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New study finds link between obesity and Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition

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Being overweight or obese is known to be a risk factor for multiple health problems. Carrying extra weight can make you more vulnerable to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. However, new research suggests it could also affect how your brain functions.

A study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, has found a correlation between neurodegeneration in obese people and Alzheimer’s disease patients.

As a result, scientists from the McGill University in Canada have suggested that losing excess weight could slow cognitive decline in ageing and lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease..

It comes as previous research has shown that obesity is linked with other Alzheimer’s disease-related changes, such as cerebrovascular damage and amyloid-β (amino acids found in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s) accumulation.

But this is the first time a direct comparison between brain atrophy (the loss of brain cells) patterns in Alzheimer’s and obesity has been made.

As part of the study, the team compared patterns of grey matter atrophy in obesity and Alzheimer’s disease using data from 1,300 people.

They compared the Alzheimer’s patients with healthy controls, and obese with non-obese individuals.

Scientists concluded that obesity and Alzheimer’s disease affected grey matter cortical thinning – a sign of neurodegeneration – in similar ways.

As an example, thinning in the right temporo-parietal cortex and left prefrontal cortex were similar in both groups.

Overall, this indicates that obesity may cause the same type of neurodegeneration as found in people with Alzheimer’s.

The study’s first author, Filip Morys, said: “Our study strengthens previous literature pointing to obesity as a significant factor in Alzheimer’s disease by showing that cortical thinning might be one of the potential risk mechanisms.

“Our results highlight the importance of decreasing weight in obese and overweight individuals in mid-life, to decrease the subsequent risk of neurodegeneration and dementia.”

In the UK, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

It is a progressive condition, affecting multiple brain functions that worsens gradually over many years.

To begin with, someone with Alzheimer’s might just display minor problems with memory.

This includes forgetting the names of places or recent events.

But as it progresses the symptoms will become more severe.

These can include:

  • Confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places
  • Difficulty planning or making decisions
  • Problems with speech and language
  • Problems moving around without assistance or performing self-care tasks
  • Personality changes, such as becoming aggressive, demanding and suspicious of others
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Low mood or anxiety.

If you think someone you know has Alzheimer’s disease, or any form of dementia, you should get them an appointment with their GP.

It is thought around one in four adults in the UK are classed as obese.

To lose weight or prevent becoming obese, the NHS recommends:

  • Eating a healthy balanced diet
  • Not eating more than the recommended daily calorie intake
  • Exercising for at least 150 minutes a week.

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