According to researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK, obesity may increase the risk of neurodegeneration.
In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, above the age of 18, were overweight according to WHO and many diseases are known to be related to obesity. High blood pressure, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes are just a few of them. But what about brain aging and dementia?
A research team at the University of Cambridge in the UK examined the MRI scans of a total of 473 individuals between 20 and 87 years old, who were divided into 2 groups, and found a significant correlation between brain age and Body Mass Index (BMI). The researchers found striking differences between brains of lean and overweight people, in cerebral white-matter volume but not in cortical gray matter. “Such effects may be equivalent to an increase in brain age of up to 10 years in overweight and obese individuals” as the study concludes, and they seem to be maximal in middle-age. That means that a 40-year-old lean person has the same amount of white matter as a 50-year-old obese one.
These differences in the volume of white-matter do not necessarily imply associated changes at an individual’s cognitive abilities, as suggested by the cognitive scores. Therefore the research team is interested to see if any of the participants develop dementia while growing.
“As our brains age, they naturally shrink in size, but it isn’t clear why people who are overweight have a greater reduction in the amount of white matter” says author Dr Lisa Ronan and she continues “we can only speculate on whether obesity might in some way cause these changes or whether obesity is a consequence of brain changes.”
The study was supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Bernard Wolfe Health Neuroscience Fund.