What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis (and How to Turn it Off)

The Doctor looks up from the clipboard and says, “The test results show you have Rheumatoid Arthritis…”

For some, finding out they have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a relief, finally an answer for the crippling pain.

For others, it’s a diagnosis without much hope.

RA affects roughly 1.5 million people in the United States. [1]

The disease is three times more prevalent in women than men.

For those of you who are living with RA or have a close friend or loved one affected by it you know how crippling it can be. RA, unlike osteoarthritis, is not caused by wear and tear – it’s actually a little more tricky, it’s an autoimmune disorder. Your body actually begins to attack your joints.

Normally, the immune system that’s supposed to protect you from foreign invaders, turns inward and attacks your own tissues and becomes an autoimmune issue…

Is Leaky Gut Making You Sicker?


My Immune System Attacks My Joints?

Yes, your immune system is waging war on your joints. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Joints are where two or more bones come together. There are several different types of joints but the ones affected by RA, the ones we will be talking about here, are Synovial Joints.

These are joints of the fingers, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and feet that RA can affect. Unlike regular osteoarthritis, RA generally affects pairs of joints. So if you have RA in your left knee, it’s going to be in your right knee too. If you have RA in your right big toe it’s going to be in your left big toe as well.

These types of joints are lined with this amazing stuff called synovial tissue. The synovial tissue forms a membrane and secretes this stuff called synovial fluid. This fluid is super important for healthy joints. It has three main functions:

  1. Lubricates the joint
  2. Nourishes the cartilage
  3. Absorbs shock from impact

Every time you move, you flex your knee to squat at the gym, tap your fingers to type, stand on your tippy toes and extended your shoulder to reach the top shelf, your joints have to articulate. They have to slide over each other to allow for movement. Take a door hinge for example: the hinge allows the door to swing open and shut, just like the joints in your body. If the hinge gets sticky you may put a little oil in it, something to lubricate its movement. That’s one of the things synovial fluid does for joints.

But it’s not just a lubricant…

It actually nourishes them.

The fluid carries nutrients to the cartilage on the surface of your joints. Cartilage is smooth silky tissue on the articulating portions of joints, the portions where they interact. So, in your knee the bottom of your femur and the top of your tibia have cartilage on their surfaces. Cartilage also plays a huge roll in pain-free, fluid movement (anyone who has been told they’ve worn the cartilage out of a joint definitely knows this). But it’s fed by nutrients in the synovial fluid.

Finally this fluid helps with impact.

Think about bubble wrap: those air-filled pockets that are used to ship fragile things. When you try to squeeze those air-filled pockets of bubbles it’s really hard to get them to smoosh together… and that’s much like your joint. Every time you smoosh a joint (they call it compressing a joint) the synovial fluid provides that cushioning and helps to distribute impact.

So this synovial stuff is pretty cool and pretty important.

But When You Have RA, Your Immune System Attacks the Synovial Tissue in Your Joints

Your immune system is an army with an innate ability to adapt and protect you from an outstanding number of possible infectious agents.

There are specialized cells that can not only take down foreign pathogens but remember them for future exposures. They can clean up cuts, repair broken tissues, kill selected targets, and communicate harmoniously while doing it.

When this normal, healthy, life saving process gets turned around on your own tissues it can cause serious problems we classify as autoimmune disorders.

RA is just one of many, many autoimmune disorders.

With RA, the tissue under attack is synovial tissue of your joints and this tissue becomes inflamed and angry. The synovial tissue starts to thicken in response and secretes more synovial fluid, which causes the joints to swell.

The inflammation and swelling causes pain and stiffness associated with the disease.

When this occurs it’s considered a “flare up.”

Some people are only affected by RA for months or a couple years while others battle with decades or lifetimes of flare ups. Long-term RA can cause joint damage and this is where it gets a little scary.

After years of battling with your body, the joint tissue begins to break down. The cartilage wears away, making joints extremely sensitive, and can eventually lead to the immune system attacking the bony surface of joints themselves. A joint with no cartilage is like having a rusty door hinge. The lubrication has dried up, the paint has peeled off, the metal is rusting, and the swing is no longer smooth.

Furthermore, RA can begin to affect other bodily systems like the skin, heart, and lungs. And according to The Arthritis Foundation, the goal of someone suffering from RA is to get the disease into remission…. of which the current standard treatment for RA consists of:

  • Drugs
  • Surgery
  • Alternative therapies

But What Really Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The cause of RA is not fully understood.

But current research is finding ties to the gut, hormones, genetics, and environmental and dietary factors. Current research shows genes as the largest player in deciding who gets RA and who doesn’t, but gut flora, hormones, environmental and dietary factors are thought to “trigger” these genes.

Once triggered, an inflammatory/immune response is initiated. The development of RA is thought to occur in stages. Once the immune response gets triggered, it’s a slow build. You may carry autoantibodies and inflammatory markers but show no symptoms. Eventually, this leads to IA (Inflammatory Arthritis) and finally progresses to Rheumatoid Arthritis. The idea behind this is that something, whether you are genetically predisposed or not, triggers that immune system to start attacking the synovial tissue of joints.

Some interesting research points to the role of gut health in all of this. Take the following studies…

1) Dr. Dan Littman ran stool tests on 114 healthy individuals and those with RA or psoriatic arthritis. The stool test results pointed to the bacterium Prevotella corpi, which was found in the stool of 75% of people with new-onset, untreated RA. However, only 12% of people with treated rheumatoid arthritis had it. It was present in 38% of the people with psoriatic arthritis, and finally 21% of the control group (the healthy people). What does this mean? Higher numbers of P.corpi were associated with lower numbers of beneficial bacteria… and more prevalence of untreated RA.

2) Another study looked at the effects of microbes in mouse models. These researchers introduced segmented filamentous bacteria into germ-free mice and found that Th cells (part of your immune system) and autoantibodies were produced and followed by a rapid onset of arthritis. The researchers concluded that a single commensal microbe (a microbe that benefits from living in us, but shouldn’t affect us) can trigger immune system response (in this case a specific subset of Th cells the Th17 cells) and allow for the development of an autoimmune disease. Th cells and specifically Th17 cells help us fight infection and are starting to be linked more closely with the development of autoimmune disorders.

3) It doesn’t stop there. Researchers have also identified genes that are associated with a greater susceptibility to developing RA in mice. The gene is HLA-DRB1*0401, which doesn’t mean much to us regular people… until you take a deeper look and see that these researches are looking at HOW that gene affects the gut flora in mice and how THAT can then affect an increase in cytokine production and immune response, possibly leading to autoimmune disorders. They say that mice with the 0401 gene have a greater disposition toward gut flora imbalances. So, because of genes, these mice may have more bad bacteria than good. This stuff is wild.

So let’s take a step back out of the research and ask what does this mean? This research supports the notion that gut flora and autoimmune disorders are linked. In some of the studies above, it was mentioned that your gut flora is affected by your genes as well as your environment. And if you’re anything like me, you might be wondering…

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis reversible?

Until Recently, We Thought Autoimmune Disease Wasn’t Reversible

We’re just beginning to understand why the immune system would attack healthy tissue… and in the beginning, we used to think that autoimmune diseases couldn’t be reversed once the immune condition “turned on.”

However, the latest evolution in autoimmune research indicates there might be another way…

Researcher Alessio Fasano, M.D. has been on the forefront of recent autoimmune and Celiac Disease research. In 2011, he published a paper titled “Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases” introducing a new theory that suggests prevention and reversal of autoimmune disease is possible.

He presents the idea that three pre-existing conditions must all exist together in order for autoimmune diseases to develop. [2] They are:

  1. A genetic predisposition to autoimmunity (In the case of Celiac Disease that’s the HLA DQ2/DQ8 genes)
  2. An exposure to the environmental trigger (in Celiac Disease – that’s gluten)
  3. Increased Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)

Fasano’s theory is part of the new evolution of research implicating leaky gut as the key element to the development of autoimmune diseases like RA… and also begins to open the idea that we might be able to ACTUALLY turn off the autoimmune response in the body if we start with the gut.

How to Turn Off Your Autoimmune Disease

If you’re struggling with autoimmune diseases like RA, you know how crippling it can be when your body attacks itself. Struggling with this type of diagnosis can lead to serious depression… I know, because I’ve been there too.

But what if there was a way to begin to turn off the autoimmune response?

What if there was a way to calm down your immune system and allow it to begin to repair the damage?

Based on the work of Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the first places to start is your gut… and we’re here to help you.

We hosted a free webinar called, “How to Turn Off Your Autoimmunity — and Restore a Healthy Immune System.”

It’s completely free, and we dove deep into your gut health and how to begin to stop the immune system from attacking itself.

You can register for your seat here: https://healthygut.com/autoimmune-webinar/

You could spend years trying to figure out how to “fix” your immune system… or you could register for this free one-hour webinar and we’ll show you how we did it.

If you can’t attend live it will be recorded, but you must click here to register to make sure you get the link the next morning.

As someone who suffered with autoimmune disease for years and almost gave up hope, I know your struggle. I hope you join us for the webinar to learn more about how I turned off my autoimmune response and restored my health.

So grateful to support you in health.


P.S. – You can register for our autoimmune webinar here (it’s completely free to attend): https://healthygut.com/autoimmune-webinar/

Jordan Reasoner

About Jordan Reasoner

Jordan Reasoner is a health engineer and author. He was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007 and almost gave up hope when a gluten-free diet didn’t work. Since then, he transformed his health using the SCD Diet and started HealthyGut.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

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25 thoughts on “What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis (and How to Turn it Off)

  1. Avatar

    To me, leaky gut is tied to damage in the intestineal tract due to antibiotic use. Antibiotics destroy the lining and cause permeability of the gut wall.

    And I feel the Root Cause of the joint issues is hidden excess unbound iron bein stored in the joints destroying them as well.

    But NOBODY is looking there, they are all looking at other reasons, and not looking deep enough.

  2. Avatar

    Thank you for the very informative article. I am suffering from Alopecia Areata, Eczema and Vitiligo for quite some time and now at age 40, Vitiligo in remission, however, Eczema gets slightly worse every year (but manageable) and AA is significantly worse every flare ups, having lost 60% of my hair at this point.

    You talk about RA and Celiac here but does the theory applies to other autoimmune conditions like mine? As I understand, the triggers for autoimmunity differs with each persons even if the conditions are the same. That explains the genetic part, I guess, but as for the environmental factors, would you say that you must first change the environment before you start fixing your leaky gut? Or by fixing your leaky gut, you’ll become more resistant to the harmful environment?

    And if I may ask, how long did it take for you to overcome your autoimmunity and which autoimmunity were you suffering from?

    Thank you!

    • Avatar

      Hi Midori – thanks for reaching out!

      I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with eczema, vitiligo, and alopecia.

      I personally struggled with vitiligo and eczema, but both are in remission now that I have healed my gut.

      In our opinion, there are 3 factors which lead to autoimmunity developing: genetic predisposition, a leaky gut, and an environmental trigger. All autoimmune diseases have these same 3 requirements – from vitiligo to MS to RA and Celiac.

      Sometimes the environmental trigger is something we can control and contributes to a leaky gut – and other times the environmental trigger is outside our control. In the webinar, we’ll be sharing common triggers for leaky gut and what you can do to overcome leaky gut and get on the path to healing.

      The best way to learn more is here: http://solvingleakygut.com/webinar/internal-autoimmune/

  3. Avatar

    Hi I’m from India and I’m affected by RA. I jus came across ur article sent by a friend. Is there anything like RA specific diet I need to follow and has any proven cases been there where people with RA have been cured or the diseases been reveresed.I was jus diagnosed this march and been on n off meds. I would like to stay meds free and would like to reverse my condition …can u help with me n me being in India will the generic scd diet work out.

  4. Avatar

    Hi! This webinar sounds very interesting and I can’t wait to watch it!! My mother has had RA for a long time and the flare ups are very debilitating. She is 78 and was diagnosed when she was in her 50’s though she had symptoms prior to that. She’s a trooper and has done really well, but she broke down and bought a walker last week! Can so many years of damage be reversed even in someone who is already older?

    • Avatar

      Hi Jm – thanks so much!

      YES – we think it is never too alt to star healing the body naturally. No one can promise how much recovery can take place, but once you know the possibilities, it seems crazy NOT to give healing this way an honest shot. At best, your mom could overcome some RA symptoms – at “worst” she’ll be improving her health overall through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

      • Avatar

        Hi i was wondering if arthiritis can be reversed if the damage was from a vaccine. In march 1 day after having a baby i was given the mmr even though i refused several times. I was angry fir a while however anger is exhusting and its done now i just wasnt to concentrate on getting back to myself. My arms joints and hands ache really bad i was tested for ms abd thank god no signs and it was suggested could be rhumitism. I have nevet had such problems i read it coukd be new mum syndrome however pain bad and so im in dibt does any one have any insight that if it is vaccine damage can it be reversed.

        • Avatar

          Hi Stacey – thats a hard question and I don’t think anyone knows the answer 100%. That being said, the body is capable of INCREDIBLE things. It sounds like your body has been through a lot in the past couple months between pregnancy, childbirth, that vaccine, and now the stresses of being a new mom. That is a lot for anyone to handle at once.

          We obviously are not doctors and can’t make any promises – but our research and first-hand experience has shown us that health and healing begin with a healthy gut – and by getting your gut as healthy as it can be, you’ll only benefit your own health and the health of your baby.

          I really suggest you sign up for a free webinar on how to heal the gut here: http://solvingleakygut.com/webinar/internal-autoimmune/

  5. Avatar

    I love the articles the post about different illnesses and how you incorporate research stats. Do you by any chance have anything about polyneuropathy caused by vaccine? I’m wondering if there is any chance it could be reversed not improved with diet and supplements.
    Thanks much Petra

    • Avatar

      Hi petra – thanks for your comment!

      Sorry but Steve and Jordan don’t have any research available on vaccines.

      Our general belief is that all conditions are helped by improving gut health through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

  6. Avatar

    I have been tested by blood tests, x-rays & physical manipulation but every Dr says I do not have RA! Funny, but my finger joints have been doing exactly what you describe & flare up w/certain foods/drinks.. I believe its from leaky gut but is it RA or like RA ???

  7. Avatar

    I live in Greece so I am not sure about the exact hour of the webinar and if I will be able to watch it. Is there a possibilitty that you sender me a recorded video? Thank you in advance!

    • Avatar

      Hi Deb, thank you for reaching out! There will be several opportunities to listen to one of our webinar on Leaky Gut. Please make sure you are a subscriber to SCD lifestyle and stay tuned to your email for more opportunities.

  8. Avatar

    Yes, you can reverse autoimmune disease through diet. Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2012, one antibody marker is normal (after raging at 300+ points above normal), and the other is one point away from undetectable two years later. Diet, stress reduction, sensible exercise and making choices for ME everyday has transformed my life and I believe has saved it. At age 48, I’m also a two-time breast cancer survivor. Thanks Jordan and Steve for getting the word out. It real does work if you work it. 🙂

  9. Avatar
    Gina Catalano says:

    I’m SOOOO excited to see this. I was diagnosed with RA in Jan 2009. I’ve fired so many doctors, my insurance company probably has red flags all over my files (ALL of them gave me a death sentence because I’m so young and said my only option were Disease Modifying AntiRheumatic Drugs and Tumor Necrosis Factor inhibitors (all with HORRIBLE side effects). I’ve been working on my testimony to share with you guys. Your program (SCD) was sent to me STRAIGHT from God! I started this past March on the Severe Case diet plans when you guys offered it 50% off. And I haven’t regretted it once. I had my challenges and setbacks, but you guys were so helpful with your daily posts and emails and links and leaky gut webinar. I let my prescription run out in April and didn’t refill it. With alot of prayer, some troubleshooting, and a few U turns, as of today, I’ve been 99% symptom free since September 15th and it FEELS GREAT! I thank God for you and your willingness to share your knowledge and experiences with me and others.

  10. Avatar

    Really appreciate this webinar and I’m looking forward to it! I hope you can include testing for autoimmunity in general and not just RA. I have been diagnosed with Scleroderma, which although not one of the common forms of autoimmunity can manifest in nasty ways. Although my symptoms are minor and I’m not taking any meds, I’d like to learn how to work with a functional practitioner. Thanks!

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