Dr's Casebook: Light exercise can help pain by reducing inflammation

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I have written quite often about the microbiome, possibly one of the most exciting areas in medical research.

Dr Keith Souter writes: We are discovering more and more about the importance to our health of the microbes that live in and on us. The harmony between our gut, organs and tissues and the microbes helps to maintain health, while imbalance can predispose to illness.

The microbiome is the name given to the relationship between the human body and the microbes that we carry around inside us in the gut.

Some bacteria may increase our risk of diabetes type 2, inflammation in the body, arthritis and other diseases like obesity, heart disease and various autoimmune disorders.

Light exercise can help pain by reducing inflammation. Photo: AdobeLight exercise can help pain by reducing inflammation. Photo: Adobe
Light exercise can help pain by reducing inflammation. Photo: Adobe

The balance in the bowel microflora, the range and quantity of bacteria in the intestines is affected by our choices in diet, prescribed drugs and lifestyle. The effect of exercise on the microbiome is the subject of a lot of research.

A recent study from the University of Nottingham published in the journal Gut Microbes suggests that exercise can increase the body’s own cannabis-like substances, which in turn helps reduce inflammation.

This could reduce pain of many conditions including arthritis. They also found that it reduced inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.

In the study 78 people with arthritis were divided into two groups. Half were asked to carry out 15 minutes of muscle strengthening exercises every day for six weeks, and half acted as controls and did no exercise.

All participants had blood and stool tests and body measurements and questionnaires about their pain levels taken at the start and finish of the study.

They found that the exercise group participants all had reduced pain levels, but also showed a greater diversity in their bowel microbiome. In particular they had more bacteria of the type that produce natural anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids.

They also had a decrease in some of the bacteria that are associated with increased inflammation. In addition, they had higher levels of endocannabinoids, the cannabis-like substances that reduce inflammation and pain, and lower levels of cytokines.

This very modest amount of exercise of quarter of an hour a day seems to have a very beneficial effect on arthritic pain that comes about from its effect on the gut microbiome.