The Surprising Way your Gut Microbiome may be Linked to Joint Pain
Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a couch surfer, your joints carry you through life and as you get older, they can become worn down and inflamed – but does it have to be this way?
A joint is where two bones meet, capped by smooth cartilage; for example, at the knee or the elbow. Joints are either directly connected by connective tissue or cartilage or, more commonly, with a cushion of lubricating fluid. Joints give us the mobility to walk, sit and carry out our daily activities. When these joints are inflamed, the pain and stiffness can make these movements more difficult – or even lead to osteoarthritis in the long term.
Osteoarthritis is more common as we get older, in women, in those with obesity or those with repetitive stress or sports injuries. Arthritis Canada estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians have arthritis, with osteoarthritis being the most common form. Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability and yet, there are few treatments available for the disease1.
It has long been thought that the chronic inflammation that causes joint pain was due to simple wear and tear – but that thought is changing. Instead, it may be that chronic inflammation is causing the destruction of the joints and not the other way around. What may be even more surprising to you is that chronic inflammation in the joints may be mediated by the bacteria in your gut1.
The Gut-Joint Connection
The gut microbiome, when in balance, helps moderate chronic inflammation in the body by working synergistically with the immune system2. The immune system can sense the presence of gut bacteria and secretes substances that shape and feed the bacterial community2. In return, gut bacteria release signaling molecules like short-chain fatty acids that augment the operation of the immune system2.
However, the community of gut bacteria can fall out of balance, known as dysbiosis, when faced with certain medications, stress, inactivity and largely, by diet2. It is thought that our current love of all things high fat, high sugar, low fiber, and hyper-processed leads to the growth of more pro-inflammatory microbes that can trigger an immune shift away from tolerance and repair and towards gut-barrier dysfunction and chronic inflammation1,2. In fact, in one recent study, researchers fed such a diet to rats, inducing obesity and osteoarthritis in order to study if the gut dysbiosis itself was enough to cause inflammation in the joints1.
In fact, it was. Researchers, by feeding prebiotics – a type of fiber that feeds beneficial bacteria – were able to reduce the inflammation and protect the joints of the animals, showing that joint pain was less about wear and tear and more about the body’s ability to maintain immune balance1. This was an early stage trial – and not yet replicated in humans. However, it joins another pilot study that found the delivery of a probiotic appeared to be supportive in reducing cartilage destruction and pain3.
These new studies suggest that while osteoarthritis has not been considered an inflammatory disease, that opinion may change. In fact, increased inflammatory markers can be found in joints with osteoarthritis1,3. And while we wait for the research to advance, we now have a potentially beneficial strategy for supporting joint health in addition to our overall health: living a pro-bacteria lifestyle.
Feed Those Bacteria Well
Taking a clinical strength probiotic, such as Bio-K+, will helps bring the gut microbiome into balance. When lifestyle has created dysbiosis and inflammation is present, probiotic bacteria help by directly competing with more pro-inflammatory bacteria to help re-establish a more balanced bacterial community. However, once those good bacteria are there, you need to feed them well to help them thrive!
Generally speaking, beneficial bacteria feast on plants – or more specifically, all of the non-digestible fibers leftovers from when you eat plants. By eating a diet filled with high fiber plant foods such as vegetables, legumes, and nuts, you will feed your beneficial bacteria a variety of prebiotic fibers that support their growth. Foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, and chicory contain inulin, a well-researched prebiotic fiber; however, there are other substances such as fructose in fruit and resistant starch in bananas that also feed bacteria well.
Our joints help us move through our days with ease – and keeping joints moving means keeping inflammation at bay. Support your gut microbiome with a high fiber, plant-filled diet and a daily probiotic such as Bio-K+.
Do you have any other questions about your gut health? Ask us in comments below. If you are looking to stock up on Bio-K+, head to our store locator. For more information on Bio-K+, probiotics and digestive health, contact us, find us on Facebook and Instagram or join our community.
1. Schott, Eric M., et al. "Targeting the gut microbiome to treat the osteoarthritis of obesity." JCI insight3.8 (2018).
2. Hand, Timothy W et al. “Linking the Microbiota, Chronic Disease, and the Immune System” Trends in endocrinology and metabolism: TEMvol. 27,12 (2016): 831-843.
3. Steves, Claire J., et al. "The microbiome and musculoskeletal conditions of aging: a review of evidence for impact and potential therapeutics." Journal of Bone and Mineral Research31.2 (2016): 261-269.