Can Taking a Prebiotic Prevent Osteoarthritis?
Doctors have long believed that arthritis in obese people is due to the increased wear and tear put on joints by the extra pounds. However, according to a new study, the bacterial community in the gut, governed by diet, is the actual cause. The researchers found that obese mice had more harmful bacterial strains in their intestinal tract compared to lean mice. These unhealthful microbes produced inflammation throughout the body, which hastened joint degeneration.
Along with this bad news, the scientists also made a positive discovery. Although a prebiotic supplement didn’t help the obese mice lose weight, it prevented the accompanying damage to their guts and joints, which made these parts of the body look like those of the lean mice.
Like many Americans, as much as you may have come to accept the inevitability of getting older, you probably don’t like noticing signs of aging such as wrinkles, vision loss, aching joints, fatigue and more.
But what most people — doctors included — don’t realize is these seemingly innocuous symptoms stem from a simple hidden cause that can easily be corrected.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that serves as food for beneficial gut bacteria. Some top food sources include onions and unripe bananas. They are not to be confused with probiotics, the live beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and fermented foods.
High-Fat Diet Can Change Gut Microbiome and Increase Inflammation
In the study at the University of Rochester Medical Center, mice were fed a high-fat diet to simulate the effect of consuming a cheeseburger and milkshake. After 12 weeks of this eating plan, the mice developed obesity and diabetes. Their body fat nearly doubled compared to mice that were fed a healthy diet. In addition, their colons were dominated by pro-inflammatory bacterial strains and were almost completely devoid of beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, a common microbe added to yogurt.
These detrimental changes in the gut were accompanied by widespread inflammation that included the knees. Osteoarthritis was induced via a meniscal tear, a common injury known to cause the condition. Compared to the lean mice, the osteoarthritis advanced much more rapidly in the obese mice, with most of their cartilage eroding within 12 weeks of the tear.
“Cartilage is both a cushion and lubricant, supporting friction-free joint movements,” said lead author Michael Zuscik, Ph.D., associate professor of Orthopedics in the Center for Musculoskeletal Research. “When you lose that, it’s bone on bone, rock on rock. It’s the end of the line and you have to replace the whole joint. Preventing that from happening is what we, as osteoarthritis researchers, strive to do — to keep that cartilage.”
Taking a Prebiotic Found to Offset Osteoarthritis
When a prebiotic called oligofructose was given with the high-fat diet, the response in the obese mice was quite remarkable. The harmful gut bacteria, inflammation and osteoarthritis associated with obesity were completely prevented. Moreover, the knee cartilage of the obese mice was completely intact, looking identical to that of lean mice.
While prebiotics like oligofructose can’t be digested by humans and rodents, they can be digested by healthful bacterial strains like Bifidobacteria. In fact, the prebiotic was so nourishing to these microbes that they multiplied and took over the guts of the obese mice, which reduced numbers of the pro-inflammatory bacteria. Consequently, systemic inflammation decreased and cartilage breakdown advanced much more slowly in the osteoarthritis knees of the mice.
On top of these benefits, the oligofructose lessened the severity of the mice’s diabetes. Conversely, their weight was unaffected by the supplement. Nevertheless, even though the mice continued to be obese, their joints were healthier. The protection from inflammation prevented their joint cartilage from deteriorating. Thus, it is the inflammation associated with obesity rather than the increased load on joints that drives osteoarthritis.
“That reinforces the idea that osteoarthritis is another secondary complication of obesity — just like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, which all have inflammation as part of their cause,” said researcher Robert Mooney, Ph.D., professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “Perhaps, they all share a similar root, and the microbiome might be that common root.”
The researchers hope to test the prebiotic on veterans suffering from osteoarthritis to determine if it has similar effects on humans. In an interview with Live in the Now, Zuscik said that if the future study is equally promising, it’s possible that taking a prebiotic supplement could lessen the severity, slow the advancement or even prevent the onset of osteoarthritis. These benefits would be of enormous value to the hordes of people who either have the condition or are at risk of it.
Osteoarthritis affects 31 million in the U.S., where it’s the leading cause of disability. Nearly one-third of people with obesity also have the degenerative joint disease.
The study was published in JCI Insight.
Earlier Studies Show Link Between Gut Health and Arthritis
The concept of treating arthritis through improving gut health has intrigued others in the research community in recent years. Although the new study dealt with prebiotics, an earlier study explored the effect of probiotics on the condition. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research discovered that Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus acidophilus, two common strains found in yogurt, alleviated joint inflammation better than the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin.
Moreover, the Arthritis Foundation reports on the opinion of Jose Scher, M.D., a rheumatologist at New York University Langone Medical Center who has studied the connection between intestinal microbes and arthritis. He believes the best way to improve the microbiome is through diet. He said research shows people who have adopted the Mediterranean diet or vegan diet have developed a healthier gut, which resulted in a reduction in arthritis symptoms.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.