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Learn how weight loss can decrease the effects of arthritis and help you live a better, more comfortable, life.

Arthritis Symptoms, Treatment, and the Effects of Weight

Overweight and obesity rates continues to rise in the U.S., compromising the health of two out of three Americans and increasing the risks and effects of arthritis.

Arthritis Symptoms, Treatment, and the Effects of Weight

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis describes inflammation of one or more joints, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of motion that can worsen with age. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, thus increasing the risk of inability to accomplish day-to-day functions and a lower quality of life.

There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, including the following:

• Osteoarthritis
Also recognized as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type. When cartilage (or the cushion on the ends on bones) wears away, bones rub against one another, which causes swelling and stiffness. Over time, affected joints can lose strength and pain can be intensified.

• Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body decides to attack normally healthy cell. So in the case of RA, the joints are attacked and inflamed, thus causing mild to severe arthritic symptoms.

• Gout
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that often develops in those who cannot flush out uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in the body and many foods. If uric acid accumulates, it can cause crystals to form in the joint, especially in the feet, and result to extreme joint pain.

While there are numerous risk factors, including age and gender, being overweight and carrying weight increase the likelihood of developing arthritis.

How Excess Weight Affects Arthritis

Carrying extra weight can negatively influence the various forms of arthritis, particularly by stressing the joints and causing inflammation.

Especially in osteoarthritis, excess fat puts extra stress on the joints and increases the risk for extra wear and tear. In fact, every one pound of weight you lose corresponds to four pounds of less stress and pressure on your knees!

Another reason carrying excess weight can be so harmful is because it is metabolically active and capable of producing hormones and chemicals that can increase levels of inflammation within your body.

Furthermore, adipose tissue is a specialized connective tissue that functions as the major storage site for fat. When you gain weight, adipose tissue increases; and the more excess fat you develop, the greater the likelihood of developing arthritis.

How to Minimize Arthritic Symptoms and Risks

The Arthritis Foundation reports, "Research shows overweight people with arthritis who lose 10 percent of their weight have better mobility and 50 percent less pain."

That being said, losing weight can minimize arthritic severity and risks. But before getting started, it is important to consult with a primary care provider to ensure the upmost safety, whilst reducing associated pain and inflammation and improving overall functioning.

While individuals may be prescribed to medications, advised to use a splint or brace, or even recommended to undergo surgery, adopting a natural, healthy lifestyle can mitigate against arthritic signs and symptoms.

Use Food as Medicine

Food truly can be medicine in the case of arthritis, particularly by supporting a healthy weight and weight loss with the incorporation of whole grains, colorful fruits and veggies, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fat sources.

Furthermore, dismissing pro-inflammatory foods (such as saturated and trans fats and simple, refined carbohydrates) and integrating these specific nutrients and foods can lower inflammation in the body:

• Omega-3s
In addition to promoting heart health, omega-3s work to decrease inflammation by suppressing the production of cytokines and enzymes that erode cartilage.
Sources: fatty fish (such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, halibut), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds

• Monounsaturated Fats
This healthy fat helps shield the body against inflammation related to its powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols.
Sources: dark chocolate, olives and olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, and avocados

• Vitamins C
Research shows that people who eat a diet low in vitamin C are actually more prone to developing different kinds of arthritis. Furthermore, taking 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C daily may reduce uric acid in those managing gout.
Sources: guava, sweet peppers, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, pineapple, papayas, lemons, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, kidney beans, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, red cabbage, and mangoes

• Selenium
There is evidence indicating people deficient in selenium have nearly twice as likely to have severe arthritis compared to those who ate a selenium-rich diet.
Sources: brazil nuts, whole grains, tuna, cod, crab, oysters, tilapia, lean beef, turkey, shrimp, and whole grains

• Carotenes
Adequate carotene intake may reduce the risk of developing inflammation-related diseases, including arthritis.
Sources: potatoes, carrots, kale, butternut squash, turnip greens, pumpkin, mustard greens, cantaloupe, sweet red pepper, spinach, winter squash, pumpkin, persimmons, papaya, tangerines, red peppers, corn, oranges, and apricots

• Quercetins
The effects of quercetin may be similar to anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Sources: onions, kale, leeks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, black currants, elderberries, cocoa powder, apricots, and apples

• Anthocyanins
Anthocyanins are known to reduce inflammation, as they contribute to the health of connective tissue. They are also suggested to be more powerful than vitamin C for defusing dangerous free radicals.
Sources: blackberries, black currants, blueberries, eggplant, elderberries, raspberries, cherries, boysenberries, red/black grapes, strawberries and plums


While exercising may be the last thing you want to do when experiencing joint pain, most healthcare professionals discourage the notion of "taking it easy" when it comes to effectively managing arthritis.

In fact, physical activity can help mitigate such effects and assist in weight loss. There are several low-impact exercises that can be effective, yet tolerable, including biking and swimming.

As always, talk with your primary care provider before jumping into any new exercise regimen. Working with a physical therapist or personal trainer can also help ensure safe movements for to prevent against injury and optimize arthritic management.

Additional Factors

Additional factors of a healthy lifestyle include:

• Adequate Hydration
Water assists in weight loss efforts by regulating metabolism and controlling hunger levels throughout the day. As a general recommendation, aim for at least 64 ounces of water on a daily basis and limit the consumption of sugary, alcoholic, and high-fat drinks that may trigger inflammation.

• Stress Management
Exposure to prolonged periods of stress and cortisol can lead to excess fat, especially in the abdominal area. Rather than turning to harmful coping mechanisms that can increase arthritic symptoms, including alcohol and cigarettes, manage stress by reading a book, relaxing in a hammock, or practicing meditation.

• Sleep
Inadequate sleep may be impacting weight loss goals, as too few hours of quality shuteye can reduce metabolism, plummet energy levels to carry out an active lifestyle, and increase cravings to pro-inflammatory foods. The National Sleep Foundation encourages sleeping seven to nine hours on a regular basis, which may be achieved by formulating a bedtime schedule, disconnecting from electronics, and reducing caffeine, alcohol, and large meals leading up to bed.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on May 22, 2013. Updated on August 01, 2019.


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