More bad news on the obesity problem. It is not only your heart that suffers from the extra pounds, it’s your brain as well. American researchers who initially looked at the cardiovascular effects of excess weight in the Cardiovascular Health Cognition study also took brain images of some patients. The researchers looked at 94 seniors in their 70s who did not exhibit any cognitive impairment. They were followed up five years after the brain scans were taken and checked for general, including body mass index (BMI). The participants were then classified as
- Normal weight = BMI of 18.5 to 25
- Overweight = BMI of 25 to 30
- Obese = BMI of above 30
The study results showed that the excess weight can lead to loss in tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, areas of the brain critical for planning and memory. Specifically
- Overweight individuals had 4% less brain tissue compared to those with normal weight.
- Obese individuals had 8% less brain tissue.
According to Dr. Paul Thompson, senior author and a UCLA professor of neurology
Brain degeneration was evident in other areas of the brain of overweight and obese participants as well, namely:
- anterior cingulate gyrus, the area for attention and executive functions
- hippocampus, the area of long-term memory
- basal ganglia, the area regulating movement
- corona radiata, the white matter comprised of axons
- parietal or sensory lobe
Current estimates from the World Health Organization put the number of obese people worldwide at more than 300 million. Those who are overweight number about 2 billion.
Obesity has been linked to increased risk for chronic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The current study is one of the very first to show that obesity also damages the brain. However, there is an upside to the findings. The areas of the brain loss affected by obesity are also areas that are targeted by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This could suggest that excess weight is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, a risk factor that can be altered by changes in lifestyle, changes for the better. This means that being active, eating healthy and keeping weight under control can reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s. By keeping fit, we are protection our heart as well as our brain.
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