their doctor or dietitian for further information.

The Foundation also highlights that lupus raises the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. People can include foods with calcium, such as leafy greens and dairy products, to help lower the risk of developing these conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds can also help.

In addition, a 2022 review indicates that a low glycemic index or calorie-restricted diet may reduce weight, waist, and hip measurements and improve fatigue in people with SLE who are overweight and taking corticosteroids.

Another 2020 review concluded that the following dietary aspects may modulate inflammation and regulate disease activity in SLE:

However, the authors noted that low protein diets were only beneficial in particular cases such as SLE-induced chronic kidney disease. They noted that a diet with moderate protein intake is generally recommended.

It is always best for a person to speak with their doctor for further guidance on an individual basis before making any significant changes to their diet.

The Lupus Foundation of America advises people with the condition to limit the following types of foods to lower their risk of further complications and health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes:

Experts recommend people speak with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to their diet.

They may also need to find out if any foods and drinks are unsafe to consume in combination with medications. For example, alcohol may interact with some lupus medications, such as blood thinners.

Eating cocoa-rich dark chocolate that contains flavanols may help reduce inflammation, which people with lupus experience. However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that eating chocolate benefits people with this condition. Instead, experts advise people with lupus to eat a balanced diet.

It is best for a person with lupus to speak with their doctor or a dietitian for further guidance about their diet on an individual basis.