Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the deterioration of cartilage, which causes inflammation and joint pain.
Even though researchers have pinpointed a few risk factors that can trigger this health problem, experts are still not certain of the direct cause of this disease.
In the search for an exact cause, a group of researchers has focused on a potential culprit that until now had never been taken into account: the bacteria that live in our intestines.
Recent studies have determined that bacteria in the intestines can cause joint pain, including the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Moreover, they’re related to diseases that alter the functioning of the immune system, leading to other chronic problems.
Bacteria in the intestines, one cause of joint pain
In a 2013 study, Dr. José Scher, a rheumatologist at the New York University, found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to have a bacteria in their intestines called Prevotella copri than those not suffering from the disease.
In another study published in October of the same year, Scher found that those with psoriatic arthritis have lower levels of important bacteria in their intestines.
These studies are part of an effort by scientists around the world to understand and explain the role that the microbiome (the mass of microbes living in the gastrointestinal tract) plays in overall health.
It’s thought that the intestinal flora is composed of over 1,000 different species of bacteria that together weigh between 2 and 6 pounds. In recent years, researchers have been trying to prove that these organisms have a lot to do with human health; some trigger illness while others protect the body.
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Bacteria in the intestines affect the immune system
Veena Taneja, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, affirms that “it’s becoming clearer with each study that these microbes can affect the immune system, and contribute to diseases beyond the intestines. Joint pain is linked to bacteria in the intestines.”
Researchers were surprised by the findings that intestinal bacteria influence the immune system much more than previously thought.
In recent decades, cases of autoimmune disorders have increased and many microbiomes researchers are convinced that modern lifestyle and the changes it has caused to the microbiome ecosytstem are at least partly responsible for this problem.
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Prevotella copri bacteria could be responsible for joint pain
These microbes influence the health of the intestines, where two-thirds of the body’s immune cells are located. During digestion, the gastrointestinal tract must contend with a constant influx of foreign microbes that are taken in along with food and drink.
To do their job, the intestines have developed an extensive immune system, which extends to other organs beyond the intestines. The immune cells that live in the intestine possess the ability to activate inflammatory cells across the entire body, including those in the joints.
According to the expert, José Scher, Prevotella copri bacteria can cause an immune reaction that later spreads to other tissues causing pain in the joints. Another theory is the beneficial microbes become displaced, weakening the immune system.
The latest theory is one of the most supported, as a study revealed that patients with high levels of Prevotella copri had reduced levels of Bacteroides fragilis, which is a beneficial bacteria that supports the immune system.
The results of these studies have given rise to new studies to create strategies to use bacteria as a treatment for immune diseases.
In fact, health experts are already recommending probiotics (good bacteria) to restore the intestinal flora and treat health problems like acne, insomnia, and other problems that have been linked to the health of the intestines.