The Brains of the Obese Middle Aged, Age Faster Than Their Leaner Counterparts: Study

The Brains of the Obese Middle Aged, Age Faster Than Their Leaner Counterparts: Study

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 5 Aug 2016 - 16:04


Obesity or overweight has been linked with several health risks for various diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular, hypertension and other metabolic related conditions. A recent study led by University of Cambridge suggested that the brains of overweight or obese middle-aged individuals displayed signs of increased ageing.

It is natural for the brain to shrink with age, but scientists are increasingly observing that obesity or overweight can also affect the onset and progression of brain ageing.

The levels of crucial white were significantly lower in clinically overweight, than in lean individuals, researchers found. The brain of an overweight person aged 40 appeared to be a decade older, a report in the Journal Neurobiology of Ageing said.  "As our brains age, they naturally shrink in size," explained lead author Lisa Ronan, a scientist in the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. 

Study: The researcher’s team studied 473 individuals’ data between the ages of 20 and 87, to understand the impact of obesity on brain structure across the adult lifespan. The researchers divided the data into two categories based on weight: lean and overweight. The overweight (The criteria for "overweight" and "obese" are calculated as a ratio of height to weight known as the Body Mass Index (BMI)) individuals showed widespread reduction in the volume of white matter as compared to their leaner counterparts.

The team calculated how white matter volume related to age across the two groups. The white matter volume in the overweight person at 50 years of age was comparable to the white matter volume of a lean person aged 60 years. This indicated a brain age difference of 10 years.

These differences in the volume of white matter were observed from middle-age onwards, suggesting that our brains may be particularly vulnerable during this period of ageing.

Does being overweight cause the brain changes, or do low white matter levels cause weight gain? Establishing how these two factors interact must be examined further.

"Clearly, this must be a starting point for us to explore in more depth, the effects of weight, diet and exercise on the brain and memory."

The researchers found no connection between being overweight or obese and an individual's cognitive abilities, when their IQ was tested. 


Reference: University of Cambridge


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