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Monday, May 11, 2015

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most serious and debilitating forms of arthritis, causing painful, swollen joints and deterioration. Although we don't know the exact cause of the disease, many scientists now suspect that the microbiome, or mass of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract (aka... your gut), is to blame.

Several current studies have uncovered an important link between gut microbes and autoimmune diseases where the body's immune system attacks its own tissue, such as with rheumatoid arthritis. Immune cells in the intestines, where most of the body's immune cells reside, are prone to activating inflammatory cells throughout the body, including those that affect joints.

Recent research, specifically from New York University, suggests that rheumatoid arthritis patients are more likely to harbor a harmful bug (Prevotella copri) in their intestines than those not suffering from the disease.

The rate of these autoimmune diseases has risen significantly over the past several years. Many scientists attribute this to changes in our bacterial ecosystem. Modified diets, excessive antibiotic use, and decreased contact with animal and plant sources naturally packed with microbes have all altered the state of our body's native bacteria.

The result is a microbiome with an improper ratio of good and bad bugs. This imbalance in the delicate immune system can cause immune cells to attack not only bacteria, but the body itself.

Research indicates that promising future arthritis treatments may focus more on adjusting the microbiome through diet. Following a Mediterranean diet (plenty of fish, olive oil, and vegetables, and low in meat and saturated fat) has often proven helpful to rheumatoid arthritis patients. Additional studies from Finland have also discovered that a vegan diet can change the gut microbiome leading to an improvement in arthritic symptoms.

(Adapted from The Atlantic)

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