Lose weight, preserve knees

For individuals with knee osteoarthritis (OA), it had been thought that cartilage loss was mainly irreversible the best that sufferers and their doctors could hope for was to prevent further damage, and in recalcitrant cases, undergo knee-replacement surgery. But a new study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, suggests that for obese patients with OA, losing weight can help prevent damage and actually improve the amount and quality of knee cartilage if the condition is caught before too much damage has been done.

In a study of 111 obese participants (one-third of whom already had clinically-evident osteoarthritis), conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney, patients either underwent gastric banding or participated in a diet and exercise program to promote weight loss. The patients had a baseline MRI, and this analysis was repeated again after 12 months, in order to assess both the volume and quality of cartilage in the knee.

Patient and doctor observations have long suggested that that OA patients who lose weight experience a decrease in pain and improved knee function, and prospective studies have confirmed this. But this is the first study to show that the more weight these obese participants lost, the more their knee cartilage was preserved, both in terms of quantity and quality. Some patients who lost as little as 7 percent of their body weight experienced these benefits to their knee cartilage.

As the study authors state, These findings suggest that early cartilage degradation may be reversible, and weight loss may provide an opportunity for intervention or change before irreversible change in cartilage occurs. Indeed, there are currently no medications to manage cartilage loss, so preventing this loss in obese individuals is especially important.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross comments, This study serves to support what doctors have been telling their osteoarthritis patients for many years lose weight to help reduce the symptoms of this disease.