Moose May Provide Clues About Human Osteoarthritis

Have you ever wondered why some people fall prey to osteoarthritis while others enter their middle-aged or senior years as sprightly as ever? A study involving the majestic moose might just offer an answer: early malnutrition.

The latest findings from a more than 50-year study of moose living on unpopulated Isle Royale, which lies off Lake Superior near the U.S.-Canada border, reveal that juvenile malnutrition may predispose one to osteoarthritis later in life. According to The New York Times, scientists working on the so-called Isle Royale project, who spend six months out of the year living in isolation with the moose, analyzed the bones of 1,200 moose carcasses and found that more than half had arthritis, usually in the hip. They also noticed that the moose were smaller than average as measured by the metatarsal bones of the foot, which are a good indicator of overall nutrition. Scientists confirmed that the moose were born during a period when food was scarce on the island.

But while the arthritic moose may have passed their childhoods scrounging for edible plants, can we make the same assumptions about humans who develop osteoarthritis? According to experts, there are several human studies that lend support to the malnutrition-osteoarthritis link. For instance, an analysis of bones of Native Americans in the South 500 years ago showed an increase in osteoarthritis after the tribes adopted a corn-based diet instead of relying on fish and plants. An earlier group of Native Americans in the Midwest displayed similar bone traits after they started eating maize. Corn and maize lack certain amino acids and iron, which would account for the nutritional deficiencies leading to osteoarthritis. In more modern times, scientists examined British men born during the 1940s, when World War II caused food shortages, and found that low birth weight was linked to arthritis of the hands.

While being malnourished at any point in childhood isn't a guarantee of osteoarthritis later in life, it's a good idea to take steps to prevent it if you're concerned. Top on the list of things you can do to avoid it is to get to and stay at a healthy weight. Extra pounds put a strain on joints, and losing even 15 pounds can halve your risk of knee pain. Also, follow an exercise plan. Physical activity keeps joints lubricated and flexible. Take care to warm up, cool down, and stretch properly.