Breaking The Cycle Of Obesity & Osteoarthritis

By Dr Indira Prasadam, 2017

Dr Indira Prasadam, researcher at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), is part of the team researching why osteoarthritis occurs and what can be done to reduce the effects.

Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles.

Arthritis is the most prevalent musculoskeletal disease in Australia, affecting nearly 20% of the population. Osteoarthritis accounts for half of all cases of arthritis.

Currently, there are no clinically proven therapies to halt the onset or the progression of osteoarthritis. This means that the development of such therapies are considered a national, as well as international, research priority. That’s one of the reasons why my colleagues and I at QUT are researching osteoarthritis.

Currently my team and I are studying how obesity and different components of metabolic syndrome contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. To do this we are researching the cellular, structural, and molecular changes that happen in joint tissue in obese animals and people.

Obesity and metabolic syndrome, a condition which can include high blood pressure, diabetes and low levels of ‘good cholesterol’, have been identified as the most significant risk factors for osteoarthritis. But these are also the most preventable ones.

The exact mechanisms underlying this link are still unclear. It has been assumed that obesity primarily influences the progression of osteoarthritis by increasing joint loading due to excess body weight. However, this does not fully explain the association between obesity and osteoarthritis in non-weight bearing joints. This suggests that rather than just weight related mechanical imbalances, there are also more complex molecular mechanisms at play.

We have recently identified that excessive lipids, molecules involved in energy storage and cell signaling, place oxidative stress on cartilage cells. This means that the cells are being suffocated, causing them to die. Over time, as these cartilage cells can’t repair themselves, this results in joint damage.

The study results further showed that statins, drugs used to lower cholesterol, and antioxidants can protect the joints against arthritis. The results of this study strengthen the argument for a clinical trial evaluating the possible protective effect of statins and other routinely used antioxidants in people with arthritis.

Additionally, we are further exploring how obesity alters inflammation in knee joints. We hope to develop effective interventions to break the obesity-osteoarthritis cycle and reduce the burden of joint disorders.

Currently we are testing the hypothesis that reversing obesity through diet or exercise or a combination of both may the development of osteoarthritis. This is a practical study that compares interventions which could easily be translated into treatments for individuals.

Recently Dr Prasadam spoke to us about her research during our "The Role of Diet in Osteoarthritis" webinar, click here to view the recording