“You are what you eat” is a phrase we often hear. But how true is it? Dr. Richard F. Loeser, Jr. and his research team are looking at the role of diet in their Arthritis Foundation-funded project “The Role of the Microbiome in Metabolic Osteoarthritis (OA)”.
Different factors play into why a person develops OA, including aging, injury, and being overweight. Diet plays an important role. What you eat can help influence what bacteria (or microbiota) live in your digestive track (gut). This, in turn, can influence what chemicals are released into your body. A healthy gut generally has a more diverse collection of helpful microbiota, while a microbial imbalance can lead to disease.
Dr. Loeser and his team are trying to find out how the gut microbiota is different in people with arthritis. To do this, they are collecting and analyzing fecal samples from about 50 subjects with OA and about 40 subjects who don’t have OA. Subjects with OA will have both hand and knee OA that meets study severity criteria. The subjects are also enrolled in the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) ongoing Johnston County OA Project in North Carolina, are 55 years of age or older, and are obese (Body Mass Index equal to or greater than 30).
The Johnston County OA Project, which began in 1991, has been collecting data on white and African American residents to determine racial differences in the prevalence, incidence, and risk factors associated with the occurrence and progression of hip and knee OA. About 3,200 rural residents are being tracked by this study.
Dr. Loeser’s study will use blood and urine samples collected as part of the Johnston County OA Project to look for inflammatory markers in his subjects. This data will be combined with the gut microbiota data collected from the fecal samples to provide a more complete picture of the biological differences in OA patients that may lead to more specific treatments.
While the human data from this project may point to an association between OA and the composition of the gut bacteria, it cannot prove that a particular bacteria is the cause of the disease. The next phase of this project will attempt to show a causal relationship.
Dr. Loeser explained why he submitted this project to the Arthritis Foundation 2016 Delivering on Discovery awards program. “There is ongoing microbiome research being done in the areas of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, but no one has looked at it relationship to OA. The microbiome seems to contribute to inflammation. This study, in conjunction with others like it, may show which combinations of bacteria may be specific to each disease.”
Dr. Loeser is the director of the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center in Chapel Hill, NC.
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Dr. Hongsik Cho
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Dr. Christine Beeton
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Dr. C. Michael Stein
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Salah Ahmed