Osteoarthritis twice as likely if parents suffer the condition

May 15, 2017

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It causes cartilage in the joints to fray, decay, and wear. In extreme cases, the cartilage may wear away completely, resulting in a bone-to-bone joint. Also known as degenerative joint disease. It causes joint pain, reduced joint movement, and loss of joint function. The disability occurs most often when the disease affects the spine and weight-bearing joint, such as knees and hips.

The findings are based on a study of 490 patients with severe knee osteoarthritis, which warranted total knee replacement, 737 of their brothers and sisters over the age of 40 living nearby, and 1729 patients with knee pain, drawn from neighbouring family doctor practice lists.

X-rays were taken of the knees of the siblings and practice list patients to look for evidence of structural changes caused by osteoarthritis.

Older age was a risk factor for osteoarthritis. But even allowing for important risk factors, such as smoking habit, heavy weight, age and gender, the siblings were still more than twice as likely to have knee osteoarthritis as the practice list patients.

The genetic risk was spread across age groups, but brothers were more likely to have the condition than sisters, the findings showed.

For example, people who reported high levels of purpose in life had lower levels of stress hormones throughout the day; lower levels of inflammatory cytokines, which can result in arthritis, hardening of the arteries and diabetes; higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and weighed less. Similarly, people with higher levels of environmental mastery and self-acceptance had lower levels of sugar in the blood, and those with environmental mastery and positive relationships tended to sleep better and longer.

Hedonic well-being, on the other hand, showed its positive health effects only in terms of higher levels of HDL cholesterol.

"These preliminary findings tells us that we can achieve good health and well-being by not just eating right, exercising and managing stress, but by living purposeful and meaningful lives," says Ryff. "Life enrichment may be part of what helps keep older people better regulated."

Because the study focused only on older women and measured levels of emotional and physical health at only one point in their lives, Ryff says the findings at this point cannot be generalized to any other group. But she suspects that high levels of eudaimonic well-being may protect the physical health of most individuals, particularly those who appear to defy social expectations that they should be unhealthy.

If the preliminary findings hold up in additional studies, Ryff asks, "Does this mean that people who do not have eudaimonic well-being are sentenced to live a life with poor biological well-being?" Her answer: "Well-being is something that everyone has the capacity and potential to experience - it's within the reach of anyone."

She adds that research on "well-being therapy," which could promote purposeful life engagement among those who most need it, such as the chronically depressed, is already under way.