Women with High Cholesterol at Increased Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

December 7, 2015

Hormone-related metabolic pathways in early rheumatoid arthritis may be at play, study shows.

Women with high total cholesterol have a greater chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis than men with similar cholesterol readings, shows a recent study that zeros in on cholesterol and blood lipid measurements as predictive health factors for rheumatoid arthritis.  The study, published in the Oct. 12 issue of Arthritis Research and Therapy, is based on the analysis of data from the Malmö Preventive Medicine Program, a Swedish population-based study consisting of health data from more than 30,000 patients from over 40 years. Among those in the study who eventually developed rheumatoid arthritis, researchers found that women had higher total cholesterol levels at baseline as compared with controls. Women with higher cholesterol were 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease than controls one to 38 years before a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"43962","attributes":{"alt":"©NikiLove/Shutterstock.com","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_5193981800694","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"4889","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em; float: right;","title":"©NikiLove/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]] There was no association between cholesterol levels and rheumatoid arthritis for men. Elevated triglycerides in both men and women didn't correlate with an increased risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers wrote that in this nested case-control study, adjusting for other environmental risk factors, such as smoking and socioeconomic status, did not alter the sex-specific patterns in developing rheumatoid arthritis. The research, which was led by Carl Turesson of Lund University in Sweden, suggests that in some cases, women experienced an “an extended period of hypercholesterolemia” long before the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. “These findings suggest hormone-related metabolic pathways in the early pathogenesis of RA and may have implications for disease prevention and CVD risk management,” the authors wrote. This study adds to the growing literature on predictive health factors for rheumatoid arthritis and suggests that there may be hormonal and sex-specific pathways in women that make them susceptible to the disease. Women already have a two-to three fold higher rate of rheumatoid arthritis than men, and other studies have linked rheumatoid arthritis to duration of breast feeding and early menopause, suggesting that the hormonal shifts in a woman’s life may trigger rheumatoid arthritis. 

References:

Turesson C, Bergström U.

"High serum cholesterol predicts rheumatoid arthritis in women, but not in men: a prospective study,"

Arthritis Research and Therapy

. Oct. 12, 2015. doi:10.1186/s13075-015-0804-1