Health - Diagnostic Health Imaging Services News

Oct 15, 2009 12:17 PM by Jinah Kim

Brain scans prove link between obesity and memory loss

You've heard that being overweight puts you at risk for all kinds of health problems. That list is growing--a recent study links obesity with memory loss.

Researchers at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh say being obese or even overweight puts you at much higher risk for Alzheimer's.

When compared to the brain scans of normal weight subjects of similar age, the overweight and obese people showed brain tissue loss of four to eight percent more. UCLA Neurology professor Paul Thompson explains. "So the obese people looked about 16 years older in terms of how their brain looked on the scan. And overweight people looked about 8 years older on average. They were more at risk for Alzheimer's", Thompson said.

In fact, researchers called it "Severe Brain Degeneration", especially in the areas that control multitasking and memory.

"So someone first coming to the clinic with the first signs of dementia might have lost about 10-percent of their brain tissue. These obese people have lost 8-percent", Thompson said.

The study analyzed the brain scans of 94 people. But then researchers went back and looked at 200 additional brain scans of people that were completely unrelated to the study and found the same disturbing trend.

A brain expert with the Alzheimer's Association wasn't surprised at the findings. Dr. Debra Cherry, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer's Association of California Southland says it's long been known that an unhealthy lifestyle contributes to Alzheimer's risk. But this study shows one possible reason why. Your brain actually shrinks. One cause could be because fat-clogged arteries prevent enough oxygenated blood from reaching your brain.

"Maybe some of those people will start heeding those warnings when they realize it's not just your heart but also your brain", Dr. Cherry said.

Currently, a little over five-million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's. That number is expected to double by the year 2020.

Your best bet in deterring Alzheimer's? Experts say it's no fancy pill or medical device. The Alzheimer's Association says even if a person is overweight or obese, adding regular exercise helps slow down the onset of the disease.

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