Executive Summary Video
Everyone thinks obesity worsens osteoarthritis because of its excess weight. But it is the combination of inflammation caused by obesity, inactivity due to obesity, and excess weight. Obviously, the approach to managing osteoarthritis in such people will be to reverse all three mechanisms and not just lower the excess weight.
In an interesting test, Harvard researchers found out that the percentage of obese people developing osteoarthritis has been pretty stable for centuries. However, in the last 75 years, that incidence has jumped and become double. After all, if obesity were to cause osteoarthritis only due to excess weight, the patient numbers would increase nowadays since there are more obese people but the percentage of people developing osteoarthritis for the same degree or level of osteoarthritis should stay the same.
- Obesity is an inflammatory disease. And osteoarthritis is also one. Obese people have inflammation in their whole body, while osteoarthritis often starts and progresses with inflammation. So obesity can lead to osteoarthritis through the inflammatory pathway. In recent time, we have a much higher level of inflammation in our bodies due to factors such as processed foods, bad oils, and air pollution. So osteoarthritis incidence might be higher in obese people, who are already victims of high inflammation.
- A bigger cause is possibly inactivity. The data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Indian researchers shows:
In the USA, in people above 18 years of age, osteoarthritis is prevalent in obese people (31% versus 16% —31% of obese people have arthritis versus 16% of non-obese people have arthritis), and those with a sedentary lifestyle (23% versus 18%).
In India, in people above 40 years of age, osteoarthritis is prevalent in obese people (33% versus 28%), and those with a sedentary lifestyle (37% versus 27%).
Thus, the sedentary lifestyle is as prominent as obesity in leading to osteoarthritis. These are observational data and do not indicate one causes another. Read a detailed writeup on this website: Why Obesity Worsens Osteoarthritis.
- I have seen that cartilage building supplements and medications do not work in many people. One possible reason is chronic inflammation. We have seen the same effect even in bone strengthening. High inflammation in the body prevents formation of stronger bones in spite of calcium and vitamin D supplements. So I feel one should endeavour to lower inflammation in the body along with all other treatments for cartilage rebuilding.
For More Reading
- On this website: Weight loss for knee arthritis: Is more better?
- Harvard Medical School: Obesity and inflammation
First published on: 17th December 2021
Image credit: Julia Larson on Pexels