If being overweight can cause arthritis, does losing weight help? Turns out that carrying extra pounds causes more than just more force on the knees. It also impacts a variety of other arthritis-causing mechanisms.
The Close Relationship Between Obesity and Knee Arthritis
Obesity and knee arthritis seem to go hand in hand. While there are many obvious ways they are related, there are also many not-so-obvious ways. For example, it’s obvious that someone who is heavier is going to put a lot more stress on a joint that is responsible for bearing the majority of their weight. What’s not obvious, however, is how the body may be chemically reacting to the added weight. Leptin, for example, is a hormone that signals when our stomachs are full, telling us we can stop eating. If we ignore that signal and keep eating, the body will just keep producing more leptin to try to tell us to stop. Increased leptin levels are associated with knee arthritis as those with knee arthritis have been found to have more leptin in their knee joints.
So it makes sense that losing that extra weight, especially in those who are already obese or overweight, may slow the progression of arthritis, and it also makes sense chemically that diet may be the key. A new study further confirms this…
Overweight with Knee Arthritis? Weight Loss May Slow Cartilage Degeneration
The new study compared knee cartilage in overweight or obese participants who lost weight (study group) to the cartilage in those with normal weight (control group). All participants had either mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis or the risk factors for it, and all were followed for eight months. The overweight participants who experienced weight loss were further grouped based on type of weight-loss activity: exercise only, diet only, or diet and exercise.
The results? When compared to the normal-weight group, the overweight group that lost weight had less cartilage loss over time, or a much slower progression of knee arthritis. Focusing in further to the specific types of weight loss, the diet-only and the diet-and-exercise groups both experienced this benefit to their cartilage while the exercise-only group did not.
So a diet with a lifestyle focus seems to be the driving force to weight loss, and we can add to that, not ignoring those leptin signals when they tell us we’re full.
More on Weight Loss and Knee Arthritis
It appears that weight loss in an obese population can slow the degeneration of cartilage, and therefore the progression of knee arthritis, but can it reverse it? This isn’t the first time I’ve covered a study on weight loss and knee arthritis. If exercise is a part of your weight-loss strategy, whether or not exercise results in slowing the degeneration of knee cartilage, it does seem to have many other knee arthritis benefits:
- Exercise has been shown to significantly decrease arthritic knee pain and increase muscle strength.
- Exercise may also improve muscles in knee arthritis, which helps to stabilize the knee, possibly decreasing the formation of bone spurs and the degeneration of cartilage.
- One study found that exercise was more beneficial at not only relieving arthritic knee pain but also improving function and other symptoms than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which is huge as these are very dangerous drugs loaded with terrible side effects.
Exercise, of course, doesn’t just improve knee health; exercise benefits the whole body. So by consuming a healthy diet, obeying your “full” signals, and getting plenty of exercise, you’re not only keeping your knees as healthy as possible but your entire body as well.
My Own Program
About six months ago, concerned about everything from cartilage loss to heart disease to cancer, I began a fasting mimicking diet program. At first, I used the Prolon kits but then just came up with a routine to reduce my calories to about 1,200 two days a week while I continued my normal workouts. Overall, I do feel better, have lost a little weight, and am awaiting my first round of blood work on the new program. And, yes, my knees feel better.
The upshot? Diet and exercise did the trick to reduce cartilage loss. It’s interesting that exercise alone didn’t do the same. What we may be seeing here is the effects of leptin and other obesity hormones on cartilage breakdown. Meaning that changing the diet reduces these hormonal effects more than just exercise. I, for one, am excited that maybe I’m onto something here in my own personal program, adding two days a week of lower calories combined with a solid workout schedule. Time will tell…