The latest on arthritis: What we learned in 2018

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While there's still no cure for arthritis, scientists have made a number of developments this year that could change the lives of the 350 million people worldwide living with the condition. Source: Shutterstock

Around 350 million people around the world are impacted by arthritis, a common condition that results in pain, discomfort and inflammation of the joints. Whether it’s osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions including gout, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, there’s currently no cure.

Still, there’s been plenty of research in 2018 about possible treatments and causes of the painful condition. Starts at 60 is looking back at some of the biggest developments research and science made when it comes to arthritis.

Menopause could worsen symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

A study of 8,189 women with rheumatoid arthritis published in the Journal of Rheumatology earlier this year found pre-menopausal women experience slower physical decline than women who are post-menopausal. As it is, women already experience this type of arthritis at a rate three times greater than men and researchers from Oxford University were keen to find out why.

Conducting an observational study, researchers discovered that menopause has a significant impact on the level and rate of functional decline in women with rheumatoid arthritis and is also associated with a worsening progression of the effects of the disease.

“Not only is this decline causing suffering for women, it is costly to both individuals and the healthcare system as a whole,” leader author Elizabeth Mollard said in a statement at the time.

Researchers believe this has something to do with hormonal levels, but further research is needed to determine why women with rheumatoid arthritis are more effected after menopause.

Bacteria in milk linked to rheumatoid arthritis

Researchers from the University of Central Florida discovered a strain of bacteria commonly found in beef and milk may be a trigger for developing rheumatoid arthritis in patients who are genetically at risk.

The bacteria, known as Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), can spread to humans if they consume infected milk, beef or even produce that was fertilised by cow manure. It had also previously been linked to Crohn’s disease – which shares the same genetic predispositions as rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers believe people with this specific genetic mutation who unintentionally consume MAP are at greatest risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

“We don’t know the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, so we’re excited that we have found this association,” lead author Shazia Beg said. “But there is still a long way to go. We need to find out why MAP is more predominant in these patients – whether it’s present because they have RA, or whether it caused RA in these patients.”

Diabetes linked to elevated risk of arthritis

A study involving more than 109,000 people presented at this year’s European Association for the Study of Diabetes annual meeting in Berlin found patients with diabetes had 70 per cent higher chance of also living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers analysed the links between musculoskeletal pain in patients with type 2 diabetes and found those with diabetes were 27 per cent more likely to report back pain and 29 per cent more likely to have shoulder and neck pain compared to those without diabetes.

It is thought the strong association between rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes is the result of chronic inflammation or steroid treatment.

New treatment targets cause rather than pain

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this year designed a new material that could improve treatment by administering drugs directly into the cartilage of those with osteoarthritis. The material can penetrate deep into the cartilage, allowing medication to enter bones that has the potential to heal damaged tissue, according to the study published in the Science Translational Medicine Journal.

Researchers said this is a new way of getting directly to the cells that experience the damage and treat them with therapeutics that could change their behaviour. Testing on rats, researchers were able to use the new material to deliver an experimental drug called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) to prevent breakdown. Trials shows it was more effective than injecting the drug into the joint on its own without the material.

Researchers are now hopeful humans could also benefit from similar joint injections, although further trials are needed.

Yoghurt could prevent arthritis pain

Research published in The Journal of Nutrition found daily consumption of yoghurt has the potential to ease the pain associated with arthritis and that eating just one low-fat pot of the dairy product a day can calm chronic inflammation.

Participants in the study were given an 8oz (226.7g) tub of low-fat yoghurt before a 900-calorie breakfast of sausages, hash browns and muffins. It was found these participants had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood stream than those who didn’t eat a yoghurt before their meal.

Not only did the study find low-fat yoghurt can lessen inflammation, it could also be used as a safer alternative to aspirin, naproxen, hydrocortisone and other medications used to treat arthritis, asthma and an array of other health issues including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

It’s always important to talk about arthritis with your doctor and to discuss potential treatments before trying them.

Are you living with arthritis? How do you manage pain and symptoms?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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