Losing excess weight slows knee joint degeneration

May 21, 2017 in Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Losing excess weight slows knee joint degeneration

Overweight and obese people who lose excess weight may have less damage in their knee joints than their counterparts who don’t lose weight, a recent study from the University of California in San Francisco suggests. 

Previous research has linked obesity to an increased risk of joint disease and cartilage damage in the knees, but this new study underscores how weight loss may help minimize this risk. 

Researchers followed 640 obese and overweight patients for four years.

The greater the weight loss, the greater the benefit

By the end of the study, participants who lost more than 10 percent of their weight were 66 percent less likely than people who didn’t lose any weight to show progression in the deterioration of their knee joint cartilage. 

People who shed 5 percent to 10 percent of their weight were also less likely to have progression in knee joint damage, but the difference wasn’t big enough to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance. 

The findings suggest that weight loss can slow the process of knee joint degeneration in people at risk for and with osteoarthritis and, in so doing, slow the worsening of symptoms such as pain and disability.

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease in the North America, affecting more than half of people 75 and older. Compared with people at normal weight, obese women are nearly four times more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis, while obese men have five times the risk. 

About the study

At the start of the study, participants were 63 years old, on average, and typically very overweight or obese. Most of them had minimal or moderate damage to the knee joint, based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. 

Four years later, roughly half of the participants were at about the same weight as when they started. Another 238 people lost between 5 percent and 10 percent of their weight and 82 participants lost more than 10 percent of their weight. 

Not only did the researchers find that weight loss slowed cartilage degeneration, they also saw changes in the menisci, crescent-shaped pads that protect and cushion the joint.

The study, though, wasn’t a randomized controlled experiment designed to prove that weight loss prevents knee joint damage or osteoarthritis. 

Also, the study didn’t gather data on the weight-loss methods participants used, which may have influenced what happened with their knee joints.

Even so, the study offers fresh evidence of how weight loss may benefit the knee joints and gets at the benefits of weight loss on specific tissue abnormalities in knee osteoarthritis.

To date, joint damage cannot be reversed but it strongly appears that losing excess weight can keep it from getting worse.

Source: Radiology, online May 2, 2017.

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