We are fast becoming an ageing population and, according to Arthritis Research, we’re getting even older than we think, as the average lifespan of the world’s population goes up by five whole hours every day, meaning a child born a year from today will statistically live 76 days longer than one born today. Good news if you’re planning on having a long life – not so good news if you’re planning to live that life free of arthritis, one of the most common ailments that afflict us as we age.
While it’s true that arthritis is not an age-specific malady – research proves that the average ages that people develop it is between 30 and 60, and many babies are born with it – the fact remains that arthritis and ageing go hand-in-hand, and will have a profound effect on the society of tomorrow – after all, in a world where people are already starting to retire later in life, arthritis is going to have a major effect on our ability to keep going.
FoxO on the run
So why does the risk of arthritis increase as we get older? A recent study conducted by the Scripps Institute in California investigated that very dilemma. And according to their findings, the key to delaying and even avoiding arthritis is all down to a certain protein.
FoxO proteins get their name from the term ‘forkhead box’, which describes the shape of the motif formed by scores of amino acids which bind to a DNA structure. Also known as the Winged Helix, they play a very important role in the regulation of genes that perform a range of tasks – including cell growth, proliferation, differentiation, and longevity.
Previous research conducted at the Scripps Institute determined that a lack of FoxO develops in cartilage as our joints age and that people with osteoarthritis have a marked decrease in the genes our cells needed for autophagy, which is the process that allows our cells to remove and recycle damaged elements in order to stay healthy.
No FoxO, no lubricin
For the new study, researchers used mice with FoxO deficiency in cartilage and a control group of mice with no FoxO deficiency, in order to monitor how FoxO proteins affect maintenance of cartilage throughout adulthood. They noticed a severe difference in the mice with FoxO deficiency: their cartilage degenerated at much younger age than in the control mice. The FoxO-deficient mice also had more severe forms of post-traumatic osteoarthritis induced by meniscus damage and were more vulnerable to cartilage damage during treadmill running.
Researchers deduced that the FoxO-deficient mice not only had autophagy defects, but they also were unable to produce enough lubricin – a lubricating protein that normally protects the cartilage from friction and wear. This deficiency was associated with a loss of healthy cells in a cartilage layer of the knee joint called the superficial zone.
In other words, if you’re lacking in FoxO proteins, the problems start – and the cells in the cartilage can’t do the necessary repair jobs. Hopefully, the next step will be to discover why FoxO proteins drop off as we age, and how we can keep them there for as long as possible.
While we wait to discover why these proteins deplete as we age and how the process can be reversed, there are certain steps you can take to minimise the development of osteoarthritis.
- Manage occupations risks – certain occupations involve repetitive movements which can increase wear and tear on your joints
- Maintain a healthy weight – extra weight means extra stress on your joints. Controlling our blood sugar levels is also important as diabetes can trigger inflammation. It also makes a regular exercise harder which leads us to our next preventative measure
- Keep moving – low impact exercise, whether aerobic or strength training can help you maintain healthy joints and strengthen the supporting structures of the knee or hip
- Rest – regular exercise is important but do not overdo it and if an activity is causing discomfort then you should discontinue it until you’ve received advice from an expert
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