Obesity and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Being obese makes life more difficult, that’s for sure.  Type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and digestive issues plague the obese without respite. Now comes research that indicates that obesity may play a role in rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s what you should know.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes painful swelling in joints, especially in fingers. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body mistakenly attacks the joint tissues, leading to inflammation and pain. That makes it different from osteoarthritis, which is caused by friction in the joint from normal activity, sort of a “wear and tear” disease.

Dr. Eric Matteson is a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic. He led a research study that investigated a possible connection between obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. His theory was that estrogen secreted by fat cells triggered, or helped trigger, the autoimmune response that was the foundation of rheumatoid arthritis. This was supported by the accepted observation that women are twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as men.

The research followed 813 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 813 people without. Both groups provided their medical histories for examination.  They attempted to adjust the data to exclude other health factors, such as smoking cigarettes. The study found that people who were obese were 25% more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than people who were not obese.

So, does this mean that losing weight will cure rheumatoid arthritis? Not really, unfortunately. There is anecdotal evidence that losing a substantial amount of weight, if obese, can reduce your joint inflammation, but medical research is not there yet.  But given the broad range of medical issues that can improve when dropping from obesity to a normal weight, why not give it a try?

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