A new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests obesity may increase arthritis risk not only in obese people but in their children and grandchildren, too.
The researchers analyzed more than 120 mice whose parents had consumed a high-fat diet, and found that the offspring, despite having eaten a low-fat diet, were significantly heavier and had more body fat than the offspring of mice that hadn't consumed a high-fat diet.
When those mice had pups, the grandchildren of the original mice, that third generation of mice tended to gain nearly 20 percent more weight than the offspring of their littermates that had never been overweight. In addition, they were at higher risk for arthritis. The same was true for the next generation of mice as well, which gained up to 10 percent more weight.
And the grandchildren also had higher levels of inflammatory molecules and cells in their systems than their littermates, despite never having been fed a high-fat diet. Higher amounts of those molecules, called cytokines, are linked to a variety of problems, including arthritis.
In fact, the third-generation mice had higher levels of molecules that cause inflammation, and lower levels of molecules that protect against inflammation. The children and grandchildren of the obese mice in the study also were more likely to have bone and cartilage changes that put them at risk for osteoarthritis.
"We can't assume everything we found in these mice will turn out to be true for people," said first author Natalia S. Harasymowicz, a postdoctoral fellow at the university. "But there's more and more evidence that when parents eat a bad diet or smoke or abuse alcohol, the next generation is more likely to inherit a predisposition for diabetes, cancer or other diseases."
"We've known for years that obesity is the No. 1 preventable risk factor for osteoarthritis," said senior investigator Farshid Guilak, a professor of orthopedic surgery. "It turns out, however, that obesity also increases arthritis risk in body parts that don't bear weight, like the hand or the thumb."
"What we find is that changes in mechanical loading that occur with obesity don't seem to be the primary risk factors for arthritis," he said. "Almost all of the risk is coming from either metabolic or dietary influences, and that risk is then passed down to subsequent generations."
"Poor diet and bad habits may affect not only the individual who has such habits but also future generations," Harasymowicz said. "However, recognizing that potential risk may convince people to take steps to be healthier and to reduce their weight, potentially lowering risks for their children and grandchildren."
Arthritis affects one in five Americans. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number jumps to one in three among people with obesity.
The study is published online in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology on Thursday.
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