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A pig, a cow, and a crab, all common food allergies that can affect axial spondyloarthritis, look menacingly as flames grow around them.

Food Allergies, Gut Inflammation, And AxSpA

Scientists do not fully know how food allergies affect inflammation in axial spondyloarthritis (AxSpA). However, researchers believe there is a link between gut health and AxSpA. Food allergies have a direct impact on gut health.1

The reason for the link between gut health and AxSpA is not fully understood. But people with all types of SpA have different populations of healthy bacteria in their guts. People with AxSpA are also more likely to have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).1,2

How are food allergies related to inflammation?

Food allergies happen when your immune system mistakenly thinks something you eat is harmful. Immune cells then act as “first responders.” They produce a label that binds to the food and notifies the immune system that a substance needs to be destroyed. Think of this like a first responder using a siren to activate an emergency response.3

These immune cells produce a protein called an antibody. The antibody attaches to the particular food protein, which is called an antigen. This sets off a chain reaction, releasing inflammatory chemicals and causing allergy symptoms. Once these antibodies have been produced, the body instantly recognizes the food the next time it is eaten. This starts the cycle again.3

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The gut is directly exposed to the food we eat, and the gut’s immune system identifies allergens. As a result, food allergies are a major cause of inflammation in the gut, which is linked to IBD.4,5

Gut inflammation is more likely to occur if the gut does not have normal levels of healthy bacteria. Healthy guts contain thousands of different types of bacteria that maintain immune health and metabolism. When the strains of bacteria become imbalanced, it can affect your health. Some research also shows there may be a genetic link between spondyloarthritis and IBD.1,6

Chronic gut inflammation can lead to disruption of the intestinal barrier. This may allow inflammatory chemical signals to move through the body and reach joints. However, this relationship is not proven.6,7

How are food allergies related to AxSpA?

There is limited evidence that food allergies are related to the severity of AxSpA. However, some studies have found connections.

One study showed that people with ankylosing spondyloarthritis (AS) have higher levels of antibodies to beef, crab, and pork in their blood. This means that proteins in these foods may trigger a larger immune response for people with AS. However, we cannot assume that allergy to these foods affects the development of AS.8

Research does show there is a major connection between AxSpA and gut health. About 5 to 7 percent of people with AxSpA develop IBD. About 13 percent of people with IBD develop AxSpA. Nearly 50 percent of people with AxSpA have gut inflammation. In some cases, this is a risk factor for AxSpA to progress to AS.1

Many studies have shown that spondyloarthritis severity is linked to altered gut bacteria environments. Because this can lead to an abnormal immune response, food allergies may cause increased inflammation for people with AxSpA. These studies show that increased gut inflammation, caused by food allergies or other factors, may contribute to the progression of AxSpA.1-3

What types of foods are most linked to inflammation?

There is no set list of food allergies that cause increased inflammation for people with AxSpA. If you have a known food allergy, it is best to avoid eating it for your overall health.3

In general, doctors suggest maintaining a balanced diet. It is possible that an anti-inflammatory diet may reduce joint pain. This diet avoids fried and processed foods, simple carbohydrates, dairy products, alcohol, and tobacco. The diet prioritizes vegetables, fruits, cereals, beans, and fish.9

If you have questions about what foods are right for you, talk to your doctor. They can connect you with a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you maintain a healthy diet.

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