UCF researchers find link between milk and rheumatoid arthritis

Patients with genetic mutation more susceptible

ORLANDO, Fla. – Researchers at the University of Central Florida found a link between a strain of bacteria in milk and rheumatoid arthritis.

Infectious disease specialist Saleh Naser and his team at the UCF College of Medicine study inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They focused on a bacteria found in about half the cows in the United States called Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, (MAP).

"So we wanted to see if RA patients have the same mutation as we discovered in the Crohn's disease, and whether this bacteria is also involved in RA patients," Naser said.

Two genes were repeatedly connected to these types of diseases, and Naser said that's no coincidence. The genes associated are responsible for regulating the immune system, on and off. With this in mind, the team took their theory to rheumatologist Shazia Bég.

"There has to be something more than genetics associated with the disease, so we were expecting, and there's been research done on this before, that there are environmental factors that may trigger the disease," Bég said.

Bég agreed with the theory that the MAP bacteria could be one of those triggers. She found 100 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who volunteered blood studies for the researchers to test.

"And to our shock, that almost 80 percent of RA patients they have a mutation in those genes, this could explain why the symptoms in RA patients are really worsening," Naser said.

The MAP bacteria can be spread to humans through the consumption of infected milk, beef and produce fertilized by cow manure. The researchers and Bég were quick to point out, patients have to have both, the genetic mutation and the MAP bacteria. Right now there is no commercial testing for the genetic mutation.

"The theory is that this does come from beef and dairy products, but contaminated, and so we can't say all of it is contaminated right, so I'm not saying stay away from milk and red meat, but we have to consider what we're eating," Bég said.