Gut Bacteria linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul – Gut Bacteria and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Recent research has come to the attention of the scientific community linking Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) to the type of bacteria that exists in your gut.  RA is an autoimmune condition experienced more commonly by females than males and is thought to occur or result from a combination of factors including genetic, environment and other unknown events that occur within our bodies (Pollard 2012).  These epigenetic factors can cause individuals to experience multiple hot, swollen, inflamed and painful joints at multiple sites throughout their body, most commonly in the hands, wrists, ankles and feet.  Current medical management of RA and other autoimmune diseases involves the use of medications to manage the disease but we have yet to find a cure at this time.

Some new research is pointing to the possibility that the normal bacteria in your gut (microbiome) may contribute to your risk of RA as well as active inflammation in the joints.  This is possible as the type of bacteria that make up our individual microbiome is different, and some specific types of bacteria can lead to issues in the gut as well as other areas throughout the body including joints. The specific bacteria in your gut is associated with the foods that you eat and can be involved in causing Leaky Gut Syndrome (aka. intestinal hyperpermeability) as well as loss of immune tolerance to the normal bacteria of the gut (Yeoh and al 2013). Specific locations in the body with a high load of bad, opportunistic bacteria (for example, the gut) may represent the source by which immune cells begin attacking body parts as they increase the amount of inflammation circulating in the bloodstream (Brusca and al 2014). This led scientists to the idea that if the types of bacteria in the gut could possibly be changed, it could allow your immune system to recover and potentially stop attacking the joints.

In a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial study, patients with RA were given either a probiotic capsule daily for 8 weeks, or a placebo sugar pill for 8 weeks.  At the 8 week mark, RA disease activity was significantly improved in the group which received probiotic treatment when compared with the group that was given the placebo pill (Vaghef-Mehrabany and al 2014). The researchers found a significant decrease in specific markers of inflammation and a significant increase in good regulatory markers.  These researchers also found a lower Disease Activity Score in patients that were given the probiotic treatment as well as a lower number of active swollen joints.  It is also important to note that there were no new problems noted in patients after taking probiotics in the study (Alipour and al 2014).

There is also the issue of underlying Leaky Gut Syndrome (aka intestinal permeability).  Tight junctions are proteins that bind together cells side by side in the walls of the intestines to create a physical barrier to bacteria and particles that are within the digestive tract.  It has been shown in many studies that specific foods and food additives can lead to changes in the tight junctions between the cells of the gut, leading to holes, or ‘leaks’ in the gut wall, thus Leaky Gut syndrome. These foods and additives include sugars, salt, emulsifiers, organic solvents, gluten and even nanoparticles. As well, all of these food additives are shown to be used in greater quantities in countries with a higher rate of RA and other autoimmune conditions (Lerner and Torsten 2015).

So what does all of this mean for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

  1. Reduce your intake of Food Additives

These food additives include added sugars and salt in foods and beverages such as soda, juice, milk, chips, crackers, milk and other highly processed foods.

  1. Reduce your intake of Gluten – Avoid it completely if you can

Gluten has been shown to cause Leaky Gut and even Celiac Disease (Lerner and Torsten 2015). Cut down on or even eliminate your intake of breads, chips, tortillas and wheat-based highly processed cereals.

  1. Start taking Probiotics (after consulting with your doctor)

Probiotic supplements have been shown to reduce active inflammation in joints of people suffering with RA as well as other autoimmune conditions.  L. casei was the specific probiotic that was used in the studies outlined earlier in this article. Consult with your doctor before taking any probiotics.

  1. Consult a Functional Medicine Doctor

If your current course of therapy is not effectively managing your disease, consult with a doctor who practices Functional Medicine. These doctors will help you find the root cause of your disease process and give you a course of treatment to heal the source of your condition.

 

References

Alipour, B, and et al. 2014. “Effects of Lactobacillus casei supplementation on disease activity and inflammatory cytokines in rheumatoid arthritis patients: a randomized double-blind clinical trial.” International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases 519-27.

Bedaiwi MK, Inman RD. 2014. “Microbiome and probiotics: link to arthritis.” Current Opinions in Rheumatology 410-5.

Brusca, SB, and et al. 2014. “Microbiome and mucosal inflammation as extra-articular triggers for rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmunity.” Current Opinions in Rheumatology 101-7.

Lerner, A, and M Torsten. 2015. “Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease.” Autoimmunity Reviews 14: 479-489.

Pollard, KM. 2012. “Gender differences in autoimmunity associated with exposure to environmental factors.” Journal of Autoimmunity J177-86.

Vaghef-Mehrabany, E, and et al. 2014. “Probiotic supplementation improves inflammatory status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.” Nutrition 430-5.

Yeoh, N, and et al. 2013. “The role of the microbiome in rheumatic diseases.” Current Rheumatology Reports 314.

 

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul – Gut Bacteria and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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