Is Your Arthritis all in your Guts?
“When New York chef Seamus Mullen, 40, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2007, he tried the usual treatments, including anti-inflammatory drugs, biologics and steroids,” reports Julie Deardorff, Tribune Newspapers1.
“He saw a doctor who suspected his arthritis was driven by an imbalance in his gut. Mullen followed a strict protocol involving more exercise, more rest, eliminating refined sugars and grains, and eating more fermented foods. After nine months, his blood values returned to normal for the first time in a decade, and his arthritic symptoms receded. Mullen is convinced ‘there’s a direct correlation between the foods we eat and the spectrum of bacteria in our guts’.”
Is arthritis an inevitable part of aging?
Do you believe arthritis is an inevitable part of growing older? Our society leads us to believe that joint pain is as predictable as grey hair and wrinkles. It’s all just part of aging, and there’s nothing much you can do about it.
What if the key to relieving arthritis pain lies in your stomach – specifically in your guts?
Many new studies point to the connection between intestinal bacteria and autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis.
The microbial community living inside you
Did you know there is a microbial community living inside you? “The current estimate is that humans have 10 trillion human cells and about 100 trillion bacterial cells2,” says Dr. Martin J. Blaser at the New York University School of Medicine.
This community in your gut is made up of millions of tiny bacteria. It’s called your microbiome, and it plays a big part in your immune health.
The majority of bacteria in your gut are beneficial bacteria that protect you by helping you digest food, absorb nutrients, and remove waste. They guard against infection by combatting foreign intruders, so when a virus or harmful bacteria enters your body, the helpful part of your microbiome kills it, protecting you from getting sick.
Your microbiome is largely determined by genetics, but many factors can alter it. Diet and lifestyle, infections, environmental toxins, and taking antibiotics can all change the balance of sub-groups in the microbiome, reducing the population of protective bacteria, and allowing harmful groups of bacteria to proliferate.
Bacteria, viruses and other organisms are always vying for dominance. If you feed one group, it can overpower and kill off healthy bacteria. This can influence how you absorb nutrients or lower your body’s first lines of defense against illness and injury.
From leaky gut to healthy inner ecosystem
John A. McDougall, MD, founder of the nationally renowned McDougall Program explains that in the intestines, only a single layer separates us from foreign proteins and microbes. Patients with inflammatory arthritis have been shown to have inflammation of the intestinal tract. Infections and toxins can cause gaps in this barrier and allow them to pass into the blood. This condition is referred to as a “leaky gut.”
Donna Gates, author of the book The Body Ecology for Growing Younger, explains:
“Our intestinal garden is a delicate inner world that requires perfect balance and harmony for us to flourish, with beneficial and neutral groups of bacteria and yeast that are also called the microbiota. Many microbiota are correlated with an increase in the innate or acquired immune response. In fact, 70-80 percent of our immune system is located in the gut, where microbes are critical for protection against disease.”
The link between gut bacteria and arthritis
Researchers participating in the Mayo Illinois Alliance for Technology Based Healthcare at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are finding that:
“The billions of bugs in our guts have a newfound role: regulating the immune system and related autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Larger-than-normal populations of specific types of gut bacteria may trigger the development of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and possibly fuel disease progression in people genetically predisposed to this crippling and confounding condition.”4
This correlates with studies by researcher Veena Taneja, an associate professor of immunology at the Mayo Clinic:
“Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease with unknown etiology though both genetic and environmental factors have been suggested to be involved in its pathogenesis…The gut microbiome may provide the missing link to this puzzle and help solve the mystery of many leaky gut syndromes. The gut commensals (non-harmful existence) are involved in maintaining host immune homeostasis and function suggesting that they might be critical in altering the immune system, which leads to autoimmune diseases like RA. Mouse models support the role of the gut microbiota in predisposition to RA.4
Is your arthritis all in your gut?
In Hope for Arthritis Sufferers5, Dr. John A. McDougall says: “Arthritis is not an inevitable part of growing older. The causes for these joint afflictions lie in our environment, and our closest contact with our environment is our food.
Dr. McDougal believes that joint diseases stem largely from unhealthy diets. “When people in Africa followed traditional diets, no cases of rheumatoid arthritis were found. Joint diseases are now becoming common as people migrate to wealthier nations and abandon their traditional diets for highly processed foods.”
Cultivating an inner ecosystem
5 Tips to heal your gut and reduce arthritis pain
Add fermented foods to your diet, such as cultured vegetables. From Kimchi in Korea to sauerkraut in Austria, these fermented vegetables are survival foods in many cultures. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, and enzymes and lactobacilli which are naturally present.
Limit all sugar. It causes a temporary spike in our glucose, followed by a dramatic drop in glucose, causing our energy to plummet. Many of us have been addicted to sugar since infancy, and myriad studies now link our sugar cravings to epidemics of poor health. Sugar is in almost every packaged food, from breakfast cereal to condiments. Look for sugar on package labels, often disguised as sucrose, dextrose, maltose and many other names.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average American consumes 150 pounds of refined sugar a year!6
Drink more water. Simple as it sounds, sip water through the day. A major cause of cravings is dehydration. Before you reach for a starchy or sugar-rich treat, sip some water. You’ll be amazed at how revived and energized you feel.
Go wheat-free* for at least two weeks to see how it affects your joint pain. This includes all the forms of wheat, including whole wheat and sprouted grains. You can try adding them back, one at a time to see how they affect your joints.
Eat nourishing fats to heal your gut. These include Omega-3 fish oils, as well as organic butter, ghee (a non-dairy version), coconut oil, and MCT oil, which is derived from coconut oil. Include a handful of nuts daily, such as Brazil nuts that contain selenium. Avoid all trans-fats such as hydrogenated vegetable oils.