MRI studies have revealed that substantial weight loss can significantly lower degeneration of knee cartilage in individuals who are overweight or obese. Obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis, a condition where degeneration of joints occurs. The knees are commonly affected by osteoarthritis.
Aging baby boomers are not only at a higher risk of being overweight, but they are also at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis as well.
Lead author, Alexandra Gersing, M.D., said, “Degenerative joint disease is a major cause of pain and disability in our population, and obesity is a significant risk factor. Once cartilage is lost in osteoarthritis, the disease cannot be reversed.”
The research team examined the association with various levels of weight loss in 506 overweight and obese patients. The patients either had mild to moderate osteoarthritis or risk factors for the disease. Participants were split into three groups: a control group that didn’t lose weight, a group that lost a little bit of weight, and a group that lost more than 10 percent of their body weight. MRI scans were used to confirm and examine knee osteoarthritis.
Dr. Gersing added, “Through T2 relaxation time measurements from MRI, we can see changes in cartilage quality at a very early stage, even before it breaks down.”
Knee cartilage quality was examined in all the participants over the course of four years. The researchers found losing weight had protective properties against knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, the more weight was lost, the more knee cartilage was preserved.
“Cartilage degenerated a lot slower in the group that lost more than 10 percent of their body weight, especially in the weight-bearing regions of the knee. However, those with 5 to 10 percent weight loss had almost no difference in cartilage degeneration compared to those who didn’t lose weight,” Dr. Gersing explained.
Weight loss not only slows down knee degeneration, but it can also prevent knee osteoarthritis as well.
Further research will examine the role diabetes plays in cartilage degeneration because diabetes and obesity are closely associated.