Overweight can age your brain 10 years at middle-age

Brain map
Example of gray and white-matter segmentations in FreeSurfer for, sex-matched subjects (A) lean (56 years, BMI 19.5) and (B) obese (50 years, BMI = 43.4).

It is known that overweight has many harmful effects on our health. Such effects include higher risks of stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, kidney disease, and pregnancy problems.

Recently, scientists find that overweight can also impact the brain negatively. At middle-age, brains of overweight people can be 10 years older than brains of healthy people. The finding is published in Neurobiology of Aging.

Researchers from University of Cambridge, Yale University, and Cambridge Center for Ageing and Neuroscience conducted the study.

They analyzed brain imaging data from the Cambridge Center for Ageing and Neuroscience. The data were from 527 adults aged 20-87 years. All participants were healthy adults recruited from the local community over a period of 5 years as part of an ongoing project.

Researchers divided the participants into two groups: lean and overweight. Each participant completed MRI brain imaging. Based on the brain image, researchers reconstructed the brain structures and measured the relation between brain anatomy and body weight.

They found that in overweight people, the white-matter volume of the brain was associated with a greater degree of atrophy (decrease in size). White-matter is the tissue through which messages pass between different brain areas.

Strikingly, the maximum atrophy was in middle-aged people, and the effect corresponded to an increase of brain age of 10 years.

This finding suggests that overweight may accelerate brain aging and increase the risk of neurodegeneration, which refers to the loss of neuron functions and death of neurons.

Neurodegeneration can cause many diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.

Researchers suggest that at middle-age, the brain might be vulnerable, and that is why overweight people with this age seem to have an older brain. Future research will examine the relation between aging and obesity, and whether weight loss can help delay aging.

Citation: Lisa Ronan, et al. (2016). Obesity associated with increased brain-age from mid-life. Neurobiology of Aging, 47: 63-70. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.07.010.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is credited to Lisa Ronan et al.