It is common knowledge that good health, such as a nutritional diet and moderate exercise, can enhance both body and mind. New research has now put a different spin on this message finding that obesity may actually ‘fasten’ brain shrinkage, thus increasing brain age and put you at an increased risk of neurodegeneration.
This interesting result was published in the Journal Neurobiology of Ageing by researchers from Cambridge University in the UK. The research team analysed data from 527 healthy individuals aged between 20 and 87. Participants were grouped by body mass index, categorised as lean, overweight and obese. Along with this information, MRI brain scans of all participants were undertaken. MRI brain scans can measure for brain mass and matter and identify brain atrophy (or shrinkage).
Based on this data-set the researchers found that those participants who were identified as obese had a greater degree of brain atrophy, also identified by less brain white matter. This was particularly apparent in middle-aged participants, with the researchers noting that obesity increased brain-age by 10 years.
“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…we can only speculate on whether obesity might in some way cause these changes or whether obesity is a consequence of brain changes,” study leader Dr Lisa Ronan from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge said.
Adding further interest to this result though was that the researchers did not find any correlation between cognitive abilities of those who were overweight or obese, as measured by using a standardised IQ test.
Professor Paul Fletcher who was also involved in the trial said: “we’re living in an ageing 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”.
“The fact that we only saw 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,” he finished by saying.
So while there are still a few more questions to answer as to why, the study does suggest that at a population level obesity may increase the risk of neurodegeneration and gives further emphasis to the message of a healthy body can equal a healthy brain and mind.