Moose study links arthritis to nutritional deficiences

Jenny Decker RN's picture

The current theories about the cause of osteoarthritis may soon be replaced by the most unusual study about moose. The 50 year study, called the Isle Royale project, a small island and U.S. National Park in Lake Superior, Michigan, has connected early life nutritional deficiencies to arthritis.

The study included over 4000 moose. Researchers looked at the skeletal remains, and for 1099 of them, were able to determine the gender of the moose, year of birth and death, including the age at death and most importantly, the length of the metatarsal bone. This is an indication of nutritional health. Other information gleaned from the skeletal remains includes the presence or absence of any osteoarthritis.

Poor nutrition and the moose


When a moose is born, its metatarsal is already half the length it will be in adulthood. By age 28 months, the growth plate on the metatarsal has completely calcified, leaving it the length it will be when it reaches adulthood. When there is little to eat, poor nutrition results and often is associated with a stature that is smaller than normal. Researchers found that the length of the bone represents the perinatal nutrition and things such as foraging abundance, the weather, and predation.

Research leader Rolf Peterson, states that the study shows that the osteoarthritis may not be related to the old Wear and Tear theory that heavy use of bones and injuries play a part in the development of arthritis. According to the study, when the condition develop later in life it is because of poor nutrition in early in life.

Human anthropological linkages to poor nutrition

Some studies on humans also show similarities. Earlier studies have shown that Native Americans in both Florida and Georgia had an increase in osteoarthritis during depressed economies in their times. These populations also had slower growth in children and young adults with shortened life spans. This suggests the same thing the Isle Royal project does, that early life nutritional deficiencies are likely to be linked to arthritis.

It is clear from these studies that more work is needed to determine the complexities that really are involved in the etiology of arthritis