Could probiotics be the missing link to supporting healthy joints?

14 March 2016  |  Editor

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Probiotics: the missing link in healthy joint support?

Did you know that nearly 10 million people visit their GP for joint related conditions each year? The majority of people consult with osteoarthritis but other common joint conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, back and neck pain. This problem is growing, in part due to rising obesity levels and an ageing population in the UK. Reports suggest that this adds up to annual UK costs of:

  • 206 million working days lost in UK = £18 billion loss of production
  • £5.5 billion estimated direct cost to NHS and social services
  • £341 million joint related prescriptions per year
  • £405 million hip and knee replacement surgery

So what can be done about tackling this area of our health? Well there are the ‘quick-fix’ pharmaceutical painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications on the market. There is no doubt that many of these medications are effective for short-term pain relief. However long term side effects such as gastric bleeding, increased risk of stroke and irregular heart beats from seemingly innocuous painkiller medications such as ibuprofen may make you want to think twice about not addressing the root causes of joint pain.

A more natural approach to supporting joint health is to take a good quality joint supplement containing architectural nutrients such as glucosamine.  Couple this with a naturopathic diet rich in alkalising foods such as vegetables and sprouted grains gives all round natural support for joint and overall health. However have you ever considered your gut microbiome may also play a key role in joint aches and pains?

Many joint problems stem from bad diets, poor digestion, and faulty intestinal function. There are many clear disease examples under the influence of gut–joint axis including arthritic conditions and joint pain such as rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthropathies, reactive arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease–related arthritis.

So how does the gut influence our joint health and how can we support this area to tackle aches and pains? There are several areas of gut support to consider such as gastric acid, digestive enzymes and maintaining integrity of bowel lining to avoid leaky gut syndrome. Unfortunately, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can exacerbate leaky gut syndrome by damaging the gut lining, perpetuating a whole host of potential symptoms including chronic pain in joints and soft tissues.

Overgrowth of harmful bacteria throughout the small intestines (small intestinal bowel overgrowth; SIBO) and colon (dysbiosis) is also a common denominator for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and should always be addressed when these conditions/symptoms present. One study suggests SIBO is very common in the elderly (where increased inflammatory joint conditions such as osteoarthritis are prevalent) and in more than 15% of so-called normal “healthy” populations (Ahmed, 2010). Overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria or presence of gut bacteria in the wrong part of the digestive tract lead to hyper-stimulation of the immune system creating inflammatory cascades that contributes to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. A recent study in Nature Medicine underlines the importance of gut microbiota as crucial factors in regulating immune function (Kuchroo, 2012).

Excess fermentation from dysbiosis also increases the systemic toxic load placing a strain on our detoxification systems. We have recently reported how optimum detoxification is required to support health so an extra strain on these systems is only likely to impact our joint health. Further information on supporting detoxification systems can be found in our Detoxification newsletter. There’s also the importance of our bowel bacteria in increasing absorption of vital minerals and nutrients such as magnesium and phytonutrients. So gut dysbiosis appears to have both direct and indirect ways of influencing our joint health.

So how can you support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria? Diet plays a key role in both reducing levels of harmful bacteria by depriving them of ‘food’, e.g. reducing refined sugars, and also supporting growth of beneficial bacteria through consuming foods containing prebiotics. However a good quality, scientifically validated probiotic supplement can also play a key role in addressing gut dysbiosis and SIBO thus reducing immune system activation and toxic load throughout the body. Not all probiotic supplements are equal so for the most effective you need to ensure the strains used are scientifically validated, can survive the harsh conditions of the digestive tract and can implant and multiply into different strain populations to support beneficial bacteria growth.

So it seems that addressing and supporting gut bacteria through a naturopathic diet and good quality probiotic supplements provides a more naturopathic approach to joint care (and overall health) in conjunction to supporting joints with architectural nutrients.