EATING a simple low-calorie diet for just four months is the key to “transforming” Britain’s arthritis crisis, experts claim.
Tens of thousands of sufferers could be spared from undergoing devastating knee replacements every year by following an easy diet plan.
Experts have found that people who lost just 10 per cent of their body weight had a 30 per cent increase in their quality of life, ability to move and reduction in pain.
And now one of the country’s leading obesity researchers, who has helped trial the rapid, safe, weight loss programme in arthritis sufferers in Denmark, says it should become a priority front-line treatment for obese patients with knee osteoarthritis in the UK.
Obesity is directly fuelling the massive increase in the number of people blighted by osteoarthritis and 60,000 knee replacements are carried out each year leaving thousands housebound.
Costing at least £5,000 per operation, the three-month diet plan could not only save the NHS millions every year with additional healthcare costs, but transform the lives of crippled patients, according to Professor Anthony Leeds from the University of Surrey.
He said: “In the UK with an ageing, heavier population, osteoarthritis is going to be more of a problem and cause more personal suffering as well as increased healthcare costs.
“To apply a simple, straight-forward weight loss solution – which is now proven to be effective – should be a major contribution to reducing NHS costs and improving quality of life for thousands of people with osteoarthritis.”
Prof Leeds has been trialling the diet plan with professor of rheumatology Henning Bliddal who is director of the Parker Arthritis Institute at Copenhagen’s Frederiksberg Hospital, among Danish arthritis patients.
He said the rising impact obesity is having on arthritis-driven knee replacement operations is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
He said: “It seems that the problem of people being more and more obese will impact on the knees over the years and people as people are getting older we are facing a huge problem. We think 60,000 knee replacements is just the tip of the iceberg.
“This is the sort of programme that people can understand and follow easily. We can make people with bad knees and no real chance of exercising stick to a diet programme for years and maintain weight loss which is enough to improve their life quality.”
The trial used the Cambridge Weight Plan which was developed by Dr Alan Howard at Cambridge University as a method of rapidly shedding weight.
It is a low calorie or extremely low calorie diet which sees people have branded shakes, bars, soups and porridge.
The products are used on their own initially for fast weight loss and can then be used in tandem with normal meals for a more gradual weight loss or to maintain weight loss.
The programmes range from 415 calories a day to more than 1500.
The researchers selected 192 elderly patients with knee problems that prevented exercise.
They all received either an 810 calorie, or very low calorie (fewer than 801 calories) liquid formula diet for eight weeks, followed by a 1,200 calorie diet for a further eight weeks.
They were then randomised into one of three groups for maintenance for the next year.
Patients found rapid weight loss motivational and successful and experienced improvement in pain and function with the weight loss.
A 10 per cent weight loss produced a 30 per cent improvement in quality of life.
But Prof Bliddal said that because this 30 per cent alleviated some of their worst issues, the impact was all the more significant.
From being house-bound, some were walking, climbing stairs, visiting friends and grandchildren and going shopping.
One wheelchair-bound patient was literally able to walk again.
Many of the patients were able to maintain their weight loss for at least three more years by replacing just one meal with a food substitute from the diet plan.
Interestingly, they also found that rather than surgery helping people to exercise, lose weight and transform their lives, the opposite was in fact true.
Often freed from the pain, patients actually gained more weight and so needed another knee replacement even sooner.
They have shown that following the 16-week plan and three year maintenance programme can either prevent the need for knee surgery completely or in the very least delay it for at least four years.
Prof Bliddal said: “In the worst case scenario, some patients may have to undergo knee replacement in the future. But losing weight would definitely delay that by at least three to four years. Lsoing weight will also make any new knees last better.”
Earlier this year, research by the charity Arthritis Care showed that knee and hip operations in England and Wales could be costing the nation £1.6billion – and rising – as the obesity crisis grows.
The charity told MPs that around 8.5 million Britons have osteoarthritis, and 70 per cent of people living with arthritis experience constant pain despite medication.
Already a quarter of UK adults are obese and most people with osteoarthritis are overweight or obese.
It is thought that at least of the 60,000 knee operations carried out that at least 48,000 are on people who are overweight or obese.