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Losing weight can slow down knee joint degeneration

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Overweight and obese people who lose weight can slow down the progression of cartilage degeneration in the knee, a new study reveals.

Being overweight is known to increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis, and it also makes it more likely that arthritis will get worse over time. The extra weight can place more pressure on joints and cartilage, causing them to wear away. In addition, people with more body fat may have higher blood levels of substances that cause inflammation in the joints, raising the risk for osteoarthritis, according to the Radiological Society of North America.

Researchers investigated the association between weight loss and the progression of knee cartilage changes in 640 overweight and obese patients who had risk factors for osteoarthritis (OA) or MRI evidence of mild to moderate OA.

“For this research, we analysed the differences between groups with and without weight loss,” explained the study’s lead author, Dr Alexandra Gersing, from the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco. “We looked at the degeneration of all knee joint structures, such as menisci, articular cartilage and bone marrow.”

After four years, the patients were categorised into three groups: those who had lost more than 10% of their body weight, those who lost 5-10% of their body weight, and a control group whose weight remained stable.

The results showed that patients with weight loss of around 5% had lower rates of articular cartilage degeneration when compared with stable weight participants. In those with 10% weight loss, cartilage degeneration slowed even more.

The researchers also found that the menisci degenerated more slowly in participants who lost more than 5% of their body weight, particularly in those with substantial weight loss. The menisci are rubbery cushions that lie in the knee between the major bones of the joint, acting like shock absorbers.

“Our study emphasises the importance of individualised therapy strategies and lifestyle interventions in order to prevent structural knee joint degeneration as early as possible in obese and overweight patients at risk for osteoarthritis or with symptomatic osteoarthritis,” Dr Gersing concluded.

The findings have been published online in the journal Radiology.