“As the study entered its second decade there was increasing evidence of Osteoarthritis (OA) in the moose population,” said lead author Rolf Peterson from Michigan Technological University. “OA is a crippling disease and is identical to that found in humans. It is commonly believed to be caused by ‘wear and tear,’ but the complex causes have remained poorly understood.”
Over the course of the study the team discovered a rise in OA as the moose population increased, and a decrease when the population fell, leading to the idea that OA is linked to moose malnutrition when food is scarcer. The team found moose that were malnourished when young would develop OA in older age.
“We have shown how malnutrition early in life increased the risk of OA later in life, but this also applies to humans as much as to a herd of moose in the wild,” said Peterson.
“These findings cast new light on how early humans first developed OA,” said co-author Dr Clark Spencer Larsen, an anthropology expert from Ohio University. “The study of human remains from archaeological contexts reveals OA increased where societies changed from foraging plants and animals to an increased dependency on farming.”
Such changes were documented in a mid-continental population of Native Americans 1000 years ago. In this group arthritis increased by 65% as society turned from foraging and hunting to agriculture and the cultivation of maize.
“Initially the increase in OA was put down to increased joint stress due to the labour of agriculture. However research now shows that, like the moose in Isle Royale, nutritional deficiencies early in life may have been the main cause. Early malnutrition was certainly a part of existence for many pre-historic human societies, and remains a fact of life for millions of people across the world, so this study is also relevant for modern human society.”
The original paper is in Ecology Letters, and it should be online at this address. I do wonder if more detailed understanding of the long term impact of early life nutrition is going to drive parents crazy with alarm as every new study which comes out produces a shift in recommendations.