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Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Interplay Between Food, the Gut, and the Immune System

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May 13, 2021

Over 1.5 million adults in the US have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and that number is growing.

RA is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. In the case of RA, the immune system targets the joints leading to inflammation and damage. As a result, it is common for people with RA to experience pain, tenderness, and stiffness in their joints. The hand, wrist, and knee joints are especially vulnerable.

While the cause of RA can vary, what we eat plays a critical role in how RA is either allowed to progress or stopped in its tracks.

The Role of the Gut in Immune Response

Our diets impact how our gut functions. In addition, our gut has a unique role in the immune system. Therefore, the interplay between what we eat, our gut function, and our immune system is a key component of RA treatment.

Everyone’s digestive tract contains a variety of bacteria. This is normal, and it’s a good thing when properly balanced.

Some of the bacteria work with the body to promote optimal health, while others do not. For example, healthy gut bacteria are a vital player in the body’s immune response. They act as “gatekeepers” in the intestines and also prevent the growth of less healthy bacterial strains.

One common pathway by which RA is triggered is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is a disturbance in the normal balance of beneficial bacteria, predominantly in the gut. This imbalance creates a foothold for unhealthy bacteria to move in.

People with RA often have an overgrowth of bacteria in their digestive tract. Unfortunately, this overgrowth of bacteria crowds out beneficial bacteria that would typically perform protective functions in the intestines. When this protection is lost, the immune system no longer functions optimally.

A poorly functioning immune system can result in an autoimmune reaction, causing the inflammation and pain of RA.

The Diet Connection

The bacterial balance in the digestive tract is highly sensitive to what you eat. A diet high in sugar, processed food, unhealthy fats, and simple carbohydrates contributes to dysbiosis.

The standard American diet is the perfect example of the type of eating pattern likely to disrupt the bacteria in the gut and cause inflammation.

Almost 60% of the standard American diet is made up of ultra-processed food. These kinds of foods contain additives and other components that encourage the overgrowth of bacteria. They are also low in the fiber and nutrients required for a healthy gut.

When your diet negatively affects gut bacteria, this can trigger autoimmune conditions such as RA.

Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Healthy Joints

Your gut bacteria and, by extension, your immune system depend on a healthy balance of nutrients for optimal health.

This is good news because how you eat can be changed for the better. Diets high in anti-inflammatory foods and low in sugar and ultra-processed foods have been shown to reduce the activity of RA in the body. The right balance of nutrients in the diet will decrease inflammation and allow healthy bacteria to thrive.

The goal of RA treatment is not just to manage pain and stiffness in the joints. Instead, the goal is to return the immune response to normal and halt damage to the joints.

Because of the critical role diet plays in bacterial balance, it is a key area of focus in the holistic treatment of RA.

If you are interested in tackling your RA with proven natural methods, contact us using the form below!

Yours in Health,

Ian Hollaman DC, MSc, IFMCP

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