Obesity can make the effects of Alzheimer’s disease worse, according to new research.
A University of Sheffield team has warned that it may be too late to wait until later life to lose weight to protect yourself from that risk.
One study found that maintaining a healthy weight can help people who already have milder Alzheimer’s disease, but also that being overweight in mid-life can have an impact on brain health as they age.
The researchers from Sheffield and the University of Eastern Finland stressed that their study did not show that obesity caused Alzheimer’s, but warned people to think about their weight.
Professor Annalena Venneri of the University of Sheffield Neuroscience Institute and the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Center said, “The diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, lurk in the background for many years, waiting until you are 60 to lose weight is too late.”
Prof. Venneri said: “It is believed that more than 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. Despite decades of groundbreaking studies and a huge global research effort, we still have no cure for this cruel disease.
“Prevention plays such an important role in the fight against the disease.
“It is important to emphasize that this study does not show that obesity causes Alzheimer’s, but it does show that being overweight puts an extra burden on brain health and can make the disease worse.
“We need to think about brain health much earlier and prevent these diseases.
“Educating children and adolescents about the burden of multimorbidities from obesity, including neurodegenerative diseases, is crucial.”
Previous studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Recent analyzes of more than a million people showed that a higher body mass index is linked to an increased risk of dementia when measured earlier than 20 years before diagnosis.
This new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer Disease Reports, examined MRI brain scans of 47 patients clinically diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s dementia, 68 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 57 cognitively healthy individuals.
It examined the anatomy of the brain, blood flow and also the fibers of the brain and found that obesity can contribute to “susceptibility to nerve tissue”.
The joint author Dr. Matteo De Marco of the Department of Neuroscience at Sheffield University said, “Weight loss is often one of the first symptoms in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as people forget to eat easy-to-grab foods like or eat cookies or chips instead of more nutritious meals . “
Dr. De Marco said, “Unlike other diseases like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people don’t often think about the importance of diet in relation to neurological diseases, but these results show that they can help maintain brain structure.”
Richard Oakley, Director of Research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said, “We know obesity is a risk factor for dementia, and this study tells us more about the effects obesity has on brain health and the potential risk of developing dementia.
“However, the study did not look at people with Alzheimer’s disease who were also obese, so we still don’t know how obesity could affect the brain of someone already living with the disease.
“With one million people expected to be living with dementia in the UK by 2025, the Alzheimer’s society is calling for more investment in research.”
Mr. Oakley said 40% of all dementia cases could be preventable and urged everyone to stay active.
He said, “Swap your digestive tract for a piece of fruit because research has shown that keeping your body healthy can also help keep your brain healthy.”
Professor Alistair Burns, NHS National Clinical Director on Dementia and Mental Health of the Elderly, said, “This study shows that what is good for your heart is good for your head.
“As part of the NHS long-term plan, we are committed to reducing 150,000 cases of stroke, heart attack and dementia and preventing dementia. However, it is never too early to start losing weight, and never too late to help lose weight make a difference. “