Obesity Decreases Bone Mass, Study Finds

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • New research gives another reason for people with rheumatoid arthritis to be extra careful about their weight.  People often think that increasing weight also increases a person’s bone mass to support that weight.  But a new study from the University of Missouri-Kansas has found just the opposite, that increasing body fat mass decreases bone mass, and is not good for bone health.  The researchers suggest that interventions or treatments to reduce obesity may help increase bone mass and thus protect against osteoporosis.
    The researchers studied used 6,400 healthy adults as subjects studying the relationship between obesity and osteoporosis, found that fat mass was negatively associated with bone mass.  That means that greater fat mass equals lower bone mass.
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    There are also other risk factors for osteoporosis and decreasing bone mass that people with RA need to keep in mind.  First, some drugs, like glucocorticoids such as Prednisone, can decrease bone mass.  Also, more women than men get RA.  Plus, women, especially post-menopausal women, are also at higher risk for developing osteoporosis because women generally have less bone tissue than men.  Osteoporosis does affect men though, and can also run in the family.  Additionally, more people tend to get RA as adults than as children.  As people age, the bones naturally become weaker and less dense. Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. However, African American and Hispanic women are also at significant risk for developing the disease.
    Obesity also brings its own challenges and risks for people with rheumatoid arthritis.  Obesity places more stress on the weight bearing joints and the back and causes fatigue.  This leads people to give up exercise and activity, especially weight bearing activities like walking and lifting light to moderate weights.  Weight-bearing activities are important both for movement and keeping good range of motion as well as building or maintaining bone and muscle mass.  
    Anyone with RA, including both healthy people and overweight people, should discuss osteoporosis with their rheumatologist or primary health care physician.  The doctor may suggest having a bone density test, which is a non-invasive, x-ray test to determine whether you have or if you are at risk for osteoporosis.  And since bone density levels change over time, the doctor will often periodically request follow-up BMD tests, commonly every two years or even more often for some people.
Published On: May 30, 2007