As a pain practitioner I always wait for that moment in the consultation when I would ask the question: “Do you have any family members that struggle with arthritis or struggle with neck and back pain?” The stories then start pouring out. The question always remains: Is arthritis inheritable?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the leading causes of global disability. It is a chronic disease characterised by changes and damage in the bones and joints. The genetic code of some people can lead to a susceptibility to develop the disease. This genetic predisposition is found in 39–79% of people. There are also other factors that contribute to the development of OA. The main risk factors, other than genetics, are age, gender, smoking, obesity, and prior injury or abnormal alignment. Due to increasing obesity levels and an ageing population, the incidence of OA is predicted to double within the next 15–20 years.
I have arthritis in my family; does it mean that I will also end up having surgery like they did?
The answer to this question lies in epigenetics. Epigenetics is the ability to switch genes on and off with certain interventions. Combining the wrong genetic make-up with the wrong lifestyle could “switch” the expression of genes “on and off”. Take, for example, smoking: One individual smokes but did not inherit a genetic make-up that would make them prone to arthritis. His next-door neighbour smokes half the amount and suffers from severe, debilitating arthritis. Epigenetics does not mean that the primary DNA sequence is changed, but that the expression thereof differs. Within the last 10 years, epigenetics has developed as a new and important area of OA research, helping us to better understand the disease and helping your pain practitioner to intervene at an early stage to delay the onset or progression of this disease by taking proactive steps and implementing preventative interventions. A couple of these interventions include changing your diet, doing the right kind and amount of exercise, and stopping smoking.
What does this mean and what does the future hold for me?
In the last decade there have been many promising studies. By identifying the position of a gene on a particular chromosome, diseases can be diagnosed earlier, and interventions can be designed in an individualised, patient targeted manner.
Ask your nearest pain practitioner more about these exciting developments to learn how you can take steps to improve your health.
Article by: Izelle Taljaard