Is the Development of Rheumatoid Arthritis Linked to Gut Microbes?
Is the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis linked to gut microbes? A new study suggests that there is a connection between this autoimmune illness and the gut.
Understanding the Details of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common autoimmune and inflammatory condition that affects over 1.3 million people in the U.S. alone. The condition most often affects the tissues of the joints, including the wrists, hands and knees. These joints become inflamed and swollen as a result of the immune system erroneously attacking its own tissues.
In addition to the chronic pain that often accompanies a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, the condition can also lead to a lack of balance as well as physical deformities. Rheumatoid arthritis can also impact the body's organs, triggering a host of new health issues in the lungs and the heart. For example, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis are also at an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Symptoms and Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can come and go in flare-ups, making it more difficult to diagnose the condition. The most telltale sign of this type of arthritis includes pain or aching that affects more than one joint. Some sufferers also report feeling tenderness, swelling or stiffness in multiple joints. Note that these symptoms in just one joint could be an issue specific to that area of the body and does not necessarily indicate a full-blown rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. Other less obvious symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, weakness and fever.
Scientists have homed in on a number of genetic and environmental factors that raise the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, while the condition can be triggered at any age, it is most likely to occur in older adults aged 60 and over. Women are also two to three times more likely to develop the condition when compared to men.
Researchers have isolated specific genetic traits that increase the risk of disease onset. These risks may be exacerbated when the individual is exposed to certain environmental and lifestyle factors. These factors include smoking, poor diet, obesity or growing up in a lower income household. Women who do not give birth or breastfeed over their lifetime are also at a higher risk of getting a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
Research Indicates Rheumatoid Arthritis Linked to Gut Microbes
Smoking, obesity and unlucky genetics are not the only factors that can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies have found that an unhealthy balance of microorganisms residing in the gut may influence the odds of developing this condition.
For instance, two separate studies found that the presence of Prevotella copri in the intestines translated to higher rates of the disease. The studies found greater amounts of the Prevotella species in the intestines of people who were recently diagnosed or before they developed the disease.
Scientists hypothesize that some species of this bacteria provoke an immune response as they attach to the lining of the gut and escape into the body's bloodstream. This immune response may pair with the bacteria working its way into the joints and triggering the onset of the disease. As such, researchers believe that the Prevotella copri bacterium not only leads to a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis onset but it may also cause higher levels of joint inflammation later down the road.
How to Maintain a Healthy Gut Microbiome
In addition to slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, individuals with an unbalanced gut microbiome may be at a greater risk of developing obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Fortunately, there are a variety of things that you can do to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Here are a few of the top recommended actions.
Boost Your Fiber Intake
Fiber is instrumental in the body's ability to move food through the gut. Eating the recommended amount of fiber each day will keep the gut firing at optimal levels. Most health experts recommend 25 grams of fiber for women and 35 grams for men each day.
Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables and Fermented Foods
In addition to taking in plenty of fiber, you can also boost the health of your gut by making fruits and vegetables the cornerstone of your diet. Lastly, fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt and kombucha can increase good bacteria while decreasing its bad counterparts.
Be Mindful of Medications
While there is certainly a place for prescribed medications in your health routine, antibiotics and some over-the-counter acid-reducing treatments have been shown to kill the good bacteria that live in the gut. This is why the long-term use of these medications is not a good idea.
A smart supplement routine can go a long way in providing an extra layer of insurance if your diet is not up to par. You will want to lean on a targeted prebiotic and probiotic supplement regimen to protect your gut health.
You do not have to resign yourself to developing rheumatoid arthritis as you get older. Understanding the risk factors and taking steps to mitigate the odds of developing this condition is a smart health decision.