by Julia Newman (’19)
Previous studies have all proven that obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even multiple types of cancer, but only now have scientists determined one dangerous effect of obesity on the brain. Dr. Lisa Ronan and Dr. Konrad Wagstyl, researchers of the Brain Mapping Unit at the University of Cambridge, recorded the brain structures of subjects from twenty to eighty-seven years old in order to determine whether a relationship exists between obesity and early neurodegeneration.
Both elevated stress and inflammation levels were observed in overweight subjects, factors that usually increase with normal aging but were found to be overly high for each subject’s age. In fact, the brains of obese subjects were comparable to those in normal-weight ranges up to ten years older. This rapid brain aging is caused by an increased amount of adipose tissue, which stores fat in the body and releases a hormone called leptin. Leptin, in turn, signals a pathway for cytokine production, causing inflammation in the brain that leads to brain atrophy, the loss of neurons. Because the levels of obesity in the world have recently heightened, this development is essential in truly understanding its effects, and it could have implications in other diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s in the future.
- Ronan, A. Alexander-Bloch, Obesity associated with increased brain-age from mid-life. Neurobiology of Aging (2016).
- Photo retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2b9EkxN