Infectious arthritis is a joint disease produced by bacteria infections that often start in the gut. Numerous studies have now linked a particular type of infectious arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, to a particular species of bacteria. We also now find scientific proof that certain antibiotic herbs can inhibit these infective bacteria that cause ankylosing spondylitis.

Arthritis linked to bacteria infections might surprise some of you. This is because ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a joint condition that produces joint stiffness and pain and sometimes great disability. The joints of the spine, pelvis, hips, shoulders and ribs are most vulnerable to AS. That’s because these regions also happen to be in closer proximity to routes of infective bacteria – notably the digestive and respiratory systems.

Arthritis and gut bacteria

Within the past decade, multiple studies have established the link between gut bacteria and this debilitating condition. Suspicions began as early as the 1980s, when researchers found that many ankylosing spondylitis (AS) patients also happened to have bowel inflammation and Crohn’s disease.

Research into the relationships between AS and infective bacteria has matured. More recent research has found at least 85 percent of AS cases involved a microbial infection within the gut. Bacterial infections ranged from Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia and Chlamydia trachomatis. In particular, infections linked to both AS and Crohn’s disease often coincided with infections of Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria.

The risk of these bacteria infections becoming full-blown infectious arthritis becomes greater in the presence of a HLA-B27 genetic disposition. (Up to 1 out of 10 people may have HLA-B27, depending upon their ancestry.)

Further research has established that anti-HLA-B27 antibodies will bind more prevalently with Klebsiella pneumoniae, and anti- Klebsiella antibodies bind with collagen in joints. The combination creates a perfect storm for ankylosing spondylitis. For this reason, about 9 out of 10 people with ankylosing spondylitis have the HLA-B27 genetic allotype.

Routes of infection

Klebsiella pneumoniae infections can start in the throat (often called strep throat) and can work into the lungs and digestive tract. These entry routes provide the means for the bacteria to then infect joints through the bloodstream.

Another route of entry is through the gums. A bad case of periodontal disease can accompany a Klebsiella infection. This can allow the bacteria and endotoxins entry into the bloodstream through the gums. These find their way into the joints, producing infectious arthritis.

Australian herbs for infective arthritis

Researchers from Australia’s Griffith University investigated the potential for using native Australian herbs to combat ankylosing spondylitis.

The research tested 106 extracts from 40 native Australian plant species. The 40 plants were chosen because they have been used in native medicines for the treatment of inflammation or infection conditions. The researchers then produced multiple extracts of each of these native herbs.

Different types of extracts will often yield different activity from the same herb. This is because different plant compounds will be drowned out by different extract mediums. For example, a water extract may draw out a different range of compounds compared to an alcohol extract.

The researchers proceeded to test each herbal extract against the Klebsiella species most known to cause ankylosing spondylitis. The researchers found 86 of the 106 extracts inhibited the growth of Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria.

Those plant extracts with the greatest ability to block the growth of the Klebsiella bacteria included:

• Brush cherry (Syzygium australe)

• Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.)

• Myrtle tree (Leptospermum spp.)

• Paperbark tea tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia)

• Pepperbush (Tasmannia spp.)

• Pittosporum (Pittosporum angustifolium)

• Quinine bush (Petalostigma pubescens)

• Spiny fan-flower (Scaevola spinescens)

• Thorn apple (Datura leichhardtii

• White apple (Syzygium forte)

These extracts exhibited antibacterial qualities that allowed them to block the growth of Klebsiella. The most potent of the above extracts was the Pepperbush species.

Antibacterial plant compounds found in the effective extracts included polygodial, guaiol, caryophyllene oxide and other sesquiterpenoids. Also successful extracts contained antibacterial compounds such as linalool, cineole, terpineol and other monoterpenoids.

They also found these extracts to be safe for human application, with a lack of toxicity.

The researchers concluded:

“The lack of toxicity and the growth inhibitory activity of these extracts against Klebsiella pneumoniae indicate their potential for both preventing the onset of ankylosing spondylitis and minimising its symptoms once the disease is established.”

South African herbs also identified

In 2015, The Griffith University researchers tested a number of plants native to South Africa against Klebsiella and infectious arthritis. The researchers found 13 plants and 26 extracts from these plants effectively blocked Klebsiella growth. Here they are:

• Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis)

• Ballota (Ballota Africana)

• Geranium (Pelargonium fasiculata)

• Lemon bush (Lippia javanica)

• Purple pod Terminalia (Terminalia pruinoides)

• Sausage tree (Kigellia Africana)

• Silver Terminalia (Terminalia sericea)

• Waterbessie (Syzygium cordatum)

The researchers concluded:

“Their low toxicity and antibiotic bioactivity against Klebsiella pneumoniae indicate their potential for both preventing the onset of ankylosing spondylitis and minimising its symptoms once the disease is established.”

The bottom line: Nature provides the means for fighting modern ailments that we are only just unraveling. The treasure-trove of natural antibacterial plants also comes with a measure of safety and a lack of adverse effects.