Another reason to lose weight: being obese can increase age of the brain by 10 years
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Yale University examined the intracranial volume, cerebral white matter volume and cortical thickness of 473 people aged 20-87 years—divided into 246 lean controls, 150 overweight subjects and 77 obese subjects.
They found those who were overweight and obese had a significantly diminished volume of white matter compared with the controls. For example, an overweight person at 50 had a comparable white matter volume to a lean person aged 60.
White matter is the tissue that allows information to be communicated between regions of the brain, and its reduction is a process that occurs naturally with ageing, leading to neurodegeneration. There was no observed effect in cortical grey matter.
Researchers also observed a slightly higher effect in middle-aged participants, suggesting that brains may be particularly vulnerable during this period of ageing.
“These results indicate that obesity has a modulating impact on age-related brain structural changes,” write the authors in the journal Neurobiology of Ageing.
“Strikingly, the overall effects of obesity are redolent of those seen with normal ageing. In showing obesity-related alterations in global brain structure, our data support the idea that, like ageing, obesity’s impact is widespread on the brain.
“This study suggests that at a population level, obesity may increase the risk of neurodegeneration,” they say.
While the exact biological mechanisms are complex, suggested explanations include the role of pro-inflammatory cytokines and associated hormones.
“As with normal ageing, obesity increases oxidative stress and promotes inflammation through the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines produced in adipose tissue,” the authors explain.
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