HomeHealthAre the bacteria in your gut causing your rheumatoid arthritis?

Are the bacteria in your gut causing your rheumatoid arthritis?

The many bacteria in your gut do mostly good things. However, research reveals that one of them might trigger rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the research, the suspected culprit is known by the exotic-sounding name of Prevotella copri, (P. copri). There is growing evidence that it plays a role in the onset of the debilitating condition.

Led by corresponding author Jennifer Seifert, of the University of Colorado, the latest research builds on previous studies that have pointed the finger at P. copri.

A 2013 study found that a much larger proportion of people with recently diagnosed, untreated rheumatoid arthritis had P. copri in their intestines, compared with those of healthy controls.

Read: Five myths about rheumatoid arthritis 

Then, in 2019, a further study found that those at risk of rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to have higher levels of Prevotella species in their gut than those who aren’t.

The new study takes a deeper dive into P. copri, searching for antibodies that specifically target one of the bacterium’s proteins, called p27, which is known to provoke immune responses.

Comparing 98 patients with established rheumatoid arthritis (along with 67 people at high risk) with equal numbers of matched, healthy controls, they found that those people with rheumatoid arthritis had higher levels of two types of antibody, known as IgA and IgG, that targeted the p27 protein.

Read: Can supplements or diet reduce symptoms of arthritis?

Interestingly, they were able to identify that the two different types were present at two different stages of the onset of the condition.

Those who were at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and those who had it in its earliest stages (a diagnosis within the previous year) had overall higher levels of IgG against the protein. However, those patients with established rheumatoid arthritis had significantly increased levels of IgA targeted at the protein.

Ms Seifert and her team suspect that the bacterium might play a part in provoking the early onset of rheumatoid arthritis. It may also later cause inflammation in the joints.

The mechanism by which this might happen is not yet known, but the researchers do have their suspicions.

They speculate that some species of Prevotella, and in particular P. copri, might bind to the mucous lining of the gut, then escape into the bloodstream where they provoke an immune response.

The bacteria may also invade the joints and play a role in immune reactions there.

Read: How the Mediterranean diet can save your health and the planet

While P. Copri appears to be the ‘bad guy’ here, it does also have a reputation for doing good things within your gut.

It helps to digest dietary fibre and is also linked to other health benefits such as reduced visceral fat and improved glucose metabolism.

On the other hand, previous research also suggests it has a link with high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

The new research highlights the complexity of the relationship between your gut microbiota and your health. It plays a vital role in the regulation of inflammation but may cause autoimmune disease when it’s ‘out of kilter’.

A healthy Mediterranean style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, along with some fish, remains the recommended way of keep your gut in good shape, minimising your chances of inflammation.

Have you been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis? What have you found helps relieve the symptoms? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


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