PFTL News February 2020

CAN GUT HEALTH IMPACT YOUR PAIN (from WebMD Newsletter Jan. 30, 2020)

You may have noticed that at any given moment your pain levels can fluctuate based on many different variables, including the weather, how much sleep you got the night before, and whether or not you are having a stressful day. But you may not have given much thought to the role that bacteria might be playing in how you feel.

You have hundreds of different types of bacteria living inside the gut that make up what is referred to as the microbiome, and like a fingerprint, each person’s microbiome is a bit unique but swayed by factors like diet, the environment, and lifestyle habits. Research has shown that the composition of the gut bacteria in healthy people often differs from those with certain diseases, including obesity, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and even depression.

As we start to learn more about how our microbiome affects our overall health, we are also starting to see evidence that it can also play a role in how much we hurt.

Consider a recent study published by researchers from the University of Rochester that looked at the effects of the microbiome on joint pain and swelling in mice. In comparing the gut bacteria of mice that had been plumped up on an unhealthy diet with mice kept on a healthy diet, they found that the obese mice’s gut bacteria was not only different than that of their slimmer counterparts, it also included inflammation-causing strains. These gut changes coincided with signs of inflammation throughout their bodies, including their joints. The researchers also found that when both sets of mice experienced cartilage damage to their knees, the obese mice with the inflammation-causing gut bacteria experienced a rapid deterioration of their joints compared to the other mice.

In a short amount of time, these unfortunate mice developed advanced osteoarthritis of their knees. When the researchers treated the obese mice with a prebiotic (a food source for growing healthy bacteria in the gut), they were able to prevent the inflammation and arthritic deterioration in their knee joints, without changing their body composition.

This is very interesting research, but despite this and other evidence suggesting that the microbiome can directly impact the amount of inflammation, arthritis, and ultimately the amount of pain that we experience, it is still unclear how to take advantage of this information to treat pain in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, in humans we have not found that simply adding a prebiotic to our diet will make all of the pain and swelling magically disappear. There may be a number of reasons for that, including the wide variation in microbiomes from person to person, and the unique environments that we each live in.


Fiber is the unsung hero of the nutrition world: It helps you lose weight, keeps your digestive system regular and is even linked to preventing serious conditions such as heart disease.

When it comes to soluble vs insoluble fiber, both offer plenty of health benefits.

It’s one of those nutrients that’s so essential to our everyday function, and yet, most of us aren’t meeting our daily requirements, per 2017 research in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine recommends men get 38 grams of fiber and women get 25 grams per day from two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble fiber — both of which come with their own health perks.

What is soluble fiber? – Soluble fiber is most often touted as an all-star in regulating blood sugar levels for people with diabetes, due to the way the body processes it, registered dietitian and nutritionist, Jim White, RDN, ACSM, says.

Soluble fiber slows down our digestion and the way we absorb foods by linking with water molecules. This creates a gel-like substance that helps reduce blood glucose spikes, thus stabilizing our energy and mood, per the Mayo Clinic. In other words: You can help prevent energy crashes by adding more soluble fiber-rich foods to your eating plan.

“Soluble fiber also attracts unhealthy fats to lower cholesterol levels — specifically LDL (the harmful type) — and can reduce the risk of heart disease,” White says. “This fiber interferes with the absorption of cholesterol into the blood, which prevents cholesterol from entering the bloodstream which, in return, keeps cholesterol levels lower.”

Do you ever eat a meal way too fast and then deal with heartburn and indigestion as a result? If your plate had more soluble fiber-rich foods on it, you probably wouldn’t experience such symptoms, White says. In fact, participants who were given 12.5 grams of soluble fiber a day were observed to experience less heartburn, per a small June 2018 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.

Some foods high in soluble fiber include, per the Mayo Clinic: Apples, Beans, Barley, Carrots, Citrus fruits, Oats, Peas Psyllium

What Is Insoluble Fiber?  While soluble fiber slows down your digestion, insoluble does just the opposite — it speeds up the process in which food moves through the stomach and intestines, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Because of that, insoluble fiber makes your stool heavier. Though that might not be an appealing visual image, it’s important, since adding weight to our stools helps to regulate our bowel movements.

“Insoluble fibers are not completely digested, which allows these fibers to bulk up stool and collect water for bowel movements,” White says. Simply put, insoluble fiber can help relieve constipation.

Try these foods high in insoluble fiber, per the Mayo Clinic: Cauliflower, Beans, Green Beans, Nuts, Potatoes, Wheat Bran, Whole-wheat flour

How to Get Both Types of Fiber:  If you want to experience some of the benefits of soluble and insoluble fiber — from better bowel movements to better blood sugar control — start small.

“If we increase our fiber intake too quickly, we can experience symptoms of gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort,” Shelby Burns, RD, LDN, says. The average American gets about 16 grams of fiber each day, per the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine study; so if you add 5 more grams of fiber to your daily meals (for a total of 21 grams per day) for a week, note how you feel before adding more to meet your daily requirements.

Tip: To make this transition smoother (pun intended!), Burns also suggests drinking more water since it will help to keep everything moving and minimize side effects.