Do Chinese people experience more or less osteoarthritis than Americans?
Epidemiological studies of osteoarthritis in different populations are interesting for several reasons. For one, if we were to find that osteoarthritis was particularly more prevalent amongst a certain population, we may gain better insight into what causes osteoarthritis. Is it, for example, an activity that the population performs that increases their risk of osteoarthritis? Is it a genetic factor they have in common? Is it a combination of both? Studies are ongoing to answer these questions --epidemiological studies are one approach.
In 2003, Xu et al. published a study in Chinese Medical Journal addressing the prevalence of knee, hip, and hand osteoarthritis in Chinese living in Beijing compared with Caucasians living in the United States. Xu et al. found that the prevalence of radiographic and symptomatic knee osteoarthritis was significantly higher in Beijing as opposed to Caucasians in the U.S. However, prevalence rates of hand and hip osteoarthritis were much higher in the Caucasians compared with the Chinese in Beijing. What do we make of this interesting data? Is this a genetic susceptibility issue? If so, can we identify the gene for knee osteoarthritis in the Chinese, and hip and hand osteoarthritis in the Caucasians?
Not so fast! Before we chalk up Xu et al.'s findings to genetics, let us consider the results of Hunter et al. Hunter et al. published a study in 2004 in Arthritis & Rheumatism called "Chopstick arthropathy: the Beijing Osteoarthritis Study." In this study, Hunter et al. showed that people who lived in Beijing and used chopsticks had an increased prevalence of osteoarthritis in the hand joints (first interphalangeal, second and third proximal interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints) that are involved in using chopsticks. Hunter et al. reminds us that the habits of a given group of people also appear to be very important in predicting the development of arthritis. It may be that Chinese people are more susceptible to knee osteoarthritis, and Caucasians in the United States are more susceptible to hand and hip osteoarthritis; it may be that the activities performed by each group predispose them to particular types of osteoarthritis; or it may very well be a combination of genetics and activity that predict a person's predisposition to developing osteoarthritis.
One thing remains clear, people from all cultures would benefit from staying active, keeping their muscles strong and flexible, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and potentially taking certain carefully selected supplements. Following these principles, with the help of a doctor to guide you through the lifestyle changes that may be required, is the best chance for you (no matter your culture, race, or religion) to stay active and pain-free into the future.
I wish you the best of health because with good health, all things are possible.