Arthritis is a painful and potentially debilitating condition that affects millions of Britons. Depending on the type you have it can cause inflammation and difficulty moving. While it is commonly associated with ageing, there are other triggers.
For example, osteoarthritis – the most prevalent form of arthritis – can be the result of an injury.
It can also be linked to family history and other joint issues such as gout.
One expert says your risk of arthritis could also be down to diet and, more specifically, the health of your gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms living in the intestinal tract.
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Mainly made up of bacteria, it plays a role in digesting food as well as absorbing nutrients.
Shireen Kassam, founder and director of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, explained: “An area of active research is the role of the gut microbiome in the development of arthritis.
“People living with arthritis tend to have a less healthy gut microbiome than people without, suggesting our gut health may be important in preventing arthritis.
“A key determinant of gut health is our diet, and it may be that a healthy plant-based diet can restore gut health, thus reducing inflammation and helping to manage symptoms such as pain.
“It is interesting to learn that our gut bacteria can directly communicate with our joints, through the production of chemicals and activation of immune cells.
“Not only is a healthy fibre-rich diet important for the gut microbiome but so is regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, minimising stress and spending time in nature.”
The benefit of a plant-based diet
Mr Kassam suggested that switching to a plant-based diet could not only help the gut microbiome but prevent other diseases.
He said: “People living with arthritis have an increased risk of other chronic conditions, including cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
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“A healthy plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of these conditions by supporting a healthier weight, better blood pressure and lower blood lipid levels.
“In fact, studies have shown that people with the healthiest gut microbiome are eating 30 different types of plants a week.
“It is important to supplement with vitamin B12 if you are eating a 100 percent plant-based diet and with vitamin D if you do not get sufficient sun exposure.”
Experts from the ZOE Health Study suggest eating the following foods to help the gut microbiome:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Probiotic fermented foods – such as natural yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut
It also recommends avoiding ultra-processed foods and sugary foods.
What the research says
One study, published in Nature Reviews Rheumatology in 2021, explored the link between rheumatoid arthritis and microbes in the intestinal tract.
It said: “Data from mouse models of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and investigations into the preclinical stages of disease also support the hypothesis that these alterations to the microbiota predate the onset of disease.
“In addition, several therapeutic options widely used for the treatment of RA are associated with alterations in intestinal microbiota, suggesting that modulation of intestinal microbiota and/or intestinal barrier function might be useful in preventing or treating RA.”