Is irritable bowel syndrome linked to joint pain?

Did you know that if you have rheumatoid arthritis, you have an increased risk of gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? A recent study found that those with rheumatoid arthritis had at least a 50% risk of developing a gastrointestinal problem compared to those who don’t have rheumatoid arthritis. 


You may be wondering how can two seemingly unrelated conditions be related? But the truth is that these two systems are very much interlinked. 

Arthritis can have a huge impact on your daily life. Even simple tasks such as opening bottle, brushing your hair or typing can be problem. Medications for arthritis treat the symptoms in the short term, but for long term relief addressing the root of the problem is crucial. And that is why, if you have arthritis, you may be able to reduce pain and stiffness, by improving your gut health. 

This article will explain the link between arthritis and gut health and what you can do to start making positive changes to your digestive system health today. 

What is the link between rheumatoid arthritis and gut health?

There are several reasons why those with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to suffer from digestive problems, including systemic inflammation, imbalanced gut bacteria, and their increased risk of developing other autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease and Crohn's disease. As you may know, around 25% of those diagnosed with an autoimmune disease go on to develop others. 

When the gut microbiome is imbalanced and in a state of dysbiosis - where there are more opportunistic and harmful bacteria than helpful bacteria - it can trigger inflammation in the gut and systemic inflammation. Inflammation in the gut may cause irritable bowel syndrome and lead to systemic inflammation, typically present in rheumatoid arthritis. 

Studies even suggest that the type of bacteria residing in the gut may be linked to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. One such bacteria is Prevotella copri which stimulates the release of specific immune cells, which trigger inflammation and an inflammatory pathway associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Increased abundance of Prevotella copri in the gut is also associated with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. 

Can healing the gut reverse arthritis symptoms?

The gut is central to the body’s inflammatory response. When there are imbalances in the gut, it can heighten the immune response, and cause increased intestinal permeability, known as leaky gut syndrome. 

Leaky gut syndrome has been demonstrated as a key driver in autoimmune disease, and systemic inflammation, which is why by reinstating the balance of gut flora and improving the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms of arthritis usually improve. 

How to improve digestive health 

Eating foods that nourish the gut lining such as bone broths, stewed apples and cabbage soup, are all ways to improve the digestive symptoms. 

In addition, there may be foods that are more problematic for digestion and may cause inflammation such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, gluten, dairy, soy, spicy foods and alcohol. Following an elimination protocol may help to identify food sensitivities, or you can use food sensitivity testing to provide insight into which foods may be an issue for you. At the Autoimmunity Nutritionist Clinic we offer a food sensitivity test package which includes a food sensitivity test, analysis and health consultation so that you can take a personalised approach to healing your gut. 

And it’s not just about what you eat, it’s also about how you eat. Making sure you practice mindful eating, chew food thoroughly and eat in a rested state are critical for proper digestion. Take time before you eat a meal to breathe deeply, feel gratitude and then take food in with all your senses. 

Gut health is central to all systems in the body, including immune and joint health. Take a functional medicine approach to your healing, and work upstream to improve your symptoms, rather than just the symptoms themselves. Not only will you feel better, but you may find by working on your gut, you improve your symptoms for the long term. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

After 25 years of suffering from multiple autoimmune conditions that affected her energy, skin, hair and joints, VJ discovered after studying immunology and Functional Medicine and training as a Nutritionist Therapist that by uncovering the root cause of her issues, she was able to transform her health, and now lives free of symptoms.

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