We’ve all heard, “You are what you eat,” but the more accurate statement may be, “You are what your gut bacteria eat.”

And when it comes to the typical American fast-food meal, the cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake are not good for you or your bacteria. Not only do the fats, sugars, and preservatives add weight to your body, but they cause unhealthy changes in your gut.

This fact is particularly concerning since a 2018 study shows the root of obesity’s impact on osteoarthritis may start in the gut’s microbiome.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, your microbiome resembles a small microbial city living in your small intestine. The microbes, which include good and bad bacteria and fungi, work together to keep you nourished and healthy. When the balance of healthy bacteria is overwhelmed by the harmful strains, problems develop.

Studies show the prevalence or lack of certain types of microbes in the gut also can influence stress, depression, anxiety, memory, and inflammation in the body.

In 2018, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that feeding mice a typical high-fat, fast-food-type diet encouraged the growth of pro-inflammatory bacteria in the gut and could contribute to osteoarthritis.

During the study, the researchers noticed that mice fed the equivalent of a high-fat American diet lacked beneficial probiotic bacteria, like Bifidobacteria found in yogurt. Not only did the mice gain weight on the diet, but the inflammation in their bodies also increased.

Here’s where things get interesting. The study tested the effects of a prebiotic supplement called oligofructose on the development of osteoarthritis and knee cartilage in the obese mice.

For 12 weeks, researchers gave some of the obese mice an oligofructose supplement. At the end of the study, they compared the mice’s knees. The knees of the supplemented mice were in the same condition as the knees of the lean mice. However, the knee cartilage in the control group not receiving the supplement mostly had disappeared. This study sets the stage for more research on the use of pre- and pro-biotics to prevent osteoarthritis.

These early results suggest prebiotics such as inulin and oligofructose are important to joint health. The study gives people another reason to adopt a low-fat, nutrient-rich diet for their bodies and add foods with prebiotics for their gut bacteria.

Sources of these indigestible complex carbohydrates include garlic, onions, bananas, chicory, barley, and oats. The beneficial bacteria in your microbiome also like to nosh on the probiotics found in fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, and kefir.

Give your gut bacteria the nourishment they need to thrive, and they’ll help reduce inflammation in your body and may keep your joints healthy.

Of course, diet is only one part of the equation for an active and healthy life—but minor changes may make a world of difference in your joint health. As always, talk to your health care provider to make sure these foods do not interact with any medications you may be taking.

If you suffer from joint pain or stiffness, contact Bone & Joint and make an appointment with an orthopedic expert. Together, you and your provider will create a customized plan to treat your condition.