Humans May Possess Ability to Regrow Cartilage

Humans May Possess Ability to Regrow Cartilage

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 9, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Humans may lack the salamander skill of regrowing a limb, but a new study suggests they do have some capacity to restore cartilage in their joints.

The findings run counter to a widely held belief: Because the cartilage cushioning your joints lacks its own blood supply, your body can’t repair damage from an injury or the wear-and-tear of aging.

And that, in part, is why so many people eventually develop osteoarthritis, where broken-down cartilage causes pain and stiffness in the joints.

But that lack of blood supply does not mean there’s no regenerative capacity in the cartilage, according to Dr. Virginia Byers Kraus, the senior researcher on the new study.

In fact, her team found evidence that human cartilage can, to some degree, renew itself, using a molecular process similar to the one that allows a salamander to grow a new limb.

The researchers are calling it the “inner salamander capacity.”

“For the first time, we have evidence that the joint has the capacity to repair itself,” said Kraus, a professor at Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, N.C.

Specifically, she explained, that capability exists in a “gradient.” It’s greatest in the ankle, less apparent in the knee, and lowest in the hip.

And that makes sense if this repair capability is an artifact of evolution, according to Kraus. Animals that regenerate tissue have the greatest capacity for it in the distal portions of the body — the parts “most likely to get chewed off.”

Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon not involved in the study, said the findings raise some interesting questions.

For one, he said, could this be a partial explanation for why osteoarthritis is common in the knees and hips, but not the ankles?

“It’s been assumed that it’s related to the biomechanics of the joints,” said Rodeo, an attending surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City.

But this study, he said, suggests there might be intrinsic differences in the joints’ ability to repair cartilage.

The other major question, Rodeo said, is whether this newfound human capacity can translate into new treatments for arthritis. “Can we better understand the basic biology, and harness it?” he asked.

For the study, Kraus and her colleagues analyzed proteins in samples of joint cartilage that had been removed from patients having surgery. The researchers developed a method for gauging the “age” of those proteins, based on the premise that young proteins have little to no evidence of “conversions” of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), while older proteins have many conversions.

Overall, the investigators found, ankle cartilage showed the greatest number of young proteins. Knee cartilage looked more middle-aged, and hip cartilage had relatively few young proteins and plenty of old.

In addition, the study found, molecules called microRNAs seem to regulate the process. They were more abundant in ankle cartilage than tissue from knees and hips, and in the top layers of cartilage, versus the deeper layers.

As it happens, microRNAs also help salamanders regrow lost limbs.

The findings were published online Oct. 9 in the journal Science Advances.

It all raises the possibility that the innate repair capacity in cartilage can be augmented, according to Kraus. Could, for example, injectable microRNA drugs be used to boost cartilage self-repair?

No one is saying science is close to helping humans grow new limbs. But, Kraus said, understanding the fundamental mechanisms behind tissue regeneration — figuring out what salamanders have that people are missing — could eventually lead to ways to repair various tissues in the human body.

Rodeo agreed. “Can we learn lessons from animals that do regenerate tissue, and apply that to humans?”

Both he and Kraus said there is a “huge” need for innovative ways to treat osteoarthritis, which affects roughly 27 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. There is no cure, and current treatments are aimed at managing symptoms.

When people are disabled by arthritis, Kraus noted, that can also raise their risk of other major health problems, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more on osteoarthritis treatment.

SOURCES: Virginia Byers Kraus, M.D., professor, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C.; Scott Rodeo, M.D., attending orthopedic surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City; Oct. 9, 2019, Science Advances, online

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Health Tip: Preventing Backpack Injuries

Health Tip: Preventing Backpack Injuries

(HealthDay News) — Backpacks are a practical way for people to carry books and other supplies. They are designed to distribute the weight of these items among the body’s muscles, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. But when used incorrectly, backpacks can harm muscles and joints.

To prevent injury when using a backpack, the academy suggests:

  • Always use both shoulder straps.
  • Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back.
  • Organize items so that heavy things are low and toward the bag’s center.
  • Only carry items that are required for the day.
  • Lift properly by bending at the knees when picking up a backpack.
  • Consider using a crossbody bag as an alternative.
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How to Keep Your Bones Strong and Prevent Fractures

How to Keep Your Bones Strong and Prevent Fractures

THURSDAY, Sept. 12, 2019 (HealthDay News) — If you’re a young adult, start thinking about your bone health, an expert advises.

Most people reach peak bone mass — the strongest bones they’ll ever have — between 25 and 30 years of age, according to Dr. Philip Bosha, a physician with Penn State Sports Medicine in State College, Pa.

“To some extent, genetics determines the peak, but lifestyle influences, such as diet and exercise, are also factors,” Bosha said in a Penn State news release.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, bone mass starts to slowly decrease after age 40. Taking 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 1,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D a day can help maintain your bones. You should also do weight-bearing exercises such as running and brisk walking, as well as resistance training to maintain bone and muscle strength.

After age 50, the daily recommended calcium intake for men remains 1,000 milligrams per day, but rises to 1,200 milligrams for women, including those who are entering or have gone through menopause.

Declining estrogen levels due to menopause can lead to rapid bone loss. All women 65 and older — and those between 60 and 64 who have an increased risk of fractures — should get a bone density study, according to Bosha.

“If the bone density study shows osteoporosis, it may be reasonable to start taking a medication called a bisphosphonate, which you can get in a variety of forms,” he said. “Some are pills taken on a weekly or monthly basis and other varieties can be taken intravenously.”

Other medications to improve bone density include calcitonin, which can be used as a nasal spray; parathyroid hormone, which is taken by injection; and medications called selective estrogen receptor modulators.

Bosha said men and women who are 70 and older should take 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day and 800 IU of vitamin D. At this age, men become far more likely to have lower bone density, increasing their risk of fractures. Some men should consider a bone density study, Bosha said.

“For people of this age, avoiding falls is crucial,” he said. “Maintaining balance and muscle strength through exercise and maintaining strong bones through adequate calcium and vitamin D intake can help decrease the risk of severe fractures from falls.”

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on bone health.

SOURCE: Pennsylvania State University, news release, Aug. 16, 2019

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Health Tip: Treating Short-Term Back Pain

Health Tip: Treating Short-Term Back Pain

(HealthDay News) — Back pain is one of the most common medical issues in the United States, says the National Institutes of Health.

Short-term back pain lasts no longer than six weeks, and can be uncomfortable if untreated.

To treat short-term back pain, the NIH suggests:

  • Use hot or cold packs to soothe a sore, stiff back.
  • Try extension or aerobic exercises. But check with a doctor first.
  • Incorporate stretching into your daily routine.
  • Include calcium and vitamin D in your diet, to help keep your spine strong.
  • Take acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen to ease pain.
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Building a Better Backpack

Building a Better Backpack

TUESDAY, Aug. 13, 2019 (HealthDay News) — A well-organized backpack helps ensure that your child has everything needed for school. Problems start when it becomes overloaded. Lugging around a heavy pack can lead to bad posture, back pain and worse.

The problem is so pervasive that the American Occupational Therapy Association created National School Backpack Awareness Day. It’s held every September to share ideas to keep kids safe.

You can protect your kids by making sure that their packs are properly fitted and properly loaded. Here’s how.

When shopping for a backpack, make sure that its width and length match each child’s torso. It shouldn’t hang more than 4 inches below the waist. The bottom of the pack should closely align with the curve of the child’s lower back — if it wobbles back and forth, spine problems can develop.

Other features to look for include wide, padded and adjustable shoulder straps. A waist, hip and/or chest belt will more evenly distribute the load. A backpack with many compartments allows for its content to be well spaced throughout. For traffic safety, the pack should have reflective accents that will help cars and other vehicles see your child in low light conditions.

Before loading the pack, have your child put it on and adjust the straps for a snug fit. Put the heaviest items at the back of the pack. Arrange the contents so items won’t slide around as your child moves.

When filled, a backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 5% to 10% of your child’s weight, so 8 pounds for a child who weighs 80 pounds. Don’t guesstimate — test it on your scale. If the pack is too heavy, take out a book or another item that your child can carry in his or her hands or stow in a locker.

Finally, make sure your child wears the pack on their back and not swung onto just one shoulder.

More information

Learn more about backpack awareness day and how to spread the word yourself.

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Health Tip: Managing Arthritis of the Hands

Health Tip: Managing Arthritis of the Hands

(HealthDay News) — Arthritis is a collection of joint diseases that affect more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States.

The joint pain, swelling or stiffness that may come with arthritis can be debilitating, says the Arthritis Foundation.

To manage arthritis of the hands, the foundation suggests:

  • Use cold packs to numb the joints and reduce swelling.
  • For significant inflammation, heat packs may provide relief.
  • Immobilize the hand with a splint or brace overnight.
  • Use a grip or similar device if you have trouble grasping or holding things.
Copyright ©2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.
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