Obesity may cause brains to age 10 years

According to a new study, the brains of middle-aged overweight people appeared to be 10 years older than the brains of people with normal weight. Agin, we lose white matter, tissue responsible for communication between different areas of the brain, and it’s normal. But the brain scans of the participants with extra weight showed that they had a great loss of white matter about a decade earlier than normal-weight participants.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. performed MRIs on 473 study participants between ages 20 and 87, to compare the brains of people with different weight. The results of MRI showed an impressive difference between the groups of lean and overweight/obese participants. Overweight people had significantly less white matter compared to lean people. According to the authors of the study, the effect looked a lot like what would happen with normal aging, but accelerated. For example, an overweight 50-year-old had the same quantity of white matter as a lean 60-year-old.

It is important to note, that these differences between groups only appeared in middle-aged and older people, so the researchers suggest that the brain may be particularly vulnerable to obesity-related damage during this period of life.

Also the authors of the study couldn’t say whether obesity might in some way cause these brain changes (in overweight people with significant loss of white matter) or whether obesity was just a consequence of them.

The study however did not find a connection between participants’ weight and cognitive abilities, but the authors say that their results raise concerns about obesity’s possible role in age-related brain disease such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The study’s senior author, Paul Fletcher, Ph.D., says that there’s still a lot to learn in this area.

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