Actress with Lupus Spreads Awareness for Autoimmune Disease

In 2007, Maria Alejandra Hernandez was living her best life in New York City, working her dream job as an actress. However, she started to feel unwell, and generally tired and run down. She had a kidney biopsy done, but it didn’t lead to any answers. She recovered from the mystery illness, and went on to live her life.

Four years later at age 21, her health problems resurged with a vengeance.

“It started with a pain in my finger, I remember,” Hernandez explains. “I thought I probably bumped it or I’m just stressed out. It’s probably going to go away.”

However, the pain didn’t go away, and in fact continued to spread to her shoulders.

“The pain was so excruciating, I couldn’t even lift my hands,” she says. She was hospitalized for a month, while doctors performed a myriad of tests in an effort to diagnose the cause of her sudden pains.

She was eventually diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus. The autoimmune disease was causing her body’s own immune system to attack her joints, resulting in the unbearable pain in her fingers and shoulders. Shortly after, she started getting rashes on her face. Butterfly rash, which is a skin rash in the shape of a butterfly that appears across the nose and cheeks of lupus patients, is a hallmark symptom of the disease.

Hernandez admits that she knew nothing about lupus prior to being diagnosed. She explains, “I thought I could tell the doctor, okay, give me the medicine so I can just get better. Well, it doesn’t work that way!”

She recounts with emotion finding out that lupus is a life-long, chronic condition: “I remember one of the doctors telling to me that there was no cure; I felt like my life ended right there.”

While 90% of lupus patients are women, the symptoms can be completely different from person to person. Hernandez says that in addition to joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes, she also experienced weight gain, hair loss, and kidney problems. At that point, she thought that her career as an actress would have to come to an end.

Lupus put a strain not just on Hernandez’ career, but on her relationship as well. At one point, the young woman told her husband that she likely wouldn’t be able to have children, and that he should find a new relationship to fulfill his dream of having kids.

“He said, ‘No way in hell!'” Hernandez laughs. Her husband stood by her side throughout her aggressive medical treatment. She now manages her symptoms with a combination of daily prescription medications and a healthy diet. Staying positive is also an important part of maintaining her mental health.

Hernandez said that her blood tests have shown promising results that her lupus is under control. As a result, she revealed that her and her husband are looking forward to starting a family of their own.

“For Warriors like myself, [becoming a parent] might take a little longer, but I’m not losing hope,” she declared. “If I hadn’t gone what I went through, I wouldn’t be here now, raising awareness [for lupus],” she said.

“Now, lupus doesn’t control me. But I’m using it to help [others].”

Maria can be found on Instagram at: @mariaalejandrahl. To learn more about Maria’s battle with lupus, visit the Today show YouTube channel.

Halsey Shares Sjögren’s, Ehlers-Danlos Diagnosis

Halsey has shared that she’s been diagnosed with several chronic health conditions. (Photo by Nina Prommer, courtesy of Rolling Stone Magazine)

Halsey recently took to social media to share that she’s been diagnosed with several chronic health conditions.

The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, who was recently hospitalized for anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction — said that her hospitalization and subsequent doctor’s appointments led to her being diagnosed with several chronic health conditions, including Sjögren’s Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, mast cell activation syndrome, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

“My health has changed a lot since I got pregnant and gave birth,” the 27-year-old mom-of-one explained. “I started getting really, really, really sick — I’ve been kind of sick most of my adult life, but it started getting really bad [after pregnancy],” she said.

Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s own exocrine (or moisture-producing) glands. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of connective tissue disorders that impact the skin, bones, blood vessels, organs, and other tissues. Mast cell activation syndrome occurs when the body releases too much of certain types of chemicals, such as histamines, in the body, resulting in repeated allergic or anaphylaxis episodes. POTS is a blood circulation disorder of the autonomic nervous system.

Halsey has previously shared details about her health struggles, including her battle with endometriosis. Back in 2017, she underwent multiple surgeries to help her with the condition.

She commented, “For those of you who have followed this battle of mine or who may suffer with it yourself, you know the extremes to which it can be mentally exhausting and physically painful.”

Halsey says she won’t let her health conditions stop her from living a full life or having a successful career, however. “If you suffer from chronic pain or a debilitating disease, please know that I have found time to live a crazy, wild, rewarding life AND balance my treatment and I hope so much in my heart that you can too,” she said.

Top 5 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

If you suffer from autoimmune disease or other auto-inflammatory conditions, then you’re no stranger to inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, inflammation is defined as the process by which your body activates your immune system to fight off bacteria, viruses, and toxins, and to heal damaged tissue. However, if your body sends out inflammatory cells when you’re not sick or injured, you may have chronic inflammation. Excessive chronic inflammation is what underlies many chronic health conditions, from rheumatoid arthritis to systemic lupus erythematosus.

While modern medicine may turn to pharmaceuticals like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), steroids, or immunosuppressants, patients are increasingly turning to natural products with anti-inflammatory properties to help them prevent damaging inflammation and reduce existing inflammation. In this blog post, we explore 5 anti-inflammatory foods that can help you fight chronic inflammation.

1. Manuka Honey

Manuka Honey from New Zealand

Honey has long been used in traditional medicine for its healing properties. But did you know that manuka honey sourced from New Zealand has such powerful anti-inflammatory properties that it was approved for wound treatment by the FDA?

What sets manuka honey apart from other types of honey are the properties methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which give manuka honey its supreme quality and purity. These properties have been shown to have various health benefits, including protecting against gastric ulcers, inhibiting influenza viruses, soothing sore throats, and treating antibiotic-resistant infections.

Manuka honey is known to be expensive, since it’s exported almost exclusively by New Zealand in limited supply. Check the label to ensure your honey is certified manuka honey, and not a blend of honeys from various countries.

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2. Coffee

Coffee Anti-Inflammatory

Are you surprised by number two on this list? While technically not a ‘food’, coffee beans have polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory properties and bioactive compounds like chlorogenic acids, cafestol, kahweol, and caffeine. These compounds have shown in a few studies to reduce inflammation. A 2015 study found that coffee consumption reduced 10 markers of inflammation among regular coffee drinkers. Those who saw the greatest benefit drank 3-4 cups of coffee per day.

Keep in mind that while coffee has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, coffee can mess with your sleep patterns, especially if you drink it late in the day or are caffeine-sensitive. And, since sleep is an important factor in your overall health and wellbeing, it’s something to consider.

The long and short of it is, you can enjoy your cup of Joe (in moderation, that is)!

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3. Turmeric

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric is root vegetable-derived spice with a vibrant, yellow hue. The spice is commonly used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine, and has been used in traditional medicine thanks to curcumin, a bioactive compound with anti-inflammatory benefits.

In a 2006 study of patients with autoimmune ulcerative colitis (UC), patients who took 2 grams of curcumin a day, along with prescription disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), were more likely to stay in remission than patients who took the prescription medication alone. This suggests that curcumin may help to prolong remission periods for patients with chronic inflammation.

Other research studies on the health benefits of turmeric have shown that curcumin improves memory, lessens pain, fights free radicals, combats depression, helps prevent cancer, and lowers one’s risk of heart disease. That’s a lot of benefits for a spice!

Turmeric and curcumin powder are extremely versatile and can be added to curries, soups, stews, meat marinades, roasted vegetables, rice, eggs, baked goods, smoothies, teas, milk, and more.

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4. Olive Oil

According to Harvard Health Publishing, an anti-inflammatory diet should include olive oil. As this article by Healthline explains, olive oil is rich in monosaturated fats, and has been shown to reduce one’s risk of heart disease and brain cancer in scientific research.

One 2014 study found that the group that followed a Mediterranean diet and consumed an extra 50mL per day of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) significantly decreased their inflammatory markers over the course of 12 months. This is likely because olive oil contains an antioxidant called oleocanthal, which has been recognized as a naturally occurring non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), similar to manmade ibuprofen.

Researchers Lisa Parkinson and Russell Keast concluded: “It is plausible that low, chronic doses of a naturally occurring NSAID such as oleocanthal may attenuate inflammation over time, and may then contribute to significant reductions in the development of chronic inflammatory disease.”

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5. Green Tea

Green tea has long been enjoyed in Eastern traditions for its earthy flavor since the Tang dynasty in 618-907 AD.

More recently, research has found that drinking green tea has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and other serious health conditions. Many of these benefits have been attributed to green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially epigallocatechin-3-gallate, known as EGCG for short. EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in your cells.

Plus, green tea makes a great alternative to other anti-inflammatory beverages, such as coffee, that still provides a jolt of caffeine for your morning routine.

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Are you surprised by any of these top 5 anti-inflammatory foods and beverages? Which is your favorite anti-inflammatory foods out of the ones above? Let us know in the comments below!