The gut connection to arthritis is a topic I have raised in my book and PBS show, The Road to Perfect Health. In fact, raising the topic of the gut connection to basically everything is what I do. They don’t call me the Diva of Digestion for nothing. Arthritis has a particularly strong gut connection, especially when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that affects about one percent of the world’s population.

Previously, studies have linked alterations in gut flora and increases in gut permeability (also known as leaky gut syndrome) to rheumatoid arthritis, but it was only speculated that the gut imbalance comes first. We can now eliminate doubt that alterations in the gut flora composition are a marker for susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis based on results of a recent study published in the journal PLoS One.

The study used an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis to determine factors that predispose an individual to develop the disease. As it turns out, individuals carrying certain genes linked to rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to harbor gut bacteria that increase inflammation as occurs in this form of arthritis, and those individuals with arthritis-resistant genes harbored gut bacteria that exert a more anti-inflammatory effect.

Specifically, higher amounts of the beneficial Bifidobacterium species were found in those individuals resistant to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, and in those genetically prone to develop the arthritis, Bifidobacterium levels were decreased. Based on these results, it is thought that the gut bacterial composition could be used as a biomarker for the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

More studies will be needed to further elucidate this interesting gut connection, but this study provides yet further evidence that what happens in your gut can affect many different areas of your body seemingly unrelated to the gut. Why not support optimal gut balance in the meantime?