Gradual Weight Loss Using Meds Helps Folks With Arthritis Live Longer

By   |  December 22, 2023

By Ernie Mundell HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2023 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Dec. 21, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Using a weight-loss medication to help you shed pounds gradually appears to help extend life for people with arthritis of the hips or knees, a new study finds.

However, folks with arthritis who dropped pounds very quickly showed no benefit in terms of survival, and even a slight uptick in their risk for heart disease, a team of American and Chinese researchers found.

The study's take-home message: "Gradual weight loss by anti-obesity medications may improve the overall wellness of overweight or obesity patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis," concluded a team led by Jie Wei of Central South University in Changsha, China. The findings were published recently in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology.

Obesity can exacerbate arthritis in the joints, and is a known risk factor for an early death. In the new study, Wi's group tracked outcomes for over 6,500 British people, aged 40 or older, who were overweight or obese and also had knee or hip arthritis.

Some took weight-loss drugs to help them shed excess pounds. Wei's team tracked their outcomes for various health conditions and death over a five-year period.

The data was collected between 2000 and March of 2022 -- before the advent of blockbuster weight-loss medications such as Wegovy and Zepbound. Instead, patients were taking drugs such as orlistat (Alli), sibutramine and rimonabant (Zimulti) to help them get slimmer.

Benefits to health and longevity appeared to depend on how fast people lost weight, the researchers found.

Over the five years of follow-up, 4% of people with arthritis who had experienced "slow-to-moderate" one-year weight loss died, the study found, compared to 5.3% of those whose weight had remained stable or increased.

That translates to a 28% reduction in the risk of dying early for people losing weight in this gradual way

The same benefit was not seen among folks who lost weight quickly taking the drugs, however. Their risk of death over the five years of follow-up was actually a little bit higher -- 5.4% -- than people who hadn't lost weight.

Still, when it came to certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or blood clots (venous thromboembolism), using weight-loss meds appeared to lower risks, regardless of whether the weight loss was fast or slow, the study found.

But with faster weight loss, people's odds for heart disease actually rose a bit, compared to people who hadn't lost weight.

Why would that be so? According to the researchers, prior studies have found that dropping pounds too fast is tied to unhealthy states such as deficiencies in protein, electrolytes and micronutrients, which might damage the heart.

The findings are "consistent with the guidelines worldwide that gradual weight loss should be recommended for the treatment of obesity," the researchers said.

More information

Find out more about obesity, weight loss & arthritis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatology, Dec. 5, 2023