If your joints begin to stiffen and feel painful — especially when you wake up in the morning or as swelling becomes more common — your body could be telling you that osteoarthritis may be just around the corner.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions that harms the joints, often affecting the lower backs, necks, small joints of fingers and the knees of nearly 10 percent of all Americans.

A deterioration of cartilage is the common culprit in osteoarthritis, leading to breakdowns that spur inflammation, pain and joint damage. Because this discomfort makes it harder to move around, you may be dealing with other health problems related to a sedentary lifestyle that lead to obesity and cardiovascular problems like heart disease or diabetes.

Osteoarthritis also increases your chances of experiencing more falls (30 percent) and debilitating fractures (20 percent) than someone in good health.

You may be very surprised to learn the health of your gut could be a driving force behind osteoarthritis and that prebiotics — non-digestible carbohydrates/plant fiber that feeds the good bacteria living in your gut — may play an important role in treating this condition, according to a study appearing in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Prebiotics to the rescue!

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered how prebiotics could help in treating osteoarthritis while studying mice fed high-fat foods, not unlike the cheeseburgers and shakes humans eat in a Western diet.

After 12 weeks on a high-fat diet, mice experienced all of the telltale signs of eating a poor diet (obesity, diabetes) and their gut health showed it.

Not only were their microbiomes dominated by bacteria that triggered inflammation, they were nearly depleted of beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacteria.

(These symptoms are also linked very strongly with leaky gut, a serious health condition that occurs when unintended substances seep through the intestinal barrier to the bloodstream.)

These internal changes were evident with signs of inflammation prevalent all over the tiny bodies of obese mice, along with a faster progression of osteoarthritis (nearly a total loss of knee cartilage within 12 weeks after a meniscal tear) compared to leaner mice.

However, the damage done by obesity was prevented almost completely when obese mice were fed a prebiotic (oligofructose). Although their body weight remained the same, the effects of osteoarthritis lessened greatly.

In fact, obese mice that were fed prebiotics had healthy knee cartilage indistinguishable to those of leaner mice and signs of diabetes diminished too.

“This reinforces the idea that osteoarthritis is another second complication of obesity, just like diabetes, heart disease and stroke, which all have inflammation as part of their root cause,” says Dr. Robert Mooney, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, according to the URMC Newsroom.

These positive results of the mice study have set the stage for a follow-up study with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs using probiotics and prebiotics to help vets suffering from obesity-related osteoarthritis.

Just a reminder that EndoMune Advanced Probiotic and EndoMune Jr. (Chewable and Powder) contain multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, and the prebiotic FOS (fructooligosaccharides). Both are proven weapons for fighting obesity that could also protect your body from the damage done by osteoarthritis.