Osteoarthritis may signal faster biological aging

October 16, 2006

Osteoarthritis may be a sign of faster biological aging, according to a study published online in October in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Osteoarthritis may be a sign of faster biological aging, according to a study published online in October in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

The authors based their findings on a study of 1086 people aged 30 to 79; many of the participants were female twins.

Dr. Tim Spector, a researcher at King's College in the U.K., and colleagues performed x-rays of both hands of all participants to check for signs of osteoarthritis. They also took a blood sample to assess "biological aging" in white cell DNA.

Biological aging is likely to be reflected by the gradual shortening of telomeres, the length of DNA which caps the tips of chromosomes. A host of factors make them shorten over time, including insufficient repair of the damage caused by oxygen free radicals (oxidative stress).

Oxygen free radicals are the unstable molecules produced as a by-product of normal body processes, as well as external factors such as tobacco, alcohol, and sunlight.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, with the hands frequently most affected. Its frequency rises dramatically with age, but its exact cause is unknown.

Unsurprisingly, the findings showed that white cell telomere lengths were associated with chronological age. The older a person was, the shorter the lengths were.

But among 160 study participants with hand osteoarthritis, the telomere length was significantly shorter than among those without the disease, even after accounting for influential factors such as obesity, age, sex, and smoking.

All those with hand osteoarthritis were over age 50, and the amount of telomere shortening was equivalent to that accrued over 11 years in healthy people (178 base pairs).

Telomere length was also significantly associated with severity of osteoarthritis. The more severe the disease, the shorter the telomere length.

The authors suggest that both the aging process and osteoarthritis share biological factors in common, including oxidative stress and low-level chronic inflammation.

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