Did you know that there is a strong connection between joint pain and your gut? If you’re experiencing achy knees, chronic pain or stiff joints, leaky gut may be to blame.
Often, these ills are attributed to the unfortunate effects of aging and maybe we just chalk it up to be arthritis. What if that pain was actually caused by an imbalance from another part of our body?
Did you Know:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may affect as much as 30% of the population. Symptoms typically include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and altered bowels (constipation, diarrhea, loose stools).
- Up to 84% of IBS may be linked to an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines. The good news is that many people can experience relief by following diets that reduce bacterial overgrowth.
- What’s interesting is that when gut health is improved, studies show that it can also improve anxiety and depression. Evidence shows that brain fog and impaired memory can also improve with gut healing.
- What’s more? data also shows that improving gut health can also show an improvement in metabolism.
- Additionally, several studies have uncovered a link between microbes in our gut and other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). People with RA as well as psoriatic arthritis tend to have higher levels of a certain type of bug in their intestines that those without the disease. This research suggests that the connections aren’t just between the gut and arthritis, but any type of inflammation in the body.
- Inflammation in the intestines has been shown to cause insomnia, improving that inflammation can improve sleep!
- Certain skin conditions (pimples, rashes, skin inflammation) have been clinically documented to improve after reducing unwanted bacterial overgrowth.
Importance of the Small Intestine
The small intestine accounts for over 56% of our intestinal tract, nutrients are absorbed here and it is responsible for 90% of caloric absorption. Yep you read that right 90% of the calories you take in are absorbed in the small intestine. Another factor worth noting is that the small intestine has a profound impact on the immune system: the largest mass of immune cells found in our entire body is seen in the small intestines.
So, you can see, it’s kind of a big deal.
It’s important to note that the small intestine’s thin, protective mucous membrane is much more prone to damage (which can result in leaky gut) than the large intestine.
That is why small-intestinal health is impactful on immune and autoimmune conditions.
What Exactly is Leaky Gut?
Think of the gut as a drawbridge. Naturally, the gut is semi-permeable to allow micronutrients (think of them as tiny row boats) pass through the intestinal tract into our bloodstream (this is normal). Certain external factors such as processed foods, infections, toxins and stress can increase intestinal permeability, causing our drawbridge to stay open which allows larger boats to escape into our bloodstream (this is NOT a good thing). Your immune system marks those foreign invaders that were never meant to pass through, such as toxins, as pathogens and begins to attack.
According to a description in the journal, Frontiers in Immunology, leaky gut is described as:
The intestinal epithelial lining, together with factors secreted from it, forms a barrier that separates the host from the environment. In pathologic conditions, the permeability of the epithelial lining may be compromised allowing the passage of toxins, antigens, and bacteria in the lumen to enter the bloodstream creating a ‘leaky gut.’
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Maybe you just tweaked your ankle and have been trying to limp your way through the day with a few Motrin. Perhaps you’ve been taking birth control for years. Or your diet is filled with processed foods. Any of these scenarios can irritate the small intestine leading to leaky gut or intestinal permeability (when the food particles that pass through the intestine “leak” into our bloodstream) which triggers the immune system to go into attack mode and fight the invaders.
This is dangerous.
Leaky gut results in increase in inflammation, this inflammation can lead to joint pain and a host of diseases.
Leaky gut can also be caused by:
- Chronic stress
- Toxin overload (alcohol, antibiotics, pesticides, tap water, aspirin, other drugs)
- Poor diet (inflammatory foods such as added sugars, refined oils, soy, food additives, gluten, dairy, the typical Standard American Diet SAD diet)
- Artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose, neotame)
- Sleep deprivation
- Bacterial imbalance
- Genetic predisposition
In fact, a 2015 review paper, published in the journal Autoimmunity Reviews, shoed that food additives found in processed foods can irritate the gut, lead to leaky gut and subsequently, cause autoimmune disease.
As you can see, many things on that list is IN our control (minus aging and genetics).
How Do I Know If I Have Leaky Gut?
In addition to your joint pain, additional symptoms that may indicate the problem is all in your gut include:
- Inflammatory conditions, arthritis
- Digestive problems (bloating, gas, IBS, gastric ulcers, diarrhea)
- General/seasonal allergies and/or asthma
- Hormonal imbalances (PMS)
- Autoimmune diseases (celiac disease, psoriasis, lupus)
- Chronic fatigue and/or fibromyalgia
- Brain-related symptoms (brain fog, anxiety, moodiness, depression, ADD, ADHD)
- Skin issues (acne, rosacea, eczema)
- Candida overgrowth
- Food allergies and/or intolerances
Create a Healthy Gut Environment for Healthy Bacteria
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Adequate, if not optimal, digestive system function is essential to our health. If you are in pain, try eating to reduce inflammation to create a healthy environment for gut bacteria and improve microbiota/gut flora.
The first thing is to remove all inflammatory triggers (such as stress and food such as gluten, dairy, sugar, etc…sound familiar to our challenge?), replace the good (whole, unprocessed foods that support nutrient absorption), restore a healthy bacteria in your gut (think: high-quality probiotics, prebiotics: non-digestible fiber compounds found in garlic, onions, leeks, raw dandelion greens, curcumin, bone broth).
You must eat to balance blood sugar, and steer clear of food allergens, intolerances, and food additives. Why? As a response to eating food that you’re intolerant to, your immune system will react with inflammation.
How do you know if you’re intolerant to certain foods? Of course you can do a blood test, but the most useful diagnosis is 3-week food exclusion to watch for symptom improvements followed by a gradual food reintroduction to confirm.
One way to try a food exclusion experiment is to follow the Paleo diet, which does a great job of removing common food allergens. In the Paleo diet, you focus on fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, eggs, healthy fats, oils, nuts and seeds. You avoid grains, beans and legumes, processed foods and dairy.
Which Approach is Best for You?
Remember, our gut is the gateway to health.
With nearly 80% of our immune system residing in the gut and 95% of our serotonin produced in the gut, chances are, if our gut is healthy, we will also be healthy.
But this is a journey. These changes won’t take place overnight. A good place to start is with the 3-day elimination diet. But, if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the information above, don’t hesitate to reach out.
You can also set up a free 15-minute consultation to learn more about our one-on-one nutrition health coaching.
More on our Salus Nutrition Coaching Blog:
- Strive for Progress Not Perfection
- Plan Ahead
- Set Real Expectations
- Overcoming Procrastination: Just Do the Dishes Already
- Hangry? We’ve All Been There
- Taking Control of Cravings and Temptation
- Personal Improvement
- Changing Habits
- Mindful Eating
- Control Stress Before It Controls You
- Macronutrients for Energy Balance
- Importance of Staying Hydrated
- Eating Out and Staying In Control