Gut Inflammation Causes Low Back Pain

I don’t know when it started, it sort of crept up on me, but the aching, burning low back pain that centered around my sacroiliac (SI) joints (where the hips meet the spine), has been with me for a few years.  It gets noticeably worse when I’m under more stress, when I drink coffee, or otherwise have a high intake of caffeine.  A weight loss product I was trying out severely worsened my low back pain which is when I realized the product had significantly more caffeine than I realized.  I thought the caffeine was just seriously depleting my adrenals and that’s why the low back pain intensified, but then I started noticing patients with low back pain often had more severe pain at the SI joint.  In Chinese Medicine, the acupuncture point Bl26 is located at L5-SI, the upper end of the SI joint.  This point is indicated for low back pain and abdominal problems like abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.  I thought the “abdominal problems” part a little unusual, but left it at that.

I began searching for orthopedic information about the SI joint and came across a correlation between SI joint pain and gut inflammation.  Humm, so the “abdominal problems” indicator comes up again.

It seems that inflammation and pain in the SI joint, called axial spondyloarthritis, is common in people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) including Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease.  And the symptoms can begin months or even years before an IBD diagnosis is given.  The severity is related to the severity of the IBD and when the Gastro Intestinal (GI) symptoms are cleared up, the SI joint inflammation and pain also goes away often with no joint damage.

SI joint pain can be an early indicator of inflammatory GI problems (pain, bloating, diarrhea), and if the inflammation continues, other joints can also become inflamed and painful including: knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists, and elbows.  For me personally, inflammation first shows up in swollen fingers and swelling in the metacarpophalangeal joints (knuckle joints) especially of the index and middle finger.

Cutting out refined sugar and processed foods is key to stopping the inflammation so your body can heal.  If the inflammation has been going on for a while, you may already have leaky gut (lesions or ulcers in the stomach and small intestine) that allow food or harmful bacteria like H. Pylori (Helicobactor Pylori) or C. Diff (Clostridium difficile) to enter directly into the bloodstream.

How to Heal the Gut

I’ve found that a 3-pronged approach works best.  

Acupuncture  

There are key acupuncture points to help blood flow and digestive function in general, then other points are added to combat the specific pathology of each individual person.  For instance, digestive health is impacted by stress, diet, drugs (pharmaceutical or recreational), environmental toxins, bacteria, parasites, etc.  These factors create either deficient or excess states in the gut and more broadly in the body that result in weakness, heat, toxic conditions, sharp pain, bleeding, etc.  Based on the signs and symptoms of the individual, specific points are used to tonify weakness, clear heat, dispel parasites, stop pain, as appropriate for the individual.

Diet  

It is imperative to eat a clean, healthy diet particularly while healing the gut.  Sugar and processed foods have to be cut out because they create inflammation and feed the bad bacteria that have caused or are contributing to the problem.  If you don’t cut our sugar and processed foods, you’ll stay stuck in a state of inflammation that is very difficult to get out of.  Diet is a much larger discussion, and I don’t like advice that simply consists of what NOT to do, here are is general guidance on what to eat.  Bone broth and aloe vera both help the gut lining as does L-glutamine and DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) this is licorice root with the part that causes high blood pressure removed. 

Eat lightly cooked organic vegetables and quality proteins.  Red meat, white meat, fish, and seafood are all acceptable proteins.  Grass fed, wild caught, and no added hormones are the best options.  Beans and legumes are also good proteins, however, I have noticed more blood deficiency with my vegetarian and vegan patients, so supplementation might be required.  Stop sugar and reduce dairy particularly if you notice stuffy sinuses, phlegm in the back of the throat, or post nasal drip.  Healthy fats are olive oil, coconut oil, avocadoes, ghee, and grass-fed butter.  Starch is something most of us could benefit from less of, but zero is not the answer for everyone either.  Sweet potatoes are a surprisingly excellent healthy option even for for diabetics. 

Herbal Formulas and Supplements

Chinese Medicine herbal formulas are selected similarly to how acupuncture points are selected, based on the signs and symptoms that define the presenting pattern of the patient.  Because Chinese medicine herbal formulas are typically not available for purchase by the general public, I will share information about supplements that are generally available that I’ve found to be helpful.

Eliminate the Bad Stuff

First, I like Pepti-Guard by Thorne to get rid of bacteria like H. Pylori and restore the microbiome of the gut.  The folks at Thorne have this to say about Pepti-Guard:

“Thorne’s Pepti-Guard is formulated to specifically support microbiota in the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, particularly in the stomach. The formula contains deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) and organic aloe vera for their GI-healing properties, while Berberine HCI and bismuth citrate promote a healthy microbial balance.  Pepti-Guard is best used in an 8-week protocol with two capsules, twice a day, between meals.”

If you’ve tried to cut out sugar, but the cravings drive you back to sweets, you likely have candida which is a fungal infection caused by yeast.  Thorne makes another excellent product called Undecylenic Acid to get rid of candida.  I have noticed that it also stops my sugar cravings.  If you have toenail fungus, this formula should also clear up the toenail fungus.

Establish the Good Stuff

To help the proliferation of good gut flora and maintain a healthy gut, I like Life Extension’s Florassist probiotic formula.  Life Extension has also published an article about probiotics and how they are finding that specific strains of probiotic target specific areas of the body.  For instance:

  • Streptococcus salivarius M18 probiotic improves oral health
  • Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell-52 and
  • Bificobacterium longum Rosell-175 probiotic helps anxiety and depression 
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus CRL 1505 probiotic stimulates the immune function in the respiratory tract and gut. 

Life Extension makes several focused probiotics that target GI health, liver health, and even a formula that targets the immune health specifically in the nose and throat to help cut down on infectious diseases that are transmitted by coughing and sneezing.

See the full article here: https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2021/7/probiotic

Reduce Inflammation

And finally, to help reduce inflammation after it’s started, I like bromelain (pineapple enzyme – which you can get at most health food stores) or olive leaf.  I personally get olive leaf tincture from an organic olive orchard in Hollister called Bella Vista Ranch.  You can find them at San Jose farmer’s markets or their website: https://bellavistaoil.com/  Another olive leaf source I like is d-Lenolate by East Park Research.

The Benefits of a Healthy Gut

As you begin to heal your gut, you may find that several health issues start to clear up.   For me personally, here’s what I experienced:

  • Low Back Pain improved – because the pain had gotten noticeably worse after my accidental caffeine infusion from a weight loss product, I noticed the back pain improvement first.  In particular, the pain and swelling from about L4 to the sacrum greatly improved.  The constant ache went away.
  • Appetite returned – I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t actually hungry most of the time.  I just ate because it was lunchtime or dinnertime.  I ate because I knew I needed to, but there wasn’t real joy or gustatory pleasure in eating.  It was wonderful to actually look forward to eating because I craved something good to eat.
  • Bowel movements improved – bowel movements should not be hard, too soft, or come out in pieces, they should come out in one long continuous form like soft-serve ice cream (hope I didn’t ruin ice cream for you forever).  You shouldn’t have to push, they should flow out through the rhythmic contraction of the large intestine and you should feel fully evacuated when done.  Also, there should be nothing left to wipe off, they should not be sticky, and nothing should stick to the bottom of the bowl when you flush.  If there are skid marks at the bottom of the bowl, that indicates dampness.  Since we’re on the subject, stool that is extremely light colored, “clay-colored” is how it’s typically described, indicates a bile problem, and stool that is black, or tarry indicates an upper GI bleed like a stomach ulcer.
  • Joint swelling gone – the 2 places I noticed joint swelling were in my metacarpophalangeal (knuckle) joints especially the index and middle finger, and my external malleolus (outer ankle bone).  I never had pain in either location, but the puffiness was gone.
  • Edema gone – again, there were 2 places I noticed, swelling in my fingers, and puffy eyelids.  In Chinese Medicine, the upper and lower eyelids reflect the health of the Spleen and Stomach respectively.  Both are key organs related to digestion and puffiness in either eyelid is often related to dampness caused by things like eating too much sugar, alcohol, processed foods, or a weak digestive system
  • Phlegm gone – when dampness goes on in the body for too long, it can turn into phlegm which can show up as sinus congestion, phlegm in the back of the throat (which is what I experienced), or if prolonged can turn into phlegm nodules like lipomas under the skin.  Cysts are also considered phlegm in Chinese Medicine and are typically the result of not enough iodine and an iodine supplement is in order.
  • Brain fog gone – another way dampness can show up is in the head as a dizzy, muzzy feeling or what is commonly described as brain fog.  Brain fog can be caused by other things too like blood deficiency (anemia), but when it’s caused by dampness, that unclear feeling or inability to think clearly will be worse during damp weather.
  • Skin rash gone – I had started to notice little bumps (not itchy or red) in the cubital creases of my arms (inside of the elbow), and within 4-5 days those bumps were gone.
  • Skin elasticity improved – the crepey skin I was starting to see on the underside of my forearms went away, and I saw healthier more elastic skin tone return.

I hope that sharing my own health experiences provides the help or insights you need for your own wellbeing.  Wishing you health and happiness. 

If you would like help with your digestive or joint pain problems, click the “Request an Appointment” button on this page, or call the clinic at 669-240-5575

 — Dr. Tronica Vanzant

References:

Hwangbo, Y., Kim, H. J.,
Park, J. S., Ryu, K. N., Kim, N. H., Shim, J., Jang, J. Y., Dong, S. H., Kim,
B. H., Chang, Y. W., & Chang, R. (2010, September). Sacroiliitis is
common in Crohn’s disease patients with perianal or upper gastrointestinal
involvement
. Gut and liver. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2956345/.

Brakenhoff, L. K. P. M.,
van der Heijde, D. M., Hommes, D. W., Huizinga, T. W. J., & Fidder, H. H.
(2010, September 1). joint-gut axis in inflammatory bowel diseases. OUP
Academic. https://academic.oup.com/ecco-jcc/article/4/3/257/358706

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