A recent study from the Mayo Clinic showed that obese people are 25 percent more likely than people with a healthy weight to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autommune disease that causes painful joint inflammation and damage to surrounding tissues. In a Shots blog post today, Gretchen Cuda-Kroen takes a closer look at the findings:
...Although it may seem intuitive that excess body weight could cause joint pain, says Eric Matteson, [MD,] a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic who led the study, the link between rheumatoid arthritis and obesity is more than just stress on the joints from being heavy.
"The link, we think, has to do with the activity of the fat cells themselves," says Matteson.
Unlike osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that is caused by wear and tear on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, says Matteson. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks the lining around joints, and the resulting inflammation leads to the destruction of bone and cartilage. Matteson says it's the fat cells that stoke the fire of inflammation.
"We have recognized in the past several years that fat cells are important mediators of inflammation," Matteson says. "They are immunologically active, and they produce proteins that are inflammatory."
Matteson goes on to say that weight loss may be helpful for patients with RA. Besides helping to relieve joint strain, he says, "losing weight also generally makes the drugs work better."