Rheumatoid Arthritis and Leaky Gut Connection


In the US, over 1.5 million people are affected by rheumatoid arthritis.  Doctor-diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the leading causes of disability in the US, and has been for years.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system, which normally should combat foreign substances like germs and viruses, starts attacking healthy tissue around the joints.  This causes inflammation, and when the insides of the joints are inflammed it casuses pain, swelling, stiffness, and eventually permanent joint damage.

Rheumatoid Arthritis has the following symptoms:

  • Stiffness of joints (joints are difficult to move, especially in the mornings).
  • Inflammation of the joints as joints fill with more fluid due to inflammation.
  • Soreness of the joints, inflammation causes the joint to be tender, and long-term inflammation causes permanent pain.
  • Redness and warmth of the joints.
  • Bilateral joints (the joints on each side) are affected, rather than only one side.
  • Fatigue
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis nodules (bumps under the skin, typically around the elbows)
  • Long-term RA can affect the lungs, heart, and other body parts due to increased inflammation.

What are conventional treatments for rheumatoid arthritis?

Because long-term inflammation of the joints leads to permanent damage, the goal with conventional medicine is to slow progression of rheumatoid arthritis by treating inflammation.  Exercise, physical therapy, and once advanced, surgery, are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in addition to medications.

Common rheumatoid arthritis medications include:

  • OTC NSAIDs like ibuprofen and Naproxen.  These medications are nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, and reduce inflammation. Their side effects include increased blood pressure, stomach irritation, ulcers, and stomach bleeding in extreme cases. They are one of the first medications used for RA, and the risks and benefits are evaluated by the treating doctors.
  • Prescription NSAIDs are stronger medications prescribed by doctors, again, after weighing the risks and benefits.  They also have side effects as the NSAIDS above, and also increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • DMARDs are Disease Modifying AntiRhumatic Drugs such as methotrexate, Plaquenil, Arava, and Azulfidine.  They are used to slow or stop the progression of rheumatoid arthritis by suppressing the immune system.  Side effects include infection, as the immune system has been suppressed.
  • Biologics are used if the above hasn’t provided enough help to slow or stop the progression of RA.  Biologics target the immune system, again, attempting to stop the immune system from attacking the joints. Some examples of biologics used for RA are Humira, Orencia, Enbrel, and Rutixan.
  • Steroids are used as injections or pill, especially during RA flares. Potential long-term side effects include high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

Are conventional treatments for rheumatoid arthritis working well?

In short, no.  In talking with anyone who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, you will quickly become aware of the cycle of doctor’s visits, joint degeneration, increase in medications, changing medications, side effects from medication, and more joint degeneration, fatigue, and illness.

Conventional doctors do not know the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, and so focus on treating the symptoms (inflammation and immunity).

Below we will learn more about leaky gut and joints, and it is important to note that NSAIDs are linked with gut permeability, which means that even the first conventional treatment for RA used will further exacerbate the leaky gut problem. (source)

How does what I eat affect my joints?

There are a few ways that the gut is involved in the joint pain associated with an autoimmune condition.

  • First, the gut (and really our whole body) is lined with a colony of bacteria.  When the body is healthy and working well, we have beneficial bacteria that keep the opportunistic pathogenic bacteria held back.  The beneficial bacteria also work with the wall of the gut to make enzymes for food digestion, stimulate cell regeneration, and help with immune function.
  • Our good bacteria are able to crowd out the bad bacteria before they take root, much like a ground cover in your yard crowds out the weeds and prevents them from taking hold.  When this balance of good-to-bad bacteria is off, the bad bacteria take over our guts.
  • With this, the bad bacteria actually secrete chemicals as part of their metabolic process. These chemicals go through the gut wall and into the bloodstream, and can trigger inflammation as the body protects itself from the offending foods.
  • Second, lack of nutrients being absorbed by your gut create nutrient deficiencies in your body.  When the body does not have the nutrients it needs to run the all-powerful brain, some systems get out of whack.
  • Third, because so much of the detoxification system of our body is housed in our gut, when our gut health is not in good shape, we get a backup of toxins.  Like the pathogenic bacteria, these toxins can once again re-enter the bloodstream, and affect our brain.  In a healthy gut mild toxin exposure is easily accommodated for by the body, but in a damaged gut, we are unable to detoxify as well.

Don’t miss out: Free presentation: How to Turn Off Your Autoimmunity — and Restore a Healthy Immune System, this coming Wednesday.  Click here to sign up for free. 

How did our guts get so messed up?

Eating more and more processed foods, antibiotics being prescribed so often, toxins in our water, fluoride in our toothpaste, lack of the fats needed to build cells, chemicals sprayed in the air to give it a ‘fresh clean scent’, pollution… It’s a wonder that we’re still here!  Our skyrocketing chronic conditions are telling us THIS IS NOT WORKING.

We need to change.  While a round of antibiotics might have been life-saving for your great-grandpa, it has detrimental effects on gut health, and over generations, our microbiome has become too compromised.  We need to be careful with what we eat, what we breathe, and what we’re exposed to. This didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight, but we can start taking the steps to change right now.

So I want to heal my gut and get rid of autoimmunity rather than making it with increasing doses of pharmaceutical drugs – where do I start?

There are some natural supplements that have been used to help with rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t have personal experience with these, and I am not a medical professional, please check with your doctor before discontinuing or starting new supplements or medications.


We also need to make healthy changes to our homes and reduce our toxic load – these are pretty basic steps but can make a big difference. Click here to get a free printable checklist for a 30-day plan to get this started in simple steps

Next, we try an elimination diet. It’s so common that removing foods that often are allergy-causing, inflammation-causing, and cause a leaky gut.  Removing dairy and/or gluten will most often relieve symptoms drastically.  And then we can work our way back to really healing our gut with the GAPS diet. (click here for more information on working backwards to the GAPS diet)

Then once we are stabilized and eliminating common allergens from our diet, we can work on restoring gut flora balance and healing the gut. Most importantly, we clean up the gut.  (click here for the GAPS intro diet for gut healing and sealing)

Probiotics can help, be sure to go slow (see how to introduce high quality probiotics here) – we’ll be introducing these beneficial bacteria, which will in turn kill off the bad ones – when this happens we can experience a rush of symptoms, so it’s important to go slowly (these are the probiotics that I use)

When the gut flora is balanced, we should crave healthy food, have our immune system in check, and feel nourished.

Want more info?

Learn more about naturally healing the gut to fix autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis in this amazing informative webinar by my friends Jordan and Steve that airs next Wednesday. Sign up for free here!

Other posts in this series

Let me tell you exactly why all the problems start in the gut!

The Gut-Anxiety Connection

The Gut-Depression Connection

The Gut-Picky Eating Connection

The Gut-Autism Connection

The Gut-ADD Connection

The Gut-Eczema Connection

The Gut-Brain Connection


(top photo credit)
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