How does weight loss help in the management of arthritis?


Author : Dr. Chethana D 

Consultant - Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore 

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) can be challenging as constant aches, swelling in joints and restricted movement can affect one’s quality of life. While the condition cannot be reversed, weight management and an active lifestyle can help in controlling the disease. Like any other autoimmune disorder, Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system starts attacking your own healthy body tissues.

RA causes inflammation of the synovium and as the disease progresses, it gradually destroys the cartilage and bone within the joint. In RA, the joint becomes misaligned and out of shape as the tendons and ligaments holding the joint weaken. Rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects individuals between the age of 30 to 50 years and women are found to be more prone to it than men.  

Even though the exact cause of the condition is not known, several risk factors exist.  Genetic factors increase risk of development of RA.  Some factors such as sex, age, smoking, obesity and environmental factors too can trigger RA and can increase your risk of contracting this condition. Therefore, adopting healthy practices and using the right management techniques can help you effectively manage the condition.

Can weight loss help in managing arthritis?

Arthritis can make you susceptible to weight gain, due to reduced physical activity. Losing weight is one of the most critical things that your doctor may advise you as it can prove to be highly beneficial in managing arthritis. Research has proven that obesity and arthritis do not go well together and have established that extra weight can create havoc for your joint health. However, since RA patients have body aches, swelling and fatigue, shedding kilos often becomes difficult for patients suffering from arthritis. Reducing the stress on your joints by losing weight will improve your mobility, decrease pain and prevent future damage to your joints.

How can arthritis patients lose weight?

Lack of physical activity and use of certain medications make it difficult for people with RA to lose weight. Due to this, many patients struggle to effectively manage the condition. By following some simple tips and practices, patients suffering from RA  have a better chance of losing weight. 

Avoid crash dieting - People should avoid having unrealistic expectations of their bodies and must not fall for internet fads like “crash dieting” which often do more harm than any good to their bodies. It is important to understand that losing a little weight at a time is a healthier approach and will help you maintain balance. With short-term approaches, they may lose weight initially but results will be short-lived and may weaken their metabolic rate, affect their immune system, disturb bowel habits, heighten immune response and reduce their energy levels that can ultimately cause more inflammation. So, it is advisable to get a fitness regime and adapt a structured diet instead of crash dieting. 

Intermittent fasting: Develop an eating pattern and create a cycle between the periods of eating and fasting. A balanced cycle can be where you fast for 16 hours and then eat for 8 hours. During these fasting windows your body will get plenty of time to rest leading to reduced inflammation. It is recommended that you discuss your diet plan with your doctor before adopting it. 

Autoimmune Protocol Diet: This is a relatively new food-based approach that helps in eliminating unwanted inflammation in a person’s body. It is a very restrictive diet which mainly includes meat and vegetables that improves gut health, builds proper nutrient density, determines food sensitivities and regulates blood sugar and the immune system to reduce inflammation and balance hormones. If this diet is followed for almost a month, then it can help you get rid of inflammatory foods, gut irritants, and immune stimulants.

Consume adequate water and nutritious foods - Patients suffering from arthritis need to be mindful while eating and should observe their body cues and eat only when they are feeling hungry. Such patients should also keep a strict check on their portions as it can prevent them from emotional eating. Additionally, arthritis patients must consume at least 4 to 5 litres of water to lose weight, boost energy and postpone muscle fatigue. Consuming adequate amount of water can help in feeling full for a longer duration without adding any additional calories. 

Reduce Sodium intake: For an average adult, only 2,300 mg per day of salt or about a teaspoon of ordinary iodized table salt is recommended. If the consumption is higher, then you will feel bloated and will gain weight. One should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day to avoid weight gain. For middle-aged and older adults with high blood pressure, about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt per day is recommended. 

Other measures such as getting adequate sleep, consuming foods rich in vitamin B, D, Omega 3 acids and magnesium and supplementing the body with glutamine can help with the cramps and can ensure proper muscle function. (The author has his own study and views)