Obesity May Cause Accelerated Brain Aging

Patients with a high body mass index showed decreased white matter volume, suggesting brain age-related brain shrinkage.

A recent study found that patients with obesity, or who are overweight midlife, may have accelerated brain aging.

The researchers found that overweight middle-aged patients had reduced white matter volumes in their brain, compared with normal weight counterparts. Findings suggest aging acceleration of approximately 10 years, according to a study published by Neurobiology of Aging.

Previous studies have suggested a relationship between obesity and brain shrinkage associated with aging.

“We're living in an aging 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,” said senior author Paul Fletcher.

In the study, researchers examined data from 473 adults aged 20- to 87-years-old. There were 246 participants classified as lean (body mass index [BMI] of 18.5-25), 150 participants classified as overweight (BMI of 25-30), and 77 classified as obese (BMI over 30).

Researchers then used magnetic resonance imaging to assess white and gray matter volume in the brains of participants. They discovered that participants classified as overweight or obese had less white matter volume compared with participants classified as lean.

They also found that middle-aged participants classified as overweight or obese had white matter volume comparable to patients classified as lean who were 10 years older. Researchers did not find any cognitive differences between the participants with different classifications.

Researchers were not able to conclude whether mid-life obesity causes reduction in white matter or whether the changes cause obesity.

“The fact that we only saw these differences from middle age onwards raises the possibility that we may be particularly vulnerable at this age,” Fletcher concluded. “It will also be important to find out whether these changes could be reversible with weight loss, which may well be the case.”