Rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating as well as disfiguring. The heavier duty treatments try to reign in critical elements of the immune system.
When it comes to the immune system, balance is key. You may also hear this balance called “immune tolerance.” In other words, we want the immune system to attack the invaders that come into the body trying to cause harm while leaving our own tissue intact. In an autoimmune disease like lupus, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Grave’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system turns on itself, attacking our own tissues.
Every one of us has some degree of autoimmunity. Our immune system is always attacking our own bodies to some degree. Thus, autoimmunity is not necessarily the problem, but the degree of autoimmunity that matters. When our lifestyles and health are not up to snuff, our immune system mistakenly attack our tissues with a greater fervor.
One aspect of maintaining good health has to do with the bacteria in our gut. I have written extensively in previous articles about how critical a healthy blend of good bacteria in our gut is to our immune system balance (you can read more in one of the more informative posts by clicking here).
While most physicians mistakenly attribute the benefit of probiotics and a healthy gut flora to stopping antibiotic associated diarrhea, the massive power of the gut bacteria is in developing and maintaining immune tolerance. I cannot stress the importance of this enough.
This is the reason why even a single course of antibiotics can divisively tip the scales of immune balance towards autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, once autoimmunity has been set up it’s tough to get the immune system back into balance without some serious lifestyle changes. However, probiotics can help to restore some semblance of order and reign in the immune system.
Which brings us to this particular article looking at the effect of probiotic supplementation on the symptoms and immune function of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s the details:
- Patients were given 100 million Lactobacillus casei or a maltodextrin placebo 8 weeks.
- Disease activity score dropped with the probiotics.
- Inflammation (as measured by TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-12) dropped in the probiotic group.
- IL-10 (a chemical messenger that helps balance the immune system) was increased by probiotics.
While this was a small study (46 patients), there are some important take-home messages.
- The amount of probiotic used in this study was incredibly small. VSL-3, a probiotic shown to help with inflammatory bowel disease, starts its dosage at 220 billion.
- It was clear that the immune system was in better balance, both by lowered inflammation chemicals and higher IL-10 to balance the immune system.
- Adding other supplements to the probiotics, like vitamin D and fish oils, would likely result in even stronger results.
Overall, this study and many other clearly indicate that probiotics should be a part of the therapy for every autoimmune disease. More importantly, making sure you have the right bacteria there in the first place may prevent an autoimmune disease from kicking off in the first place.