The role of ageing in gut health and osteoarthritis

by | Nov 12, 2023 | arthritis and gout, gut health and digestion, healthy ageing

Osteoarthritis is a progressive and degenerative joint disease. It causes a great deal of pain and disability for millions of people. It commonly affects older people and we used to think it was caused by wear and tear. But, scientists now think there might be other causes. One such cause involves a link between gut health and osteoarthritis. I will explain how.

We do know that it is a chronic inflammatory disease. All conditions ending -itis are inflammatory. But it does not bear all the usual signs of inflammation. These are redness, swelling, heat and pain. And, while the joints can be painful and swollen, they are not usually hot or red.

What has age got to do with it?

Chronic joint inflammation destroys the joint cartilage. This is the durable, smooth substance covering the surfaces of bones in joints. It allows the joints to move freely. Inflammation makes cartilage weaker and less smooth. Over time inflammation wears away the cartilage exposing the underlying bone surface. Without their protective layer, the bones can rub together. The resulting friction causes a lot of pain and stiffness.

With ageing, cartilage naturally becomes thinner and weaker. So, it is more vulnerable. Which explains why older people are more likely to develop arthritis.

Wear and tear arthritis

The wear and tear theory might explain why weight-bearing joints such as the hips or knees can develop arthritis. But, it doesn’t explain all osteoarthritis.  For example, arthritis of the small joints of the fingers, and the base of the thumb. These small joints don’t usually have the same workload as the bigger joints. So, why are these joints commonly arthritic?

Gut health and osteoarthritis

One theory is that other changes with age may be to blame. For instance, older people have different gut microbiota compared to younger folk. Scientists now think that these changes in gut bacteria may lead to a decline in health. Could bacteria be the link between gut health and osteoarthritis?

It turns out that certain species of bacteria carry a toxin called lipopolysaccharide, or LPS. When these bacteria die they release this toxin and it is absorbed into the bloodstream. This can activate the immune system, causing a widespread but low level of inflammation in the body. And this low level, chronic inflammation can cause untold damage.

Studies confirm a link between LPS levels and chronic diseases. For instance, LPS may play a role in type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. All of which have an inflammatory component. Scientists believe that LPS might also have a role in osteoarthritis.

If LPS is a factor, knowing this provides an opportunity to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. It is possible that altering gut bacteria may provide a way to prevent or treat osteoarthritis. For instance by reducing levels of bacteria that carry LPS.

There are plenty of natural ways to do this. We need to increase the good bacteria and reduce the bad bacteria. Good ways to do this include eating a high-fibre diet and doing regular exercise.


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