My maternal grandma had osteoarthritis. From the time she was diagnosed, her ability to stay active and her mood deteriorated over time. In fact, she spent most of the last 10 years of her life in bed. It was sad because she was such an energetic and strong woman who was full of life and who absolutely enjoyed travelling.
Thinking back, I believe the reason why her arthritis and overall health didn’t improve and caused her to stop living her life as normal, was down to two things.
1. She didn’t know what caused her arthritis (understanding the root cause helps deal with it better) and,
2. She wasn’t given the right advice on the lifestyle changes she needed to make in order to manage it better.
To add to that, she was prescribed strong medication which no doubt helped ease the pain, but unfortunately didn’t do much with treating the condition. Instead it did some long-term damage to her body and health. I'm sure medication is important to treat arthritis, but making lifestyle changes definitely takes the lead!
There are more than a hundred types of arthritis that mainly fall into three categories:
· inflammatory arthritis (that includes several autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis)
· osteoarthritis and,
· arthritis caused by an infection
The connection between arthritis and the gut
No matter what type of arthritis you might have, the first step to treating most arthritis should begin at your gut.
Dr. Susan Blum is a doctor and a functional medicine practitioner who suffered from arthritis herself. In her brilliant book ‘Healing Arthritis’, she states that the predominant cause of all arthritis begins is in the digestive system, and healing your gut is the first step to healing your joints. She says:
The way to really cure arthritis at the root, is to treat the dysbiosis and bring your gut bacteria to a state of balance and health, because dysbiosis is a source of all ongoing inflammation throughout the body.
Dr. Susan Blum
What is dysbiosis?
To put it simply, it is an imbalance of different types of bacteria in your gut. It occurs when your gut bacteria don’t have enough of the robust and healthy bacteria they need, and have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites. Dysbiosis is the link that connects gut health and arthritis.
This is because dysbiosis causes gut inflammation which leads to damaged intestinal lining or leaky gut, that allows components of intestinal bacteria to get into the blood stream and to other parts of the body. Eventually this leads to inflammation throughout the body including the joints.
Extensive research have confirmed this as they have found components of gut bacteria in the joint synovial fluid (a viscous fluid that lubricate all our joints for ease of movement). These components trigger oxidative stress and more inflammation, causing pain, swelling and ultimately joint damage. Dysbiosis is the main trigger for inflammatory arthritis. It can also happen in people who don’t encounter any digestive issues.
The same applies to Osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis in the world, affecting nearly 9 million people in UK alone, and is characterised by the deterioration of the cartilage in the joints resulting in pain, stiffness and impaired movement.
Recent studies (subject to further investigation) suggest that the gut microbiome (ecosystem of all microbes) is an important factor in the initiation and progression of osteoarthritis. Particularly, when severe osteoarthritis cartilage damage was seen in high fat diet (HFD) – fed groups. In this group, they detected metabolic irregularities, increased body fat, systemic inflammation and the expected gut microbiome dysbiosis which included an increased abundance of Firmicutes, which are perceived as bad bacteria because of the negative influence on glucose and fat metabolism.
Put more simply: eating a high fat diet creates suboptimal conditions in the gut (dysbiosis), which can eventually lead to development of osteoarthritis.
What causes dysbiosis?
What causes dysbiosis:
Anything that causes an imbalance in your microbiota can cause dysbiosis. Common causes include:
· High levels of stress
· Poor diet with a high intake of sugars, processed foods and fats
· Drinking high quantities of alcohol every day
· Medications such as antibiotics, antacids (that help neutralise stomach acidity) and proton pump inhibitors, that impact your gut flora
· Gut infections (traveler’s diarrhea)
In order to cure dysbiosis, focus on bringing your gut bacteria to a state of balance.
5 ways to fix your gut flora
1. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet permanently (no quick fixes here). People who suffer from arthritis tend to have a lot of oxidative stress in their bodies. A diet rich in antioxidants helps neutralise the excess free radicals responsible for oxidative stress in the body. Our gut loves colour so focus on eating a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, lean protein and whole grains that are rich in antioxidants and nutrients, to avoid any deficiencies which have a huge impact on the intestinal lining. Eat foods containing Omega – 3 fatty acids, even when it comes the cooking oil you use.
Avoid high fat and sugary foods, processed foods and refined carbs. There are mixed reviews about avoiding nightshade vegetable such as eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. These vegetables contain a chemical called solanine, which some people claim aggravates their arthritis pain and inflammation. While this might be true for some people, there isn’t enough research done to suggest the above. You can choose to eliminate them for two weeks to see any improvements.
2. Use probiotics supplements. Having probiotics for a period of at least 8 weeks, helps reduce intestinal permeability, improve leaky gut, increase the production of small chain fatty acids like butyrate that help reduce inflammation as they strengthen the junctions of the gut lining. Notable strains to look for include, Lactobacillus salivarius, Escherichia coli Nissle, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacilli rhamnosus GG and Lactobacillus casei. Aim for 20 – 30 billion mixed organisms per capsule.
3. Have curcumin every day. Not only will curcumin help ease your arthritic symptoms when it comes to pain and inflammation, it is also known to soothe and reduce intestinal inflammation as well as increase the number of good bacteria, lactobacillus, in the colons. This helps strengthen the intestinal lining by encouraging good bacteria in the gut. To learn more about curcumin, refer to ‘ The ingredient of the month – Curcumin’ article on the blog.
4. Try using natural herbs. This is an inexpensive and generally well tolerated option for most people. They help treat dysbiosis by removing any harmful bacteria or yeast naturally. Some effective herbs include, oil of oregano which is good to inhibit overgrowth of intestinal microbes and candida, berberine extract and thyme for their potent antimicrobial properties.
5. Try to avoid unnecessary antibiotic treatments. Antibiotics do kill bacteria that cause infection in our body, but the same time they also destroy the good bacteria in our gut. Some evidence suggest that the gut bacteria may never fully recover after even one course of treatment. When you have to resort to antibiotics, have large amounts of probiotics after the antibiotic course to avoid bad bacteria from multiplying uncontrollably.
It would be amazing if I could go back in time and talk to my grandma about the latest scientific findings on arthritis and help her incorporate some these changes to her life, instead of seeing her deal with the pain alone.
We will be delving into more detail on arthritis, with the aim of giving you the information to take control of your health, so stay tuned!
I would encourage you to read Susan Blum’s book ‘Healing Arthritis'. It’s available on Amazon (no affiliation).
If you suffer from arthritis, do leave a comment below and share any lifestyle changes you've made and how has it helped you.
(Editor’s note: The content on Rhythm Nutrition is based on research and suggestions from health professionals, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice from your medical professional regarding diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of health problems. Always seek medical advice if you have any concerns.)