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New research suggests that anti-obesity drugs may help reduce the risk of early death for people with knee or hip osteoarthritis. FreshSplash/Getty Images
  • Anti-obesity medications may affect the risk of premature death in people with osteoarthritis.
  • Slow-to-moderate weight loss was linked with greater survival, which could be because rapid weight loss may cause nutritional deficiencies and muscle loss.
  • Improvements in metabolic health could help reduce the risk of premature death, too.
  • Weight loss was protective against high blood pressure, diabetes, and blood clots.

Research recently published in Arthritis & Rheumatology indicates that the use of anti-obesity medications in people who are living with overweight or obesity and who additionally have knee or hip osteoarthritis (OA) may reduce their risk of dying an early death.

However, there is one catch: Weight loss needs to be slow or moderate, not fast.

According to the study authors, OA is a common joint disorder worldwide, affecting over 500 million people. It is becoming increasingly more prevalent due to a rising number of older people and those who are living with obesity.

They further note that weight loss is one of the core treatments for OA, with studies showing that it can improve people’s pain and joint function.

Although weight loss is commonly recommended for those with OA, the authors said that not much is known about how weight loss affects survival in these patients. Their goal was to look at how the rate of weight loss might affect people’s risk of dying prematurely.

Using the IQVIA Medical Research Database, they identified 6,524 people with either knee or hip OA who were also using the following obesity medications:

When they analyzed the data, they found that the 5-year all-cause mortality rate — based on how many people died from any cause within 5 years — was 5.3% for people who either gained or held steady weight, 4.0% for people with slow-to-moderate weight loss, and 5.4% for those who had fast weight loss.

They additionally found that, compared to weight gain or holding a steady weight, the risk of death was reduced by 28% with slow-to-moderate weight loss. But, with fast weight loss, the reduction in risk was only 1%.

Dr. Scott Katzman, an orthopedic surgeon at NJ Spine & Orthopedic, who was not involved in the study, said it makes sense that slow-to-moderate weight loss would be more beneficial than rapid weight loss when considering the side effects of rapid weight loss.

“Rapid weight loss is usually accompanied by muscle loss and nutritional deficiencies, which can exacerbate arthritic conditions and impact lifespan and health span,” he explained.

Katzman went on to say that balanced nutrition is essential for both healing and preventing OA, especially as people age.

“Rapid weight loss from a fad diet that restricts entire food groups (like dairy-free) or entire macronutrients (like low carb) can lead to nutritional deficiencies,” he stated, noting that it’s not just about reducing the stress on your joints. “[I]f you aren’t getting adequate nutrition, your condition can continue to deteriorate.”

He additionally stated that several key nutrients work together to keep our joints healthy, including protein for collagen production, calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium.

Katzman added that rapid weight loss can also lead to muscle loss.

Having adequate muscle is important in metabolic health, joint stability, and overall mobility, he explained.

“If you lose a lot of weight but you have weak or depleted quads, you’re going to lose stability in your knee,” he said. “This can increase your risk of injury and can increase discomfort if you already suffer from arthritis or joint dysfunction.”

As far as longevity goes, Katzman said that nutritional deficiencies and muscle loss can have a “snowball effect” on your overall health.

“Loss of mobility can make it more difficult to keep a job, socialize, and care for ourselves,” he said. “This impacts everything from mental health to hygiene to accessing services like health insurance, and inevitably plays into life expectancy.”

Katzman concluded by saying, “While weight loss can be an incredible tool to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis and can improve your overall health, it has to be done in a way that is sustainable and holistically beneficial.”

While it was not the purpose of the study, the researchers also found that as people lost more weight it had a greater protective effect against high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and the formation of blood clots within veins.

Dr. Suzanne Manzi of Performance Pain & Sports Medicine in Houston, Texas, who was note involved in the study, said these improvements occurred because anti-obesity medications improve overall metabolic health, aiding in the management of these conditions.

“This comprehensive approach not only alleviates osteoarthritis symptoms but also contributes to a reduced risk of premature death by promoting sustainable weight management and improving metabolic health,” she stated.

A new study has found that when it comes to using anti-obesity medications for weight loss, people living with overweight or obesity who are also living with OA had a reduced risk for premature death when they had slow-to-moderate weight loss.

Experts suggest this might be related to the fact that fast weight loss is more likely to induce nutritional deficiencies and loss of muscle. Both can impact overall health and lifespan.

The study also had incidental findings that weight loss was protective against high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and blood clots.

Experts say this is because these medications help improve metabolic health, which can also help reduce the risk of premature death.