You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: One of the best things you can do for arthritis is to lose excess weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control, two out of three adults with arthritis are overweight or obese. Research shows that while diet and exercise combined are most effective for dropping pounds, dieting alone helps more than exercise alone. No one’s saying it’s easy, but evidence shows it pays off. Here’s how it can help.
Reduces pressure on joints. In a study of overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis (OA), researchers found that each pound lost eased four pounds of pressure on the knees.
Preserves cartilage. A 2017 study found that losing weight can preserve knee cartilage in overweight people who have or are at risk of knee OA. Weight loss also may reduce the risk of damage to the meniscus, cartilage in the knee joint. Those who lost 5 to 10 percent of their weight over four years had less cartilage degeneration than those who didn’t lose weight. Those who lost the most weight had the healthiest cartilage.
Reduce inflammation. In addition to the added pressure on joints, fat tissue releases pro-inflammatory chemicals that may have a role in systemic inflammation, says Susan Goodman, MD, associate professor at Weill Cornell Medical School and a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Prevents psoriatic arthritis. Overweight people with psoriasis are more likely than those of normal weight to develop psoriatic arthritis, Dr. Goodman says.
Improves the chance of RA remission. Losing weight may increase the chances of achieving rheumatoid arthritis (RA) remission, Dr. Goodman says. In a 2017 study of 982 women with early RA, she and her colleagues found that overweight participants were 25 percent less likely and obese participants were 47 percent less likely than those of a healthy weight to achieve remission over three years. The bottom line? Weight impacts joints in multiple ways, Dr. Goodman says. “It may be that any injury to the joint – whether [a result of] sports or inflammation such as RA – may initiate cartilage loss, while the impact of excess weight increases the damage.” —Mary Anne Dunkin.
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