A study from the Australian National University (ANU) has found a link between obesity and shrinkage in an area of the brain impaired in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease: the hippocampus.
“We examined the link between fat mass and the brain because previous research has shown that having excessive fat mass in midlife can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 35%,” said PhD scholar, Ananthan Ambikairajah, from the ANU School of Population Health.
“We found that people who suffered from obesity or carried excessive weight had a smaller hippocampus than those who maintained a normal weight.”
The study looked at and analysed brain scans from over 20,000 healthy men and women between the ages of 40 and 70, finding smaller hippocampus volumes in those people who either currently or previously carried excessive weight or suffered from obesity.
“It was surprising to find that people who suffered from obesity or carried excessive weight in the past, but currently had a normal level of fat mass, also had a smaller hippocampus than those who always maintained a normal weight,” Mr Ambikairajah said.
“The hippocampus is one of the few regions that actually continues to form new cells as you get older and is often the first area of the brain to be impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
“This study shows just how important it is to maintain a healthy amount of fat mass throughout life for both men and women.”
The study has been published in the Obesity journal.