Obesity and arthritis: The real reason behind the pain and progression

Ever think about the connection between being obese and having arthritis?

It stands to reason that too much weight could put undue stress on your joints.

The Arthritis Foundation reports that being overweight causes nearly one-fourth of all diagnosed cases of arthritis.

And if you’re obese, you’re 60 percent more likely to end up with arthritis compared to someone with a lower body weight.

But that’s not the whole story.

What happens inside the joints of obese people to cause arthritis reads something like a spy novel…

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Obesity turns normal synovial cells rogue to degrade joints

Previous research has shown that fat tissue that has been metabolically altered by obesity releases proteins called cytokines which are known to promote inflammation around the body, including in the joints.

But a new study has found that, in someone who is obese, there’s a “stealth operation” going on that doesn’t just destroy joints, but actually “recodes” normal cells crucial to joint health and turns them into “enemy” inflammation-producing machines.

According to Dr Susanne Wijesinghe from the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, “Obesity is creating an environment in the body, which is negatively affecting cells called synovial fibroblasts, which are stem cells involved in regulating the lubricating fluid [synovial fluid] of the joints. The effect is that these cells get recoded into those that promote inflammation within the fluid around the joints.

“Then, like bad apples in a barrel, they begin to affect the whole joint, increasing secretion of chemicals such as CHI3L1 which degrade the joint and increase the progression of osteoarthritis.”

She and a team of researchers used biopsy information from both weight-bearing joints, like the hips, and non-weight-bearing joints, in the hands, from sixteen patients who had a BMI over 30 (which made them clinically obese), to confirm that weight alone did not account for the molecular changes seen in the joints.

Zoe Chivers, the Director of Services at Versus Arthritis, the UK charity that funded this study, summed it up this way, “The research reveals that obesity can lead to a change in the cells in the joint lining to make them more inflammatory and that these changes occur not only in load bearing joints such as the knee and hips but also in non-load bearing joints such as the hand.”

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Overweight and in pain — what to do

Hopefully more will come from this research to help improve treatments for arthritis. And even better, the researchers wonder if they treat osteoarthritis patients with obesity as a clinical sub-group, could they also see whether specific therapies that address the metabolic element driving osteoarthritis can halt their underlying risk.

But until they know more about how managing weight might impact the progression of arthritis, there are many good health-related reasons to give it a try. And the pain of arthritis is certainly an incentive. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

There are so many diets to choose from, that alone can be confusing. But a couple of years ago, a study determined that the Mediterranean diet may be the easiest for people to stick to — and that’s a recipe for weight loss success.

The Mediterranean diet also promotes healthy oils, especially omega-3s from fatty fish, and there are two very relevant ways they can help…

  • The University of Surrey looked at previous research on the connection between diet and osteoarthritis. Based on 68 studies, they confirmed that fish oil reduced inflammation and decreased pain in people with osteoarthritis. Just one gram of fish oil per day can do the trick.
  • Research published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that six weeks of supplementing fish oil significantly increased lean mass and decreased fat mass in a group of 44 men and women.

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Obesity turning arthritic joint cells into pro-inflammation ‘bad apples’ — Science Daily

Obesity defined molecular endotypes in the synovium of patients with osteoarthritis provides a rationale for therapeutic targeting of fibroblast subsets — Clinical and Translational Medicine

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.