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Obesity may exacerbate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease


Researchers at NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre used pioneering multimodal neuroimaging (combining multiple brain images) and three complementary, computational techniques to review the anatomy of the brain, blood flow and also the fibres of the participants' brains.

The team scanned and reviewed the multiple brain images from 47 patients clinically diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s, ­68 patients with mild cognitive impairment and 57 cognitively healthy individuals. They also measured differences in local concentrations of brain tissues to assess grey matter volume - which degenerates during the onset of Alzheimer's - white matter integrity, cerebral blood flow and obesity.  

In mild dementia patients, a positive association was found between obesity and grey matter volume around the right temporoparietal junction. This suggests obesity might contribute toward neural vulnerability in cognitively healthy individuals and those with mild cognitive impairment. 

The study also found that maintaining a healthy weight in mild Alzheimer’s disease could help preserve brain structure in the presence of age and disease-related weight loss.

The researchers concluded obesity may contribute toward neural tissue vulnerability, whereas maintaining a healthy weight in mild Alzheimer’s disease could help to preserve brain structure. They also highlight the impact being overweight in mid-life could have on brain health in older age.

Professor Annalena Venneri, from NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, said: “More than 50 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer’s disease, and despite decades of ground breaking studies and a huge global research effort we still don’t have a cure for this cruel disease.

“Prevention plays such an important role in the fight against the disease. It is important to stress this study does not show that obesity causes Alzheimer’s, but what it does show is that being overweight is an additional burden on brain health and it may exacerbate the disease.”

She added:“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.”

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