New study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation say’s Osteoarthritis symptoms could be intrinsically linked to the human body clock. A study that could pave the way for drug treatment for the joint condition, which affects eight million people in the UK.

Dr Qing-Jun Meng’s a senior research fellow at The University of Manchester’s study partly funded by Arthritis Research and the Medical Research Council said “We’ve identified a link between the body clock and osteoarthritis.This could unlock the prospect of drugs which reset the body-clock mechanism. Scientists are already developing drugs which can act in this way for other conditions. Now, osteoarthritis can be part of this effort.

Dr Meng also said “that people with arthritis could use their body clock to help ease symptoms: There are also other body-clock related approaches which can help osteoarthritis sufferers. Eating and exercising at set regular times each day is also something we think is a good idea. Using heat pads that approximate body temperature changes in cartilage tissue – which are too governed by the body clock – are also potentially useful.”

Body clocks within cartilage cells – or chondrocytes – control thousands of genes which segregate different biological activities at different times of the day were discovered by Dr Meng and his team.

They realised that “the body clock, controls the equilibrium between when chondrocyte cells are repaired during rest and when they are worn down through activity. And as we age, our cartilage cell body clocks deteriorate, making the repair function insufficient, which could contribute to osteoarthritis.

Three types of human cartilage were examined by Dr Meng’s team under the microscope: normal, mildly affected by osteoarthritis and severely affected. The team found as the osteoarthritis became more severe, the number of cells that express BMAL1 – a protein which controls the body clock – became less and less.

When we age, Dr Meng found similar reduction of BMAL1 in chondrocytes, which coincided with the reduced ‘amplitude’ of the body clock (up to 40% weaker in older mice), supporting the theory that ageing, at least partially through dysregulation of the chondrocyte clocks, is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis.

I would say it is important when examining research to keep an open mind. Sometimes we read a paper and feel the conclusions are what we expect, a confirmation of what we might have anticipated. Sometimes the result is a surprise, and then it may be tempting to disregard it.

How can the body’s circadian rhythm affect the development of arthritis, for instance? But relate this to what we already know. No athlete would exercise without warming up. Nutritionists tell us it is not just what we eat, but when we eat it, that affects how we metabolise food. So using our own body clock to eat and to exercise regularly makes sense. Everyone with arthritis needs to keep moving, but how often do we think to warm our painful joints first?

And then there is the reference to cartilage, and it’s potential regeneration.

When established we accept arthritis is irreversible, yet every tissue in the body is gradually replaced and recycled throughout our lives. Cartilage and especially bone change very slowly, and how much potential there is for repair has been debated for years. This study suggests that by using our circadian rhythms in harmony with the lifestyle changes we do to help our arthritis we may be able to increase still further the improvements we would expect preserving our joints.

It is sometimes very tempting to despair of arthritis and say there is nothing that can be done. There is always something, and it is often new and simple.