Recent studies link gut bacteria to RA development and severity
Have you ever stumbled upon information connecting bacteria in your intestines to Rheumatoid Arthritis? New research shows that there is indeed a link between gut bacteria and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
For many years, researchers have floated the idea that bacteria in our intestines play a role in the development and severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). However, what has remained unclear is the specific way that bacteria impact the disease and if it is possible to exploit this for treatment purposes. There are now more answers from recent research, and Elsa will share them with you.
Why are there bacteria in our gut to begin with?
It is a fact that bacteria, and indeed many other micro-organisms naturally reside in our intestines. These organisms, together with their complex interactions with one another, constitute the gut microbiome.
Many of these organisms are beneficial to us, and in some cases, even necessary for healthy living. There are certain classes of bacteria that are essential for many bodily functions like digestion and some even help us to fight off other harmful micro-organisms. However, there are also particular bacterial groups that can be harmful.
For optimum gut health, your gut microbiome must have diverse populations of beneficial bacteria that are proportionately distributed. (1)
What then, is the relationship between your gut microbiome and Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Researchers have proposed a number of ways through which the gut microbiome can impact RA. Let us explore the two most important perspectives – the disease causation and prognostic perspectives.
Disease causation perspective
So, does the gut biome even have a role to play in the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis? It seems so. According to a recent study at University College London, people with RA typically have high(er) levels of certain chemicals in their blood that indicate damage to the intestinal wall.
Our intestinal wall, amongst other things, normally serves as a barrier that prevents the passage of gut bacteria into the bloodstream. When intestinal wall damage occurs, bacteria are then able to escape into the bloodstream, contributing to inflammation and arthritis.
It is not entirely clear yet how gut bacteria cause inflammation, nevertheless, experiments in mice models show that strengthening the intestinal wall helps to reduce the severity of RA symptoms. (2)
Another study at Harvard Medical School established a link between a certain bacteria class, Prevotella copri, and RA. The study found that 75% of people with early, untreated RA had an abundance of this bacteria in their gut compared with only 12% with longstanding RA under treatment.
Conversely, a different strain of this bacterium, Prevotella histicola, has been linked to a reduction in disease symptoms and progression in mice models. (1)
Through research conducted at US-based Mayo Clinic, we know now that the state of the gut microbiome can help to predict the prognosis of RA. What does this mean in simple terms?
We can potentially study the profile of gut microbiome populations in order to recognize individuals at a higher risk of developing severe RA. The Mayo Clinic studied stool samples from people with later stage RA over a 6–12-month period. At the same time, reduction in their disease symptoms, or lack thereof, was also tracked.
Two key differences were identified in the gut microbiome of people who improved and those who did not. Firstly, there was greater diversity in the gut microbiome of people who had improved. Secondly, certain classes of bacteria were observed to be associated with a reduction of RA symptoms. (2)
What does this all mean for the future of RA treatment?
The strong link between the gut microbiome and RA is an important element that can be exploited in the continued search for more innovative ways of tackling the disease:
By profiling gut microbiome populations and activities, clinicians can identify those at the highest risk of developing severe disease and commence early treatment, which helps to improve outcomes.
Your gut microbiome can be modified to reflect the ideal gut environment that helps fight inflammation and reduce disease severity.
Treatment strategies can potentially be developed based on the approach of strengthening intestinal wall integrity and preventing gut microbiome organisms from escaping into the blood.
Although there are still many grey areas in the relationship between the gut microbiome and RA, what is clear is that the microbiome and intestinal wall are potential treatment targets.
What can you currently do to improve gut microbiome strength?
Improving the overall health of your gut microbiome can help to reduce RA severity. So, how can you do this? The most obvious way is probably by modifying your diet.
Modifying the gut microbiome through diet can be challenging, but experts agree that diets that foster the growth of diverse and beneficial bacteria are key. Some of those include:
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and pickled items. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics published a statement last year recommending fermented foods for RA patients as they generate probiotic bacteria that improve gut microbiome health.
Dairy, high fiber foods—think fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in omega-3 such as salmon, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed. (2)
By also keeping up with research, you can discover more ways of strengthening your gut microbiome.