Can Bacteria or Fungus Cause Rheumatic Conditions? – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck


For decades, naturopathic doctors and practitioners of holistic and alternative medicine have claimed that bacteria and fungus are to blame for our nation’s epidemic of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Candida and small bowel bacterial overgrowth have especially garnered attention in the natural medicine communities.

However, in recent years, traditional western medicine and esteemed medical doctors and scientists have finally realized that, yes, it is possible that bacterial overgrowth and the like can cause or worsen diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. (It should be noted, though, that it isn’t all a recent discovery for modern medicine. Years ago, antibiotics were a far more common course of treatment for RA than they are today.)

In June of 2010, the health journal, “Immunity” published a study that claimed that, “a single species of bacteria that lives in the gut is able to trigger a cascade of immune responses that can ultimately result in the development of arthritis.”

In June 2012, Science Daily posted an article that stated, “The billions of bugs in our guts have a newfound role: regulating the immune system and related autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, according to researchers at Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Larger-than-normal populations of specific gut bacteria may trigger the development of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and possibly fuel disease progression in people genetically predisposed to this crippling and confounding condition, say the researchers, who are participating in the Mayo Illinois Alliance for Technology Based Healthcare.” This study was published in the PLoS ONE medical journal.

The A.D.A.M. medical encyclopedia also lists bacterial or viral infections as a cause of joint inflammation; while Mayo Clinic discusses “septic arthritis” which is similar to RA, but is caused by fungus or bacteria.

Even those with giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica may have the conditions because of bacterium tracks that were discovered by Dr. Annette D. Wagner and colleagues at the Medical School Hanover. This information was published in an edition of the Arthritis & Rheumatism Journal in the year 2000.

Two more recent discoveries are proving the theory of a bacterial association with rheumatoid arthritis and similar conditions to be even more of a possibility.

In April 2012, Science Daily reports, “In collaboration with Dr. Robert Mozayeni, a rheumatologist based in Maryland, and Dr. Ricardo Maggi, a research assistant professor at NC State, Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of internal medicine at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and adjunct professor of medicine at Duke University, tested blood samples from 296 patients for evidence of Bartonella infection. The patients had previously been diagnosed with conditions ranging from Lyme disease to arthritis to chronic fatigue. Since rheumatic symptoms have sometimes been reported following cat scratch disease, the researchers wanted to see if these patients tested positive for B. henselae.

Of the 296 patients, 62 percent had Bartonella antibodies, which supported prior exposure to these bacteria. Bacterial DNA was found in 41 percent of patient samples.”  While this cannot guarantee a definitive link between bacteria and rheumatic diseases, it is a step in the right direction in figuring out the connection between infectious diseases and conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Today, the email sent out by Arthritis Today Magazine had the headline, “Gut Bacteria Link to Rheumatoid Arthritis.” The article goes on to state that “bacteria in the digestive system might predict who may develop RA, and help scientists develop novel therapies for the disease.

For years, scientists have wondered if there was a connection between the type of bacteria in our bodies, particularly our guts, and the development of RA. Could tiny micro-organisms predict who is most susceptible to developing RA and who might be more resistant to the disease? A recent study shows some strong connections between the type of bacteria in our guts and certain genes that may predict RA development

A team of researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the University of Illinois at Urbana published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Public Library of Science One in April showing that the types of bacteria lurking in the guts of mice may predict which animals are more susceptible to developing RA and collagen-induced arthritis (CIA), and which mice may be more resistant to the disease. In addition, another set of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana have just completed a study of humans to examine how consuming different types and amounts of dietary fiber could change their gut bacteria, shifting the mix toward more bacteria with potentially anti-inflammatory properties. Their study will be published in the Journal of Nutrition this summer.

For years, Veena Tareja, PhD, worked with RA patients at the Mayo Clinic and listened to their observations about the connection between diet and inflammation. “They would say, ‘I eat this and my arthritis gets worse.’ I always had the feeling that the gut had something to do with arthritis, because it takes most of the body’s abuse,” says Tareja, the institution’s lead researcher on the new study.”

What does all of this mean?

A number of things:

  • We can consider eating foods that won’t feed fungus or bacterial infections. (Examples: sugar, dairy, starchy foods.)
  • We can think about asking our doctors to test for gut flora, yeast, or other bacterial infections via bloodwork, saliva tests, endoscopy, etc.
  • We can make note of whether or not our arthritis symptoms get better or worse with antibiotics, and we can also try to figure out if certain foods or conditions seem to make the diseases worse.
  • We can try to notice if we feel better or worse on biologics or immunosuppressants – both of which can possibly be detrimental if we have any kind of infection.
  • We also can pay attention to articles of this nature and what it could mean to our diseases. If the new discovery of a potential link of RA and gut bacteria or bartonella is pushing scientists to think in new and innovative ways about a cure, then there IS hope! Additionally, this news could potentially make doctors reconsider how they go about treating patients, and pay further attention to the notion of bacterial, fungal, or viral infections in patients with inflammatory or rheumatic diseases.

Have any of you noticed a link between infection and your condition?

Leave a comment and share your story, please!

As always, thanks for reading.

Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck


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10 thoughts on “Can Bacteria or Fungus Cause Rheumatic Conditions? – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. Yes, I feel that there well may be a connection here. I have digestion issues. I also lack a gall bladder due to liver surgery. I am trying to figure out why the last two weeks I have been having weird pulsing sensations throughout my body in the joints in particular mostly in my legs but upper region as well. I went for acupuncture which helped a lot. I will go again this week. Before this started I had an infection as well in my right tonsil and awoke again this morning with a sore throat. Therefore, I am not sure what this could be. It has gotten better. I wanterd to avoid many tests at the Dr., so I have been trying to figure ir out on my own. I may get a blood test for Bartonella. I was wondering if there is a test for bacterial, fungal and viral infection all three?

  2. I have just completed h. Pylori ( gut bacterial infection that approximately 50% of the world population has) eradication treatment and believe it has made a huge difference. I haven’t had a flare and feel like my “old” self! The real test will be whether or not I experience a flare after exercising which has been a very frustrating trigger. In addition I added many natural supplements ( i.e.; tumeric, apple cider vinegar and tart cherry juice); my biggest fear is my palindromic rheumatism will evolve into RA-I will do everything to try and stop it. Presently, I am not on any meds and would like to try and stay that way. Best to all struggling with these conditions.

  3. I was treated for h pylori a year ago. I felt better for about six months. Then in April 2012 I came down with severe and now chronic joint pain. My rheumatologist cannot offer a definitive arthritis diagnosis as I do not seem to fit any classic criteria. I have questioned him about the link between an overgrowth of gut bacteria (which i have) and joint disease, but he dismisses it. I am now seeking a second opinion and have started to see a GP/naturopath who has prescribed antibiotics and supplements. It’s too early to report any positive signs of improvement, but I feel desperate to look outside the box for answers as traditional specialists seem reluctant to listen to my concerns about the gut and joint pain.

  4. If your acupuncturist deals in Chinese herb pills, they could be of great use to you. I had been exposed to mold for a period of time and excessive yeast and mold growing on my skin were both eradicated with those pills. It is a one time, finish the pills, wait 2 or 3 months till they work themselves through your body and realize, as I did, that the symptoms were no longer there. Google mold and your diagnosis/symptoms to see what is out there. Good luck. Those pills, my acupuncturist saved me from pain just because he knew more about my symptoms, even skin disorder, than the western doctors and he did not know about my mold exposure because I had not made the connection. The western docs certainly didn’t make a connection.

  5. One of the common philosophies in alternative medicine is to use treatments that aid, facilitate and strengthen the body’s innate healing processes in their efforts to restore health and balance. To work with, rather than against, the self-evident innate healing process, whenever possible, makes sense and has demonstrated countless successes.:

    My personal web blog

  6. I never had any symptoms of AS (Ankylosing Sondylitits) my entire life. About a year ago we discovered that we had a sewage leak in our walls that had been going on for about 3 months. Once we fixed the problem we had our home tested for mold and bacteria throughout the HVAC system. It showed elevated levels of 23 molds (4 of such were what is considered toxic molds) and 4 bacteria strains, these were the same molds that were found at the actual sewage loss site, so they had become airborne. A few members of my family had been sick a lot, but until now we had considered it cases of the summer flu or something. Upon taking my kids to an ENT specialist, it was discovered that both of them had chronic sinusitis, something neither of them had ever suffered of before. My general MD suggested I go see a rheumatologist because I went in for these unexplainable headaches and a blood test showed multiple areas of inflammation. I went to a rheumatologist who ordered more blood tests and imaging and found that I had inflammation at my SI joint. He asked me about certain pains I had been experiencing lately, and I had had some of them, but only for the last few months, and had mostly chalked it up to the stress of the leak, etc. It has progressively gotten worse and more painful even after taking myself out of our home until it had been properly cleaned. Ever since my diagnosis, I have wondered about the relation between my exposure and my condition. Was it just unlucky timing, or did the bacteria and molds that were airborne throughout my home have some kind of play in this? I am otherwise a healthy 33 year old, with no prior health issues whatsoever. Mold is known to cause inflammation throughout your body, could this have been the trigger? Any input is greatly appreciated. Thanks

  7. Further to my comments above made over a year ago. I’m now able to report what I think are absolutely astonishing developments.

    From the outset I was convinced from my own problems that bacteria was linked with my autoimmune disease, which in itself was linked to gut issues and probably a whole range of other conditions – I’d had appendicitis, tonsillitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, meningitis, ear infections etc. Over the years, my body (or my stronger immune system) was able to keep things at bay. But a couple of years ago it wasn’t. That’s when the h.pylori and the following arthritic agony ensued.

    Two Rheumatologists three GPs and and many, many tests later, I was getting nowhere…until I consulted with a marvellous GP/Naturopath and Lyme Disease Literate doctor who ACTUALLY LISTENED. My stool sample showed a huge overgrowth of bad bacteria and no good bacteria…that was the start.

    My Lyme Disease/Borreliosis blood test and urine result was also positive!
    It’s important to note that I don’t remember having any tic bite, and certainly never had any rashes, so who knows where it came from…maybe the bugs had been in my system for years.
    Anyway, finally I had a diagnosis – despite the terribly negative rhetoric surrounding Borreliosis, I was determined to go for it.
    Because my condition was then chronic, I went on long term antibiotic medication, as well as immune boosting supps and a very healthy diet.

    Now a year later, the improvement is amazing. My inflammation has gone!! I can walk without pain and my blood tests are normal.
    I’m still on meds for residual issues of fatigue and stiffness (probably chronic Lyme-related). But had I accepted the rheumo’s opinion…actually he didn’t really know but prescribed steroids and immunosuppressants anyway just in case it was Polymyalgia Rheumatica or R A…the bacteria would have gone into crazy overdrive.

    Finally I would repeat, in my opinion, bacteria leads to infection, which unchecked leads to gut problems and autoimmune disease – whether it’s RA, MS, Parkinson’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s, Polymyalgia Rheumatica and many more. My own pain, recovery, research and word of mouth from many fellow sufferers have led me to believe this.
    So if you are in similar pain right now, look for the answer outside the orthodox medical box, and go for it like I did; and the best of luck to you all.

    • I treat my RA with a diet that eliminates wheat. I’m 50 yrs old and I’m interested in more info on fungus relating to RA. I had nail fungus and took a prescription which cleared it up some but now I have a type of fungus on my back, which I get every Fall, but since it’s Spring-I became concerned. Any suggestions to further educate myself?

  8. Rochelle, congratulations on finding the source of your health issues, probably a 99.9% certainty that that was what was causing it, not coincidental by any stretch of the imagination. I experienced deteriorating health which was not turned around until I moved out of my home, had it tested, resulting in remediation. Even something so minor as house plants caused joint pain, mold lives in the dirt. As soon as I took those outside, the joint pain subsided. It did not take care of the other ailments though. It took some searching to find help for the issues to totally go away. My acupuncturist with his Chinese herb pills took care of excessive yeast causing terrible cramping in my stomach. His pills also took care of a skin issue which he said was mold and was backed up by a white coating on my tongue which is a sign. An ent prescribed 2 nasal sprays plus one over the counter spray, taken all at the same time for a period of time to get rid of what were mold spores in my lung. I can’t prove that that is what it was but if I got close to a mold source, my lung would palpitate as if some sort of communication would be going on with the mold source. It was a mystery to figure out and western doctors are not schooled on mold and what it can do to a person who has become over sensitized to it. Even my allergist said something stupid. He was of the belief that mold did not hurt people’s health, that it was a way to get your home redone with insurance paying the bill. I never went back to him. I was in such pain physically and to hear something like that being spouted by an allergist was beyond what I could handle.

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