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Obesity Ages Your Brain by 16 Years

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We all know that obesity can lead to health problems and negatively affect your quality of life. A lot of these effects are things you can see and feel, like lack of energy, trouble sleeping, diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure…. the list goes on and on. But new research is finding even more "hidden" incentive to lose the weight and work to keep it off for good.

Current research shows that if you're more than 100 pounds over your healthy weight, it can take as many as 10 years off of your life. A study published in the journal Lancet found that "above a healthy weight, every 5-point increase in BMI increases the risk of early death by about 30%."

Now a new study in the journal Human Brain Mapping examined the brains of obese people and found they look 16 years older than the brains of those who are normal-weight. The study scanned the brains of 94 people in their 70's. The obese people had 8 percent less brain tissue and overweight people had 4 percent less, compared to normal-weight individuals.

What kind of effect does less brain tissue have on the body? It puts someone at a greater risk for Alzheimer's and other diseases that affect the brain, depleting cognitive reserves. Although this was a small study, the findings are significant.

What do you think? Are you surprised by these findings? Why or why not?

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Wow, no joke... so I really *DO* feel like I'm 72 when I'm only in my mid-50's. Time to get serious! Report
That's such a small sample that its impossible to obtain any meaningful conclusion. If that's the case what about alcoholism and or drug abuse? Are you going to tell me smoking doesn't AT LEAST equally mess up one's brain?What about every one's dependence on "smart" phones? My dad and grandfather were both at least as heavy as I am and both had dementia - so how are you going untangle HEREDITARY CAUSES for both versus some sort of cause and effect? Oh and I have two more words for you - this rather large ENGLISHMAN seems to NOT suffer cognitively
MARK LABBETT !!!!!!! Report
Dr. Oz had a show on obesity which started out by bringing out a cadaver which died from obesity related causes. The first thing he did was remove the skull cap and hand the shriveled brain to one of his squeamish assistants. He then proceeded to pull out several other affected parts. The whole audience was riveted by shock! Report
The Lancet finding that looked at 57 studies involving 900,000 people over 10 to 15 years is pretty comprehensive -- morbidly obese people may shorten their lives more than overweight people, who may shorten their lives more than normal weight people. This is not surprising to me.

I would like to know if the lifespan extends when morbidly obese and overweight people lose weight to reach the normal range; do their life expectations then match normal weight people? I have heard that people who have stopped smoking for ten years have lungs similar to people who never smoked. I would like to know if the body "forgives" overweightedness. Report
Interesting - and another good reason to stay at a healthy weight. Report
The number of people they used in this study is not enough to come to that conclusion. In comparison to how many people there are in this world, 94 subjects is just a spec of dust. Also on top of that with there being only 94 people in their 70's, there was no information included about any pre-existing conditions that these people may have had or will get based on their genetics. There are a lot more variables to consider in a study like this outside of their age and weight so I dont believe that there is a correlation proven. Report
Something to think about, and to encourage a healthy BMI. However, really not enough information in this small summary to support firm conclusions. Report
It would be important that more research be done on the link between obesity and brain function. I'm concerned because I was obese a long part of my adult life. I'm working to get to a healthy weight and become fit. I'd like to know if it will help my cognitive abilities in the long run. Report
Really this is news to me!!! I better hurry up and lose this weight!!! Report
I agree with HARLEYROB lots of denial and defensiveness here. I've seen Alzheimers up close and it is awful. The patient is not dumb but rather helpless. To risk it for junk food would be dumb. This is not an attack this is a warning!!! Report
Oh, for God's sakes......what next? If these people spent as much time doing something positive as trying to show how gosh awful overweight is our society would be much better. Overweight is like everything else in life, it may not be the best thing for you but it just happens to offend our oh so "let's look perfect" society. If we all lose the weight , then we will all have to have surgery for wrinkles, stick it where the sun don't shine. I'm a hell of a sight smarter than a lot of my thinner friends who are younger. sheez. Report
I would like to see the findings in greater depth. A couple of thoughts occur to me:
1. You need fat in your brain to protect your synapses - I would think a very low BMI would also have a detrimental affect.
2. I can see where your physical activity level would matter greatly - since that allows more oxygen to circulate in your brain.

I think it's more involved than what is listed here, but I will definitely be exercising and getting more sleep - it certainly can't HURT my brain! (I think...or do I?) Report
This is a very interesting article. If obesity is accepted as contributing to diabetes, why not aging of the brain? Drs. Ox and Roizen's Real Age Test reveals whether we are aging according to our chronological age, slower or faster. This is just another fact that contributes to the argument that it is best to be a healthy weight. Aging of the brain covers a lot more territory than just Alzheimer's Disease. All the blood and nutrients that would normally go to the brain are being channeled to other areas of the body to support the obesity. That may be the reason that the brains of the obese individuals aged faster. It makes sense to me. It is also one more motivating factor for me. Report
The number of years it ages your brain suprises me but the findings don't. 16 years is A LOT!!! Wow! Even more motivation to get thin and stay thin! I'm on my way! Report
These findings are interesting, but the only thing I've seen mentioned is obesity. What about other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, drinking, drug use, etc.? Not to mention genetics. In addition, 94 people is not a lot. I think a new study, with many many more subjects and more inclusive information would have to be done before I'd say that obesity is linked to loss of brain tissue. Is it possible? Yes, I'll admit that. But it has yet to be proven. So far, it could just be a coincidence. Report
Hear alot of denial in these comments....we don't want to believe it do we? Report
not really sure if I agree my husband has alzheimers and has never been overweight have never heard of having fat on the brain but it is something to be aware of and take into consideration and keep us all moving Report
There's probably still much more research to be done and plenty more conclusions to reach but as the full article says "The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Center for Research Resources, and the American Heart Association." I would have thought these are all well-respected US Institutions and they would not fund anything fundamentally flawed. Let's face it - often it is easier scoff at research while we scoff too much food. I know I feel a whole lot more alert and less of a "plodder" since I took charge of my weight issues. I know I look younger than I did 3 years ago, too

Just another incentive for me to keep my weight in check. If for no other reason being heavier just doesn't feel good. Thanks for one more reason to keep a healthy weight! Report
I echo Nanandles question. What about people who have been obese and then lose the weight. Does their brain change?

I am always skeptical of studies especially a single study or a study using a small group of subjects. Also what is the link? Is the different brain a cause or an effect of the obesity? I would like to know what is learned after further research. Report
Some posters seem to be confused by the information in the article. The article (and the study to which it refers) does NOT say that if you are obese or overweight that you will get Alzheimer's. The study merely said that, in the population they observed, those who were obese or overweight were found to have less brain tissue. Having less brain tissue is a risk factor for Alzheimer's. It in no way states that all people with Alzheimer's therefore have to be fat!

All it means is that being obese is detrimental to your health, and this is another way in which it is.

The issues with small study size are important, but do not negate the findings of this study. Studies that show something significant like this one are re-done by other researchers usually to see if the findings can be replicated, it doesn't mean that the results can or should be just ignored or thrown out.

cj Report
I am not so sure I believe it. And who needs all these reasons to lose weight? It does not help me. Report
Every bad thing (disease-wise) is either caused by obesity or by smoking. Guess we all have to learn to live with that. I quit smoking a year ago, now I am quitting eating. The 3 people I knew with Alzheimer's were all thin, there whole lives. Go figure. Report
What about the people who used to be obese and now have reached a healthy weight? Report
I doubt this study's conclusion is accurate. Most of the patients I have seen with Alzheimer's Disease are thin (low normal weight). Report
I find it hard to agree with this study. Just about everything is being blamed on being overweight and I think they go out of their way to look for something to blame on weight nowadays. I have known several people with Altzheimers and every one of them was normal to below normal weight. Report
What I would like to know is if someone who is obese or overweight loses that weight, what happens to their brain? Does their brain mass increase? Report
Hard for me to believe, since my 98-year-old granny who has been skinny as a rail her whole life and eating good food but ALWAYS exercising (mostly walking TONS every day) has Alzheimer's. Doesn't make sense to me. Report
Yeah this one isn't for me. I'll agree that carrying around too much weight makes you sluggish, but I'm not certain its a brain issue. Report
Clearly this study is flawed...but it would be nice if a follow up study was conducted that determined if we can get those 16 years back, or if it's just too late for people like me. :P Report
Being fat affects every part of the body: liver, kidneys, heart and the brain sure makes sense. Report
"The 10% usage of your brain" rumor is a long-standing, well-spread myth. Please see any of the following links, if you're curious:

Where does the article state overweight/obese people are dumb? It says that loss of brain tissue is linked to Alzheimer's and other diseases, not a low IQ. It seems I read somewhere that we don't use 90% of our brain tissue, anyway. Report
I question this fact I worked with several people we will call them that are at normal weight. at the time I was well over 400 lbs. Some how they could not complete the task with out help. Nor could they figure out how to run the new copy machines using the booklet. Maybe this is true for someone that is not only overweight but also severly depressed. Where you shut down your own brain.
Or I am one genius in the world, which I do not believe I am. I am always finding new ways to learn more. I just don't appreciate being dumped into a sorted bin for being dumb cause I am fat. I truly believe that most overweight people spend more time exercising the brain because sometimes that is all that we can exercise with.. Okay I surrender my soap box.. I am sure I heard it cracking!

This doesn't surprise me and goes along well with an article I read in Scientific American Mind talking about how physical exercise greatly enhances mental acuity. Report
Life isn't fair, is it? I've been having headaches for months, and when I finally see the neurologist, I learned there is a condition called psuedotumor? where people that are obese can have intense headaches. I believe the article... and it has inspired me to work harder. Report
I don't believe it but I am working on weight nevertheless. Report
Good thing we are all on the path of brain regeneration! Report
Oh, wow! How interesting! Report
Yikes!! Report
I personally find this thought offensive. Why are the OBESE singled out for such a concern? There are so many other studies out there to show that our DIETS and what we inhale, have alot more affect on our brains than obesity. Report
I agree with Me-Elisabeth. reaction rather then respondingis self defeating. What causes versus what can be done healthy & correctly ends up where people have one more thing in the arsenal to beat up on obese people instead of true help! Report
Okay, I see a new commercial:

This is your brain (shows an egg in the frying pan)
This is your obese brain (shows an egg without a yolk in the frying pan) Report
I KNOW my brain is older than it should be. Another great reason to lose weight! Report
If that were true I guess my grandmother, my uncle and my dad all of whom die in their 80's would have live a whole lot longer.

They need to stop looking for what being over weight does to you and look for things that help you. Report
I agree with what many other people have said. The study wasn't very large and there is no clear indication of the control factors used. What medications have the patients taken, what is their activity level, general diet, social interaction, how often do they read? All of those are also factors contributing to a person's "brain health". Report
I guess that makes sense. If your overweight and don't feel like working out. Your energy levels are lower. and when mine are low I def. feel like I can't think straight. Report
It figures. The only place we lose weight is in our brain!

;~) Report
Sounds fascinating. Where is more research being done on this. I know with losing weight I have so much more energy to get outside and do things. Maybe it is the fact that you are more active and have so many more opportunities to interact with others, to experience things which captivate your imagination and so on that keeps the brain from atrophying. Or maybe there is a connection between one's self-image, lack of depression, etc. that comes from being fit and healthy. Fascinating . . . Report