MRIs Reveal Weight Loss Protects Knees

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osteoarthritis via shuttterstock
osteoarthritis via shuttterstock

The obese and the overweight have yet another reason to shed extra pounds -- this time to prevent knee cartilage degeneration.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that obese patients who lose at least 10 percent of their body weight can slow down the progression of cartilage damage and potentially avoid knee replacement surgery.

Dr. Alexander Gersing, lead author and post-doctoral researcher, and his colleagues, examined 506 overweight and obese patients from the Osteoarthritis Imitative, a nationwide research study which focused on the prevention and treatment of knee osteoarthritis.

The researchers categorized the patients, who on average were 60 years old, into three groups: a control group that did not lose weight, a second group which lost little weight, and a third group in which its patients lost more than 10 percent of their body weight. Then using the MRI scans, researchers analyzed knee cartilage in each patient over a four-year period.

The UCSF team noted that shedding excess pounds protected against cartilage degeneration -- however, that only occurred when a substantial amount of weight was lost.

The MRI showed that erosion occurred at a slower rate within the group of patients who lost more than 10 percent weight. Meanwhile, there was no difference seen in those who lost between 5 and 10 percent. Additionally, slowing down joint degeneration reduced each patient's risk of developing osteoarthritis in the near future.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's estimated that almost 27 million people in the United States have osteoarthritis, with women making up roughly 60 percent of that total. Before the age of 55, more men tend to have osteoarthritis, but after 55 the number of women with the condition far surpasses that of men. Yet regardless of gender, degenerative joint disease causes agonizing pain and can result in disability.

The authors stress the importance of moderate exercise in the prevention of osteoarthritis. They state that it's better to start sooner than later, because once the cartilage in the knee is lost the disease cannot be reversed and in a majority of cases total knee replacement is required.