From middle-age, the brains of obese individuals display differences in white matter (the tissue that connects areas of the brain and allows for information to be communicated between regions) similar to those in lean individuals ten years their senior, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge. The team studied data from 473 individuals between the ages of 20 and 87, recruited by the Cambridge Centre for Aging and Neuroscience.
Overweight individuals had a widespread reduction in white matter compared to lean people. They discovered that an overweight person at, say, 50 years old had a comparable white matter volume to a lean person aged 60 years, implying a difference in brain age of 10 years.
The researchers empathized the fact that these dramatic differences were only seen from middle-age onward which raises the possibility that due to some unknown factor, our brains may be particularly vulnerable during that period of life. It will be important to find out whether these changes could be reversible with weight loss, which may well be the case.
Despite the clear differences in the volume of white matter between lean and overweight individuals, the researchers found no connection between being overweight or obese and any reduction in an individual’s cognitive abilities, as measured using a standard test similar to an IQ test. Memory, and speed of cognition have yet to be tested. Given that white matter is crucial in information transmission, this seems an important concern to be studied.
Post based on research by Lisa Ronan, Aaron F. Alexander-Bloch, Konrad Wagstyl, Sadaf Farooqi, Carol Brayne, Lorraine K. Tyler, Paul C. Fletcher. Obesity associated with increased brain-age from mid-life. Neurobiology of Aging, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.07.010