News December 2017 Issue

In The News: December 2017

Oral Contraceptive Use May Lower Risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Women who use oral contraceptives were found to have a reduced chance of getting rheumatoid arthritis in a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (August 2017). The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known. Hormones may play a role, since it is three times more common in women than in men. For the study, researchers analyzed health data on 2,641 women over age 18 with rheumatoid arthritis and 4,251 women without the disease. They were given blood tests and answered a questionnaire. Women who had used oral contraceptives at any time in the past were 13 percent less likely than those who never used them to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Current users had a 15 percent decreased risk, and those who used oral contraceptives for seven years or more had a 19 percent lower risk. But oral contraceptive use is not recommended for the purpose of preventing rheumatoid arthritis.

Knee Osteoarthritis Twice as Common as in the Past

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Knee osteoarthritis is twice as common today as it was in the middle of the 20th century, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (August 2017). The researchers analyzed trends in knee osteoarthritis from prehistoric times to the present. By examining skeletal remains, they were able to identify osteoarthritis in people from ancient hunter-gatherers through the early industrial era (1800s to early 1900s) and up to modern times (1900s to early 2000s). They found evidence of knee osteoarthritis in 16 percent of people from the modern period, and just six and eight percent of those from the early industrial and prehistoric periods. Even when the researchers made adjustments for age and weight, the difference remained, meaning other factors besides obesity, such as lower levels of physical activity, are also to blame.

Glucosamine Supplements Fail to Show Benefit

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Many people with osteoarthritis take glucosamine supplements for their potential pain-relieving qualities. While there have been conflicting findings from studies of this supplement, the most high-quality study—the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial—showed that glucosamine was no better than placebo for pain relief. A new study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (July 2017), backs up this finding. Researchers analyzed data from six studies, which together included a total of more than 1,600 people with knee or hip osteoarthritis. None of the trials was funded by industry. Glucosamine was found to be no better than a dummy pill (placebo) both in the short term (three months) and longer term (two years). The researchers also found no difference between glucosamine and placebo when they looked at results for subgroups of people based on pain severity, weight, sex, structural abnormalities and presence of inflammation.

Even Small Increases in Physical Activity Improve Mobility

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Being physically active is essential for maintaining day-to-day functioning and reducing disability, especially for older adults who are at risk for falls and hip fracture. But how much is enough? A group of researchers sought the answer to this question and reported their findings in the journal PLoS One (August 2017). Their study included more than 1,600 men and women age 70 to 89 with functional limitations who engaged in little physical activity. Half of them were enrolled in a program of moderate-intensity walking along with strength, flexibility and balance training. The other half participated in health education workshops. Those in the active exercise program had increasingly greater improved function over the two years of the study. Adding just 48 minutes or more a week of regular physical activity was enough to have a meaningful effect.

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