It feels like everyone is talking about the importance of gut health.
But what’s the connection between gut health & joint pain?
Joint pain is typically associated with inflammation. Research suggests that poor gut health is the root cause of much chronic inflammation. Intestinal microbes play a vital role in keeping your gut healthy. Experts agree maintaining a healthy gut microbiome may reduce the symptoms of inflammatory joint pain.
Gut health, intestinal microbes and conditions such as ‘leaky gut’ still remain a mystery.
But not for long.
The number of studies examining the link between the gut and every area of human health have exploded.
“We humans are used to seeing ourselves as above other creatures, certainly above micro-organisms that are the most primitive life forms on Earth. These microbes have moved from parasites to partners.” – Deepak Chopra
One thing is for certain – science is only going to reveal more and more exciting secrets about the gut.
It might not seem like a linear connection but your gut has a huge impact on your joint pain.
If you are living with chronic joint pain – it is time to start paying a lot more attention to your gut. Especially if it is caused by an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis.
This is a big topic so this article covers the following areas:
- What causes joint pain?
- Joint pain & inflammation
- Gut health & your health
- Gut health & inflammation
- Leaky gut & joint pain
- What causes leaky gut?
- How do I know if I have leaky gut?
Feel free to navigate to the juicy bits if that’s all you are after ☺
What causes joint pain?
Joint pain is usually produced by inflammation of the joint.
There are many reasons for joint pain including injury, infection or cancer.
The most common cause of joint pain is rheumatic conditions.
Rheumatic conditions are musculoskeletal conditions that attack your system of muscles, bones or joints.
The symptoms of rheumatic conditions include:
- Joint pain
- Loss of movement in joints
- Inflammation – swelling, redness & warmth in the affected area
There are over 200 distinct rheumatic conditions but the most common are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spondyloarthropathies — ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA)
- Infectious arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Polymyalgia rheumatic
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
A medical specialist known as a rheumatologist usually treats rheumatic conditions.
Treatments typically involve medications, exercise, stress management & diet.
Joint Pain & Inflammation
Rheumatic conditions are linked to chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system goes into overdrive and starts to attack your own tissues.
Inflammation is not necessarily bad. It is your body’s natural defense system. You need inflammation to fight infection, remove damaged cells & heal.
There are two types of inflammation – acute inflammation & chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation is a typical response we all recognize. When you graze an elbow the area becomes red, swollen and starts weeping. As a reaction to the injury your body has recognized a breach in its defences – in this case the skin.
The immune system sends in an army of white blood cells, signaling cells and immune cells. This army fights off infection and starts the rebuilding process.
Acute inflammation starts quickly and disappears within a couple of days or weeks.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand can last for months or even years. It often goes unseen, occurring within the body with no external signs.
There are several potential causes of chronic inflammation including:
- Toxins in the environment (such as pesticides or pollution)
- Poor gut health or leaky gut
Chronic inflammation is the major link between gut health and joint pain.
Gut health and your health
No doubt you are hearing more and more about the need for ‘good bacteria.’
But why do we need ‘good bacteria’?
Scientists estimate there are over 100 trillion bacteria cells in your body – the majority live in your gut. These bacteria (or microbes) are collectively known as your microbiome.
A typical person is made up of around 37 trillion ‘human’ cells.
Good bacteria and humans have evolved to coexist and have a symbiotic relationship.
They provide us a health benefit. We give them somewhere to live.
Good bacteria play vitally important roles including:
- Produce vitamin B
- Produce vitamin K
- Produce short-chain fatty acids (acetic acid and butyric acid)
- Lowering pH by breaking down bile acids
- Producing anti-microbial compounds (to fight ‘bad’ bacteria)
- Stimulating the immune system
- Help to produce hormones (including serotonin the ‘happy hormone’)
Interestingly, gut bacteria produce most vitamin k. Vitamin K is essential to blood clotting. Babies are born with a ‘sterile’ gut so they have no or limited bacteria. As a result they receive a vitamin k vaccine to prevent a rare but fatal newborn bleeding condition.
The Human Microbiome Project found 500 to 1000 different species of bacteria live in the gut.
The delicate balance of those species of bacteria has huge effects on your health.
One study found obese people had more of one species of bacteria and less of another than healthy individuals. To determine whether the gut bacteria cause obesity or vice versa they ran clinical trials on mice.
Scientists transplanted the gut bacteria of diet induced obese mice into lean mice. Amazingly the lean mice with the transplanted microbes became obese. Even though they had the same diet as before which kept non-transplanted mice, lean and healthy.
According to scientists, gut health is also associated with many other health problems including:
- Food allergies & sensitivities
- Learning disabilities such as autism
- Skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Chronic fatigue
- Psychiatric disorders
Your metabolism, immune system and general health depend on the delicate balance of your microbiome.
Gut health and inflammation
Where do you think your immune system lives?
In your brain? Nervous system? On constant patrol in the circulation system?
Incredibly the majority of your immune system lives in your gut.
Over 70 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive tract. So your gut health and your general health are inseparable.
Why do we need our immune system located in our gut?
Well your body is pretty good at keeping germy invaders out. But every day (several times a day) you send in bacteria, fungus, viruses and toxins.
Through what you eat, drink and even those dirty fingernails you chew discretely in the car.
The gut is no longer just thought of as a permeable tube to absorb food.
Modern science now recognises the gut and gut microbes as an incredibly sophisticated system.
Your immune system is heavily reliant on the bacteria in your gut.
Research shows that the good bacteria interact with both the cells lining the gut wall and the immune system. This interaction helps to balance the immune response and prevent unwanted inflammation.
Scientists are only just beginning to scratch the surface but the links between gut health and inflammation are very clear.
Look after your gut bacteria to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation.
Reduce chronic inflammation to reduce your joint pain.
What is leaky gut?
Although internal – your gut is a barrier between you and the outside world.
The lining of your intestines acts as both barrier and gatekeeper. Your gut lining controls what is absorbed and allowed to pass through.
Maintaining the integrity of this barrier is critical – but your intestinal wall is only one cell thick.
The intestinal cells stand side by side to form a ‘tight junction’.
Nothing is allowed to pass through unless it’s a vitamin, mineral or food particle broken down into its smallest possible size.
Unfortunately the barrier is not bullet proof. The tight junctions can break down, become inflamed and form small holes.
This is known as intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’.
Leaky gut is bad for two reasons:
- The holes in the intestinal barrier allow bacteria, toxins and partially digested food to pass through and circulate round your body
- Your inflamed lining cannot absorb vital nutrients from your food
These foreign invaders in the gut are bad news. 70% of the immune system is located in your gut.
The result? An acute inflammation response in your gut, which may be linked to conditions including:
- Stomach ulcers
- Celiac disease
- Cancer of the colon
The connection between gut health and digestive conditions, such as IBS is obvious.
Gut health and joint pain
Less obvious is the link between gut health and joint pain.
How does leaky gut contribute to inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis?
Leaky gut is believed to cause chronic inflammation by allowing foreign bodies (toxins, bacteria, food particles associated with allergies) to pass through your gut into circulation.
Once in circulation they are deposited in areas including:
- Synovial sheaves (membranes to reduce friction around tendons)
Your immune system recognises the foreign threats in areas like the joints and goes to work.
Your immune system will create antibodies to attack the foreign invaders (bacteria, virus or undigested food). The antibodies bind to the invaders (antigens) and form an immune complex.
With a persistent leaky gut these immune complexes are deposited all over the body. The largest ‘organ’ in your body is your skeletal muscle so large numbers are deposited there.
Once there your immune system sees these immune complexes as another invader. This triggers yet another local inflammatory response.
A cycle leading to chronic inflammation.
Your immune system can even begin to attack your own cells, tissues and organs.
In autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis your immune system starts to attack your healthy tissue. This can lead to painful and crippling chronic inflammation in the area.
Interestingly, a link between inflammation and gut health reveals how joint pain from osteoarthritis isn’t necessarily because of wear and tear. This explains why many obese people develop osteoarthritis in non-weight bearing joints such as the wrist. It points to chronic inflammation.
How do you know if you have leaky gut?
There are several symptoms that may suggest you are suffering from leaky gut:
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Tummy troubles (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation or reflux)
- Auto-immune conditions such as lupus, RA or Celiac disease
- Thyroid problems
- Inflammatory skin conditions (acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea)
- Depression or anxiety
- Difficulty focusing or ADD
- Chronic joint pain or muscle pain
What causes poor gut health and leaky gut?
There are several suspected causes of leaky gut including:
- Genetics – some people may be predisposed to leaky gut because they’re sensitive to environmental factors that ‘trigger’ inflammation in your gut
- Chronic stress – the interplay of stress and gut health is well established. Chronic stress has been linked to numerous conditions including IBS, reflux and leaky gut.
- Toxins – over consuming caffeine, drugs or alcohol can trigger an inflammatory response in your gut. Unfortunately toxins are a fact of modern life. The most likely to cause leaky gut are antibiotics, NSAID (such as ibuprofen) and pesticides on our food.
- Poor diet – the typical Western diet is high in refined sugars, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates and synthetic food additives. All are associated with triggering an inflammatory response. A study of healthy people found after eating a MacDonald’s breakfast their inflammatory markers shot up within minutes. The inflammation lasted for five hours.
- Imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis) – the microbes in your gut support gut lining (epithelial cells) and your immune system. They help to balance the immune response and prevent unwanted inflammation.
5 Steps to Heal Your Gut Health and Joint Pain
We run through a 5-step protocol to heal your gut. (And as we know heal your gut – heal your joint pain!)
- Remove – the foods and factors that damage the gut
- Replace – with anti-inflammatory foods
- Relax – lower your stress levels
- Rebalance – your gut microbes
- Repair – repair the damage to your gut
This gut healing protocol is widely used for a wide variety of ailments and conditions.
It is vital to remove the environmental factors that trigger inflammation.
Top causes of gut damaging toxins are medications such as antibiotics and NSAID (like ibuprofen). Always talk with your doctor before you stop taking anything she has prescribed you.
Common causes include processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, GMO, pesticides and synthetic food additives.
Many people also have intolerances to foods that trigger inflammation. Common ‘healthy’ trigger foods include:
- Gluten – found in wheat and other grains (common in pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits)
- Lactose –found in conventional dairy products
- Lectins – found in high quantities in beans & grains (although sprouting or fermenting can reduce lectin content)
- Nightshade vegetables – including eggplants, tomatoes, capsicums and potatoes)
- FODMAPS – Foods high in short chain carbohydrates (includes dried fruit, onion, garlic, chickpeas)
That list may look very intimidating. It might feel like there is nothing left to eat!!
But don’t worry it is very unlikely you would react to all of the foods listed.
Just as your fingerprint is unique to you – so is your digestive system.
The trick is to identify what foods cause you problems and avoid them.
Pay close attention to what you eat and how you feel afterwards.
Keeping a food diary can be very helpful.
Replace the gut damaging foods with anti-inflammatory foods. For more information on the anti-inflammatory diet check this out.
Recommended foods for gut healing include:
- Bone broth – high in collagen, proliene and glyceine that can help to heal the gut wall. For bone broth recipes click here.
- Cultured dairy – kefir and yoghurt contain probiotics and short chain fatty acids. Ideal for rebalancing gut bacteria
- Fermented vegetables – sauerkraut and kimchi contain probiotics and organic acids. These help to balance your gut pH to support the gut
- Sprouted seeds – chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds have all been sprouted and can be beneficial for bacterial growth
- Omega-3 fats – wild caught oily fish are very high in omega-3 – a proven natural anti-inflammatory. For more on this click here.
- Coconut – coconut water, oil or shredded coconut are high in medium chain fatty acids. They are easier to digest than other fats. This makes them easier on a damaged gut
- Healthy fats – good sources of healthy fats are avocados and eggs both of which promote gut healing
Stress can be incredibly damaging for your gut so relax.
Studies now point to a link between the parasympathetic nervous system and the lining the gut wall. The parasympathetic nervous system activates when you are calm and relaxed. Your parasympathetic nervous system helps to keep the cells lining your gut closely knitted together.
Great ways to relax (and activate your parasympathetic nervous) include:
- Gentle exercise (walking or swimming)
- Proper sleep (7-9 hours)
- Belly breathing
- Meditation – for a free-guided meditation click here
When your gut is damaged your gut bacteria are thrown out of whack.
To restore the growth of beneficial bacteria take a probiotic supplement.
Probiotics with a combination of bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus will help restore a healthy balance, decrease inflammation and promote healthy immune function
Remember no amount of probiotics will restore your gut health if you don’t feed your good bacteria.
Microbes feed on prebiotics. You can take a prebiotic supplement but it’s better to source them from foods such as:
- Green bananas
Several key nutrients have been shown to heal leaky gut and restore the gut lining to healthy working order.
The following nutrients and herbs restore health intestinal function.
- Liquorice root
- Slippery elm
- Marshmallow root
- Okra extract
- Cat’s claw
A leading cause of joint pain is chronic inflammation.
Inflammation, and particularly low-grade chronic inflammation are linked to poor gut health.
Poor gut health and leaky gut can lead to toxins leaching from your digestive system and into your circulation.
These toxins are deposited in joints and muscles causing an inflammatory response.
Occasionally this inflammatory response can prompt the immune system to start attacking your health tissue.
This can cause crippling joint pain, swelling and loss of movement.
You can reduce chronic inflammation by healing your gut health with a simple 5 step protocol.
- Remove– the foods and factors that damage the gut
- Replace– with anti-inflammatory foods
- Relax– lower your stress levels
- Rebalance– your gut microbes
- Repair– repair the damage to your gut
The effects of chronic joint pain can be incredibly debilitating, but you can take steps to heal the root cause – inflammation.
Have you worked on gut health to heal your joint pain?