Research Links Scoliosis Cases & Deficiency of the Mineral Manganese
Scoliosis, or the sideways curving of the spine, often arises during puberty. Despite the fact that many people experience this condition—it affects about 2 percent of women/girls and 0.5 percent of men/boys —the true causes are largely unknown. What is clearer, however, is that many cases arise during adolescence (especially in girls), and that, while some cases aren’t symptomatic aside from deformity, scoliosis can lead difficulty breathing, as well as back, rib, neck pain and muscle spasms.
Interestingly, though, a team of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO uncovered one potential mechanism: the inability for the body to properly utilize manganese, an important dietary mineral that aids in bone strength and formation.  Not only does this help fill in the picture when it comes to scoliosis, it has significant implications for management and treatment of this condition.
Kids in the Cohort
In looking at primarily younger scoliosis sufferers, the researchers, under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Haller, wanted to get a genetic picture of scoliosis. They knew that cases do tend to occur in members of the same family, but that the relationship is complex, likely pointing to the activity of several genes (rather than one). They performed a genetic analysis of 457 children who had been diagnosed with severe scoliosis and compared it with 987 who didn’t have this condition. 
One gene seemed to play a part: SLC39A8, which was present in only six percent of healthy children but in 12 percent of those with scoliosis.  They confirmed this disparity by looking at a second cohort of 1,095 healthy and 841 children with moderate to severe forms of this condition. While not enough is known about SLC39A8, there is significant evidence that it’s closely involved with processing zinc, iron, and indeed manganese. One of a couple genetic pathways for scoliosis, it seems, has been uncovered.
The good news here is that information such as this is helping give us a better understanding of how to take on scoliosis. Commenting on the work, one researcher, Dr. Christina Gurnett, noted “we came across this gene variant that affects the level of manganese in the body. That tells me maybe we should start thinking about studying nutritional treatments for some children at risk.”  Since manganese can be introduced into diet, it could theoretically help prevent this condition from forming.
But there’s a big caveat to this. The issue is that manganese at the right levels is a helpful mineral; however, high doses can be dangerous. In extreme (if very rare) cases, too much intake of this mineral leads to “manganism,” a disorder characterized by tremors, difficulty walking, as well as aggression and hallucinations.  As Dr. Gurnett put it, “Our study links a common disease – scoliosis – to something that’s potentially modifiable in the diet. But we don’t want people to go out right now and start manganese supplements, because we already know that too much manganese can be harmful.” 
Still, with further research and a clearer sense of the causes of scoliosis, treatment methods will continue to get better and more multifaceted.
While more research will be needed to get at the true genetic origins of this condition, the good news is that there are already a great deal of successful means of taking on scoliosis. These vary from non-surgical methods (such as wearing a brace), to minimally invasive approaches to correct the alignment. What isn’t an option is letting a condition like this get the best of you or your family. Don’t delay in seeking out help when you need it.
If you suffer from scoliosis or another back or spine condition, the team at North American Spine can help. These experts employ nothing but the latest and best in techniques and technologies to ensure positive outcomes for their patients. Learn more about these dedicated professionals, and their unique, patient-centric approach to care by calling 469-638-0208 today!
- Davis, C. P. 2018. “Scoliosis Treatment, Causes, Symptoms & Surgery”. Medicinenet. Accessed October 30 2018. https://www.medicinenet.com/scoliosis/article
- Bhandari, Tamara. “Scoliosis Linked To Essential Mineral”. 2018. Washington University School Of Medicine In St. Louis. Accessed October 30 2018. https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/scoliosis-linked-to-essential-mineral/.