How does obesity cause osteoarthritis? By “inflammaging”

Marion Hauser Curcumin and osteoarthritisMarion Hauser, MS, RD

Research in medicine does not stand still. Frequently we update our articles because a wave of new studies appear on a specific subject, such is the case in the relationship between obesity and inflammation.

What is “inflammaging”?

“Inflammaging,” is a combination word consisting of “inflammation” and “aging.” Doctors now regularly use this term to describe the harmful aspects of chronic low grade inflammation in aging people. A new paper (December 2017)  in the medical journal Frontiers in immunology, published by doctors at the University of Miami and University of Chieti-Pescara, helps explain this problem.(1)

Here is what the researchers said:

Inflammation obesity agingWhile this paper focuses on many disorders of aging including type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cognitive impairment, and dementia, where obesity plays a significant role, we will focus on the aspects of obesity and osteoarthritis.

A quick point though, as stated in this research and another new study (December 2017) from university research teams in Italy published in Clinical and molecular allergy, (2) the increase of obesity inspired pro-inflammatory cytokines (small proteins that send pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory messages through out the body) is associated with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes type 2, sarcopenia (bone loss) and a high risk of morbidity (disease) and mortality (death). Coming up with a treatment for inflammaging is obvious paramount to the patient’s health.

Study highlights from the University of Miami and University of Chieti-Pescara team:

The last statement warrants a few articles on its own, and we have them. These articles will help you understand how physical activity and weight loss help heal damaged joints even advanced joint degeneration. Please see How stem cells heal degenerative joint disease after years of cortisone and painkillers, and Excessive weight and joint pain – the inflammation connection.

Doctors working with nutrition and metabolism are among those researchers who are bringing attention to osteoarthritis as a whole joint disease and in fact a whole body disease.

This is a title of an August 31, 2017 study: “Obesity-associated metabolic syndrome spontaneously induces infiltration of pro-inflammatory macrophage in synovium and promotes osteoarthritis.” Before we go onto to discuss this research these are the keywords that should stick out: spontaneously, pro-inflammatory, promotes osteoarthritis.

This study lead by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Southern Queensland, and The Prince Charles Hospital in Australia begins with acknowledging that obesity is an important risk factor for osteoarthritis however how obesity causes osteoarthritis remains largely unknown.

Before you read on you may think that the answer is obvious, excessive weight is causing pressure and load on joints. Studies as we have shown in companion articles on this website, are actually looking at how obesity causes inflammation without weight load being a factor. We are going to pull in that research here later in this article.

Back to the Australian researchers: obesity is creating a toxic inflammatory environment spontaneously

The researchers fed Wistar rats a high-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for period of 8 and 16 weeks. The study showed that, obesity induced by this diet is associated with spontaneous and local inflammation of the synovial membranes in the rats even before the cartilage degradation.

The researchers noted increased synovitis and increased macrophage infiltration (immune cells are now invading the areas causing swelling and edema) into the synovium (the protective joint membrane) and a predominant elevation of pro-inflammatory M1 macrophages (A specific type of immune cell) is occurring.

This study concludes that future therapeutic strategies targeted at the synovial macrophage phenotype (an obesity causing classification of inflammation) may be the key to break the link between obesity and osteoarthritis.(3)

When we write our articles, we like to “connect the dots,” this means looking at multiple studies and finding the common thread. This line of thinking takes us over to the Netherlands who one week earlier published their article “Metabolic dysregulation accelerates injury-induced joint degeneration, driven by local inflammation; an in vivo rat study.” The keywords we will be looking at here are accelerates injury-induced joint degeneration.

The growing evidence for the existence of an obesity causing type of osteoarthritis

In this study from researchers at  the University Medical Center Utrecht, the doctors wrote of the growing evidence for the existence of an obesity-related phenotype of osteoarthritis in which low-grade inflammation and a disturbed metabolic profile play a role. (A phenotype is a classification, what these doctors are trying to show is that osteoarthritis caused by obesity is a special type of osteoarthritis, caused by inflammation, not wear and tear or rheumatoid factors.)

In a Rat model study, the scientists were able to link together a devastating progression of quick and rapid joint degeneration.

If you have cartilage damage from wear and tear – obesity accelerates that damage to osteoarthritis

What else can you say? If you have cartilage damage from wear and tear – obesity accelerates that damage to osteoarthritis and more so and the need for knee replacement. If you have somehow been spared wear and tear damage in your joints, the obesity induced inflammation will damage it on its own. Researchers cannot make a more powerful statement.

Other articles on this obesity, inflammation and joint disease

Here is more research from our other articles:

Do you have questions about obesity and osteoarthritis? You can get help and information from our Caring Medical staff.

1 Frasca D, Blomberg BB, Paganelli R. Aging, obesity and inflammatory age-related diseases. Frontiers in immunology. 2017;8:1745. [Google Scholar]
2 Ventura MT, Casciaro M, Gangemi S, Buquicchio R. Immunosenescence in aging: between immune cells depletion and cytokines up-regulation. Clinical and Molecular Allergy. 2017 Dec;15(1):21. [Google Scholar]
3 Sun AR, Panchal SK, Friis T, Sekar S, Crawford R, Brown L, Xiao Y, Prasadam I. Obesity-associated metabolic syndrome spontaneously induces infiltration of pro-inflammatory macrophage in synovium and promotes osteoarthritis. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 31;12(8):e0183693. [Google Scholar]
4 de Visser HM, Mastbergen SC, Kozijn AE, Coeleveld K, Pouran B, van Rijen MH, Lafeber FP, Weinans H. Metabolic dysregulation accelerates injury‐induced joint degeneration, driven by local inflammation; an in vivo rat study. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. 2017 Aug 25.  [Google Scholar]

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