Achy Joints? Nutrition is critical, just ask a moose

A new report on moose has some interesting information with regards to human beings and arthritis.  This report suggests that nutrition plays a critical role in the development of arthritis.

The report is the end of a 50 year study on the moose of Ilse Royale, an uninhabited island in Lake Superior.  The study was the longest predator-prey study ever conducted.  What was found was that these moose had arthritis.  They had arthritis that was very similar to the arthritis that humans develop and the conclusions that the scientists came up with were fascinating.  They believe that nutritional deficiencies early in life lead to higher rates of arthritis in the moose.

Osteoarthritis is by far the most common form of arthritis in humans.  It currently affects 27 million Americans, up from 21 million in 1990.  The exact cause is unknown, but general wear and tear on the body seems to break down cartilage leading to inflammation of the joints.  Being sedentary, overweight and some genetic differences increase the risk and severity of arthritis.  Now, nutrition is being recognized as playing a part as well.

To me, this seems obvious.  If nutrition early in life is poor, how can one expect bones and cartilage to form optimally? Over time this may lead to problems with the joints.  Because human beings age slowly, the effects of poor nutrition are magnified.

In humans, bones continue to grow into early adulthood so it is likely that nutrition, in terms of bone and cartilage formation, is critically important.  Later in life nutrition continues to be important because of several factors.

For one, we know that eating a poor diet leads to weight gain.  Being overweight is a significant risk factor for arthritis.  It is important to maintain a healthy weight because not doing so places unnecessary stress on the joints and leads joint deterioration later in life.

Nutrition is also important because controlling inflammation is crucial.  High levels of inflammation destroy tissues and can increase the effects of osteoarthritis.

Genetic factors associated with arthritis are also influenced by nutrition.  In the field of genetics a new subset of study has developed.  This is called epigenetics.  Epigenetics states that each and every one of our genes has a switch on them and it is the environment that determines what genes get turned on and what genes get turned off.  Poor nutrition is known to turn on genes that are detrimental to our health like genes for cancer and now, perhaps, genes that cause arthritis to get worse.  It makes sense with what is known already about the human genome.

Information linking nutrition to arthritis is not that new and human example do exist.  Bones of 16th-century American Indians in Florida and Georgia showed significant increases in osteoarthritis after Spanish missionaries arrived and tribes adopted farming, increasing their workload but also shifting their diet from fish and wild plants to corn.  Similar patterns occurred when an earlier American Indian population in the Midwest began farming maize.  British scientists studying people born in the 1940s found low birth weight (indicating poor prenatal nutrition) linked to osteoarthritis in the mens’ hands.

I think the take home point is that nutrition, from the womb to the very last days of our lives, is important.  The fuel we put in our bodies is the only way we grow and survive.  It stands to reason then that if we put food in that is of low nutritional quality, we will have low quality growth and survival.  Unfortunately, mainstream medicine focuses too much on what drug they can give you to trick your body into thinking there is no longer a problem.  What we should focus on is good, healthy eating habits.  This would significantly reduce disease rates and improve everyone’s overall health.

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