Managing Arthritis

Investigating the link between gut health and osteoarthritis 

 A photo of Dr. Sowmya Viswanathan

Could your gut health be impacting your osteoarthritis? This is a question University Hospital Network's researcher Dr. Sowmya Viswanathan is on a mission to answer.  

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of joint replacement surgeries, including 99 per cent of knee replacements and about 70 per cent of hip replacements. Dr. Viswanathan, a recipient of Arthritis Society Canada's Strategic Operating Grants, is exploring targeted therapies through her research on gut microbiome and its links to the development of osteoarthritis.  

We have a good idea of how our bodies respond to what we eat; now researchers like Dr. Viswanathan are looking to understand how our gut health might interact with our joints. As we learn more, this research will translate into real therapies beyond the lab that can transform osteoarthritis treatment. 

"We're studying how gut health affects our immune system,” says Dr. Viswanathan. "We're looking at how it can activate different types of immune cells that we know have a really big role in driving different types of arthritis.” 

The research process: snapshots of diets and gut bacteria 

Knowing that high-fibre foods tone down inflammation in the body's circulation system, Dr. Viswanathan's research team is gathering snapshots of participants' diets by taking blood and stool samples to study their gut bacteria and how they might also impact joint inflammation. 

"Our research is helping us learn more about the link between diet and inflammation and understand the molecular pathways so we can figure out how to target those areas," says Dr. Viswanathan. 

This research aims to help develop targeted therapies for osteoarthritis based on a deeper understanding of the connection between gut health and inflammation. This might look like a dietary change, injections or capsules that target gut bacteria. 

As Dr. Viswanathan's research progresses, the focus will shift to understanding individual responses to treatment. The rapid advancement of technology offers more affordable and accessible tools to speed up this research, offering hope for current osteoarthritis patients awaiting improved treatments.  

4 things to do while you wait for improved treatments 

Dr. Viswanathan encourages patients to maintain their current healthy lifestyle habits, anticipating the potential for therapies like injections to delay or defer surgery until advancements in technology provide more effective solutions. She emphasizes, "If we can buy people two years that are pain-free, that's pretty good!" 

In the next year alone, various research studies are set to make several announcements that will advance arthritis care. In anticipation of breakthroughs in arthritis care, Dr. Viswanathan offers four proactive strategies for patients: 

  1. Add fibre: Make dietary changes to reduce inflammation. 
  2. Build strength: Stay active and consider programs like GLA:D
  3. Engage in research: Be part of the progress and advancement of research. Stay informed on ongoing research and participate in clinical trials
  4. Make informed decisions: Get informed about available therapies, research regulations and approvals and weigh potential risks and benefits. 

With continued funding, Dr. Viswanathan envisions her research advancing to clinical trials, contributing to the development of improved therapies. 

Advocating for research investment 

Given the competitive landscape of research funding in Canada because of the limited research grants available, Arthritis Society Canada actively advocates for increased investment in arthritis research from all levels of government. Until this support grows significantly, philanthropy plays a crucial role in driving research forward in Canada. 

At Arthritis Society Canada, we're driving life-changing research and transforming arthritis care.  

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