Overweight knee pain? Leptin is one of those really important hormones that few people have heard much about. It’s basically the key that fits into the lock that turns off your hunger. People who are heavier can become resistant to this hunger switch mechanism, so when they eat they don’t feel full. As a result, they have higher levels of Leptin. While we know that being heavier can lead to more knee problems, is more of this “I’m Full” signal also associated with more knee arthritis?
A new study that was just published tried to answer this question in middle aged women. First, as background, Leptin doesn’t only stop your hunger signals, it also regulates bone metabolism-making one part of bone weaker and the other stronger. Why? heavier people need to shore up their bones, so this makes common sense. So realize that this study is more about measuring Leptin’s bone effects on arthritis than it is about measuring the effects of obesity on arthritis. In fact, the researchers adjusted for weight, so they compared the Leptin levels of equal weight individuals.
What did they find? Patients who had higher Leptin levels a decade later showed more arthritis on knee MRIs. This included more bone spurs, joint swelling, cartilage defects, meniscus tears, and bone swelling. Yikes! Again, since this was a comparison of equal weight patients, it wasn’t the mechanical impacts of their extra mass on the knee that likely caused these issues, but their hormonal mix and it’s impact on their bones and cartilage.
What can you do? One of the problems with Leptin in modern society has likely been portion sizes. Stuffing bigger amounts of food down can make you’re “I’m Full” signalling system less sensitive, increasing your Leptin levels. So the next time you get asked to “Super Size it”, just say no.
The upshot? Disrespecting your body’s Leptin system is bad news for your knees. If your knees are starting to feel the effects of overweight knee pain, reset your Leptin levels by eating smaller portions!