Heal your joints by fixing your gut

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

The source of most types of arthritis is an unhealthy gut. By healing leaky gut and correcting an imbalance in gut bugs, joint pain can be resolved or significantly improved.

Joint pain is one of the most common conditions in people over the age of 50. In mild cases, joints can feel stiff and achy first thing in the morning, but as the day progresses these symptoms improve. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in older individuals. It is more prevalent in overweight people and tends to occur in the larger joints of the body such as the hips and knees.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a potentially more serious condition. It can occur at any age (even childhood), and can affect large joints, as well as small joints (fingers and toes). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system produces antibodies and inflammatory chemicals that attack the joints. If the immune system isn’t stopped, the joint damage can become so severe that a joint replacement is required.

Osteoarthritis is traditionally thought to be caused by age related wear and tear to the joints, but new research shows there is an immune component in this type of arthritis as well. It is more common in overweight individuals, not only because their higher body weight places strain on their joints. Being overweight is associated with a higher number of unhealthy gut bugs, which can inflame the gut lining, creating leaky gut. Also, fat cells secrete inflammatory chemicals that travel to the joints, damaging them.

There are a number of different anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs used for arthritis, but they can be ineffective at best, and lead to harmful side effects. Some arthritis medication raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and some can cause digestive problems, such as stomach ulcers. Paracetamol is commonly used for joint pain, and many doctors recommend it be used every day for the rest of your life. That’s a potential health disaster because paracetamol can cause serious harm to your liver. The other problem is it reduces your body’s production of glutathione, which is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent. So over time, arthritis can get worse.

You have a lot of control over whether or not you will develop arthritis, and how severe the arthritis may be. The food you choose to eat or choose to avoid can make an enormous difference.

If your joints are sore, you need to look at what’s happening in your gut

When the immune system is responsible for creating joint pain, the body begins attacking the joints, mistaking them as foreign invaders. The immune cells attack the thin membrane surrounding joints, which allows fluid and immune complexes to build up in the joints. This can cause significant pain. Normally the immune complexes filter out of your blood and are cleared by your liver, but when there is a build-up, they can settle in various joints of your body and cause inflammation and tissue damage.

Treat the root cause of joint pain by doing the following:

Remove gluten from your diet

Gluten can irritate your gut lining and create a leaky gut.  Once your gut is leaky, gluten can get into your bloodstream and over stimulate your immune system. The protein building blocks of gluten share a similar molecular structure to the building blocks of several tissues in your body. This means your immune system can get confused and accidentally attack your joints. This process is called molecular mimicry and is a leading cause of autoimmune disease. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and many foods that contain these grains.

Heal leaky gut

In order to absorb the nutrients from your food, your gut is selectively permeable to very small molecules. Many factors including, gluten, parasitic infections, medications and stress can damage the gut, allowing much larger molecules, including toxins, microbes and undigested food particles directly into your bloodstream. Leaky gut is how these foreign molecules cause systemic inflammation that creates autoimmunity.  You must heal your gut before you can heal your joints. This process involves removing gluten, dairy products and sugar from your diet. You may need to eliminate other foods if you have a food intolerance or allergy. Glutamine is wonderfully healing to the gut lining and I recommend all my patients with joint pain take a glutamine supplement.

Resolve chronic infections

Recent research has uncovered a strong connection between an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes bad gut bugs can persist despite following a healthy diet and lifestyle. Many patients who have an overgrowth of bad gut bugs don’t actually have any digestive symptoms. Their gut feels fine, yet we discover major problems with their gut bugs when they have a faecal microbial analysis. There are specific herbal remedies as well as prescription antibiotics that can correct the imbalance. It is then important to repopulate the gut with healthy probiotics.

In addition to bacteria, viral infections such as the Epstein Barr virus can be a trigger of autoimmune arthritis, as well as other autoimmune conditions. Often the antibodies seeking out the virus mistakenly attack joint tissue, through the process called molecular mimicry. This allows fluid and immune complexes to build up in the joints, creating pain and inflammation.

Try eliminating nightshade vegetables

Vegetables in the nightshade family include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers (capsicum and chilli) and potatoes. Sweet potatoes are in a different botanical family and are okay to eat. The botanical name of this group of plants is solanaceae and they contain an alkaloid called solanine. For a large percentage of arthritis sufferers, this natural compound greatly worsens arthritis pain. Try eliminating this group of foods from your diet for a month to see if you obtain relief.

Reduce sugar

Sugar raises inflammation in every single part of your body. It increases inflammation in your arteries, making you more prone to atherosclerosis and it stimulates your immune cells to secrete inflammatory chemicals, increasing the risk of cancer, depression, anxiety and many other conditions. Different people have a different sensitivity level to sugar. Some people experience increased pain and stiffness after one slice of birthday cake, whereas other people only become symptomatic if they eat sugar several times per week. Try cutting it out to see what effect it has on you. Nature Sweet is an entirely natural sugar substitute you can use.

Correct nutrient deficiencies

If you have joint pain, there is a very good chance your gut is not entirely healthy. This means your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients will be impaired. You are probably not getting adequate nutrients required to rebuild collagen and repair your joints from the chronic damage inflicted by your immune cells. MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane) is a natural type of sulphur, which your body requires for connective tissue repair and collagen production. MSM, vitamin C, silica, biotin and zinc are combined in Collagen Food powder, and can help to support healthy joints.

There is much more information about joint pain and healing the gut in our book Healing Autoimmune Disease: A plan to help your immune system and reduce inflammation.