Obesity may have a tragic impact on Alzheimer's patients

Alzheimer's disease remains a major public health concern, one that is expected to expand in the coming decades as populations live to older ages. There's still no definitive way to prevent or reverse Alzheimer's, but a number of studies have highlighted preventative measures that may help slow its onset and reduce its severity — as well as lifestyle factors that may make it much worse.

Past studies have revealed that while there's no single lifestyle change you can make to avoid developing Alzheimer's disease, there are some that may help reduce your odds of developing or slow its progression. Bodyweight is one such factor and, according to a new study from the University of Sheffield, it may play a big role in how quickly the disease progresses.

The research involved MRI brain scans from 68 people who had mild cognitive impairment, 47 people who had been diagnosed with mild Alzheimer's disease, and 57 people who had normal, healthy brains. The study analyzed the scans to get data on things like cerebral blood flow, white matter integrity, and grey matter volume.

The researchers found a link between the brain's right temporoparietal junction grey matter volume and obesity, indicating that excess body fat may leave cognitively healthy and mildly impaired adults with greater 'neural vulnerability.' Obesity may 'exacerbate' Alzheimer's disease, though the researchers are careful to point out that it doesn't cause it.

Ultimately, the study found that being overweight or obese puts an extra burden on the brain and may make the disease worse. As well, losing weight in one's older years may not be enough to reduce this risk, with the study's lead author Professor Annalena Venneri explaining:

The diseases that cause dementia such as Alzheimer's and vascular dementia lurk in the background for many years, so waiting until your 60s to lose weight is too late. We need to start thinking about brain health and preventing these diseases much earlier. Educating children and adolescents about the burden being overweight has on multimorbidities including neurodegenerative diseases is vital.