The changes observed in the brains of obese individuals are similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study’s findings show losing weight may help lower the eventual risk of slow cognitive decline and dementia.

The study, conducted by scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital, looked at data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), analyzing brain scans of over 1,300 participants.

The team compared patterns of gray matter atrophy between participants with Alzheimer’s disease and those of healthy participants to create Alzheimer’s disease brain maps.

They also compared the brain maps of lean individuals with those of obese people to create obesity brain maps.

Their primary aim was to examine the level of similarity between brain atrophy patterns in obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the end, they found that patterns of gray matter cortical thinning in Alzheimer’s disease were similar to obesity. More specifically, they observed that the obesity brain maps followed similar patterns as seen in Alzheimer’s brain maps. 

Cortical thinning is a normal part of aging and a sign of neurodegeneration. This simply suggests that obesity accompanies the same type of neurodegeneration as seen in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

These findings better explain the risk for Alzheimer’s disease onset in obese individuals. It’s worth noting that the obese individuals, according to the study authors, were much more cognitively sound and had not been previously diagnosed with a neurologic disorder. 

“Our study strengthens previous literature pointing to obesity as a significant factor in AD by showing that cortical thinning might be one of the potential risk mechanisms,” says Filip Morys, a Ph.D. researcher at The Neuro and the study’s lead author. “Our results raise the possibility that decreasing weight in obese and overweight individuals in mid-life, in addition to other health benefits, may also decrease the subsequent risk of neurodegeneration and dementia.”

Obesity as a multisystem disease has been known to affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems, etc. It has also been recently shown to be linked to poor cognition. However, until now, a direct comparison between brain atrophy patterns in Alzheimer’s disease and obesity has been lacking.

Now, this study adds to the growing body of evidence encompassing modifiable risk factors for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s more reason to maintain a balanced and healthy diet, exercise regularly, and practice a more healthy lifestyle. Evidence suggests doing so will help preserve brain health and prevent the development of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

While the team sees the need for more studies to describe the exact mechanisms by which obesity raises Alzheimer’s disease risk, they affirm that cortical gray matter atrophy may be a risk factor that eventually leads to dementia in obese people. 

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