Naturopaths have long known the relationship between gastrointestinal tract (gut) bacteria and the link to our musculoskeletal and immune systems. Only now are scientists are beginning to research the link between joint pain and gut flora – the ‘microbiome’, that is, the bacteria that live in our gut and its role in asthma, arthritic diseases and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which the body turns on itself to attack the joints.
A study published in 2013 by Jose Scher, a rheumatologist at New York University, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis were much more likely to have a bug called ‘Prevotella copri‘ in their intestines than people that did not have the disease. In another study published in October, Scher found that patients with psoriatic arthritis, another kind of auto-immune joint disease, had significantly lower levels of other types of intestinal bacteria.
Microbes are especially influential in the gut, which houses two-thirds of the body’s immune cells. Our gut contains up to a thousand different bacteria species, which together weigh about 3kg!
A microbiome with the wrong sorts and ratio of bacteria —a situation known as dysbiosis—can unbalance this immune system, causing immune cells to assault not only bacteria, but also the body itself. This auto immune response activates inflammatory cells throughout the body, including our joints. Therefore there is a direct link between joint pain and gut flora.
In recent decades, the incidence of many auto-immune diseases has been increasing; many microbiome researchers argue that at least some of this rise is due to changes in our bacterial ecosystem. Eating a processed diet, the explosion of antibiotic use, and decreasing contact with the microbe-packed natural world of animals and plants have all combined to transform gut bacteria.
Joint pain and gut flora: what you can do
- First and foremost, make changes to your diet.
- Have more fermented foods: yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi etc.
- If you have arthritis: change to an alkaline diet (to reduce inflammation) by cutting out red meat, eating more fish, fruit and vegetables; or even considering going ‘vegan’. Finnish researchers found that a vegan diet resulted in positive changes in the gut microbiome, and these changes were linked to an improvement in arthritic symptoms.
- Take a targeted probiotic supplement.
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