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The body clock – how is it linked to arthritis?

June 18, 2013
Most of us moan about our daily routine but never give it much thought otherwise. But the complex 24-hour rhythms that control our behaviour and our body may have more of an impact on our health than we realise. Researchers are now beginning to work out how the cycle of day and night interacts with our genes. In a novel study just published, Dr Qing-Jun Meng and colleagues from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield have investigated some of these body clock genes and how they affect cartilage. Dr Millicent Stone, Consultant Rheumatologist at The Physicians’ Clinic explains what this tells us about arthritis.

What is arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the cartilage, the shock absorbing material that is present between the bones of a joint. Changes in the cartilage occur as we age, making it do its job less well. As the cartilage degenerates, the bones start to become damaged and inflammation and pain follow. Cells called chondrocytes are responsible for building new cartilage. Dr Meng’s study shows that how these cells respond to the daily cycle may help explain why cartilage changes and why arthritis starts in the first place. “These findings highlight important insights into why our joints change as we get older and may prove useful for devising new treatments or even interventions that can prevent joint damage,” explains Dr Stone.

The body clock study

If we do regular scheduled exercise, we adopt eating habits that control body weight and we get plenty of rest at night, we could be able to keep these natural rhythms in the correct balance for longer,” she says. “Often, as a Rheumatologist, I see patients who first come to me when they already have very established joint disease. The only option then is a joint replacement. The other exciting prospect about this research is that we may be able to find out more about the early changes in cartilage and why they occur. If we understand that, we may be able to detect those early changes and provide treatment to prevent some of the damage early on.” “Dr Meng offers some hope that this will be possible eventually but, in the meantime, it is more evidence that exercise is good for you. As I tell all my patients, as much as you can, ‘Keep moving!’".

Arthritis – what’s the cost

Osteoarthritis is often described as a degenerative disease of the joints.
  • It is extremely common and 8.5 million of us go to our GP each year complaining of joint pain and problems with mobility as we get older.
  • The financial cost is high – around £2 billion a year in the UK. In England and Wales alone, 160,000 people have a hip or knee replacement each year. Other joints such as the ankle, elbow and shoulder can now be replaced, but these operations are much rarer.
  • The personal cost in terms of loss of mobility, reduced independence and a lower quality of life impacts not only on the patient but also on their family and friends.
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