Research says overweight people have brains ten years older than those of lean people of the same age.
Obesity is already linked to serious physical health issues like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Now, new research suggests that obesity can have adverse effects on your brain too.
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It is an already known fact that the human brain gets smaller with age and becomes increasingly vulnerable to brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Researchers from Cambridge University have found that brains of overweight people get much older than their actual age.
“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,” said lead author Dr Lisa Ronan from Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, “We can only speculate on whether obesity might in some way cause these changes or whether obesity is a consequence of brain changes.”
To look at the impact of obesity on brain structure, researchers recruited around 500 people age 20 to 87 and divided them into two categories based on their weight: lean and overweight. Then, they assessed age-related changes on the brains of both groups of people and noticed stark difference between the two. They found overweight people had experienced a widespread reduction in the white matter of their brain.
When researchers compared the white matter volume related to age across the two groups, they discovered that an overweight person, say 50 years old had a white matter volume comparable to a lean person aged 60 years, reflecting a staggering 10 years of difference in brain age. Surprisingly, the difference was only evident after the middle-age and onwards.
“We’re living in an aging population, with increasing levels of obesity; so it’s essential that we establish how these two factors might interact, since the consequences for health are potentially serious,” said co-author professor Paul Fletcher.
“The fact that we only saw these differences from middle-age onwards raises the possibility that we may be particularly vulnerable at this age. It will also be important to find out whether these changes could be reversible with weight loss, which may well be the case.”
White mater is one of the two types of brain tissues which makes up half of the human brain. While grey matter of the brain is primarily associated with memory and learning, white matter ensures communication between different regions of the brain.
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At the moment, researchers are not sure about the consequences of changes in brain in relation to obesity since they have not observed any difference in cognitive abilities of the two groups. Further researchers could provide more insight into the impact of obesity on brain age.