Obesity can aggravate the risk of Alzheimer’s; Study

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Trainee Reporter
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Research conducted by the England-based University of Sheffield has found that being overweight is an extra burden on brain health and can worsen the condition of Alzheimer’s disease.

The groundbreaking multimodal neuroimaging study showed that obesity may lead to the vulnerability of neural tissue, while maintaining a healthy weight in mild dementia of Alzheimer’s disease may help preserve the structure of the brain.

The results, published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Studies, also highlight the impact being overweight in mid-life could have on brain health in older age.

Lead author of the study, Professor Annalena Venneri from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute and NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre said, “More than 50 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer’s disease and despite decades of groundbreaking studies and a huge global research effort we still don’t have a cure for this cruel disease.

Annalena Venneri
Prof. Annalena Venneri
Dept. of Neuroscience
University of Sheffield

“Prevention plays such an important role in the fight against the disease. It is important to stress this study does not show that obesity causes Alzheimer’s, but what it does show is that being overweight is an additional burden on brain health and it may exacerbate the disease. The diseases that cause dementia such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia lurk in the background for many years, so waiting until your 60s to lose weight is too late. We need to start thinking about brain health and preventing these diseases much earlier. Educating children and adolescents about the burden being overweight has on multimorbidities including neurodegenerative diseases is vital.”

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and the University of Eastern Finland examined brain scans of 47 patients clinically diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s disease dementia, 68 patients with a mild cognitive disability, and 57 cognitively stable individuals.

The novel research used three complementary computational techniques to look at the structure of the brain, blood flow, and the fibers of the brain.

A positive correlation between obesity and the volume of grey matter around the right temporoparietal junction was observed in moderate dementia patients. This suggests that obesity in cognitively healthy individuals and those with moderate cognitive impairment might lead to neural vulnerability.

Obesity

The study further showed that maintaining a healthy weight in mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia could help retain brain structure in the presence of age and disease-related weight loss.

Dr. Matteo De Marco, Joint author of the study stated, “Weight-loss is commonly one of the first symptoms in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as people forget to eat or begin to snack on easy-to-grab foods like biscuits or crisps, in place of more nutritional meals.”

“We found that maintaining a healthy weight could help preserve brain structure in people who are already experiencing mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Unlike other diseases such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people don’t often think about the importance of nutrition concerning neurological conditions, but these findings show it can help to preserve brain structure,” added Mr. Marco.

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