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High-fibre diet may help protect against rheumatoid arthritis

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People who eat fibre-rich foods such as muesli may have better bone health and a lower risk of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications has shown that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence on chronic inflammatory joint diseases, leading to stronger bones.

Researchers at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg focused on the short-chain fatty acids propionate and butyrate, which are formed during the fermentation processes caused by intestinal bacteria. These fatty acids can be found in the joint fluid and it is assumed that they have an important effect on the functionality of joints.

The study showed that a healthy diet rich in fibre can change the intestinal bacteria in such a way that more short-chained fatty acids, in particular propionate, are formed. The researchers identified a higher concentration of short-chained fatty acids, for example in bone marrow, where propionate caused a reduction in the number of bone-degrading cells, slowing down bone degradation.

Propionate has been in use as a preservative in the baking industry since the 1950s and has been approved as a food additive according to EU guidelines.

“We were able to show that a bacteria-friendly diet has an anti-inflammatory effect, as well as a positive effect on bone density,” explained Dr Mario Zaiss, leader of the team behind the study. “Our findings offer a promising approach for developing innovative therapies for inflammatory joint diseases as well as for treating osteoporosis, which is often suffered by women after the menopause. We are not able to give any specific recommendations for a bacteria-friendly diet at the moment, but eating muesli every morning as well as enough fruit and vegetables throughout the day helps to maintain a rich variety of bacterial species.”