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The Effects of Obesity on Hips, Knees and Other Joints

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common joint paint and is caused by years of wear and tear on the joints.  Most people suffer from osteoarthritis at some point in their life and almost everyone has osteoarthritis by the time they are 70. However, as we become more obese as a nation, it is becoming an obesity-related health problem (especially in the feet, hips, ankles and knees). Indeed, it is estimated that upwards of 25 million adults have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the United States alone.

Osteoarthritis is caused by cartilage (which cushions the bones and joints) breaking down and allowing the bones to start rubbing together. It causes pain, swelling and stiffness amongst other aches and pains. It is not a pleasant feeling and unfortunately, once it occurs, it cannot be cured, but it can be controlled.

Excess weight in the form of obesity is the leading preventable cause of osteoarthritis.

While the medical consensus, years ago, was that degenerative joint disease was simply a product of excessive pressure on the joints due to obesity, recent research has uncovered an insidious second possible factor in joint degradation. Fat cells, known as adipocytes, release low-grade inflammation-producing compounds and the resultant immune response starts to break down joint tissue in the body. This inflammation, in its early form, may not be noticeable at all, but the constant attack on the joints eventually breaks them down and causes irreversible damage.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

While obesity has not been proven as the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, obesity and excess weight seem to play a significant role in its development and/or severity. Worryingly, rheumatoid arthritis not only affects joints in the body but it has a significant effect on major organs including the heart and lungs amongst others. Fat around the abdomen, known as brown fat, is most dangerous and may contribute to the above.

It has also been shown that some rheumatoid arthritis medications are less effective in those who are carrying excess weight.

Losing weight help control the symptoms of degenerative joint disease. Studies have shown that for every drop of two units of body mass index (BMI), or about 11 pounds of weight loss, the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee in women drops by 50%. Further, as patients lose more weight, the mechanical stresses on their joints tend to slow or stop the progression of symptoms. If caught early enough, patients can possibly avoid the worst pain and dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis and joint disease.

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