Does Obesity Prime a Person’s Brain for Alzheimer’s?

A recent Brock University study in Ontario, Canada, discovered that there may be a direct link to being overweight and developing late-onset Alzheimer’s. The study discovered that the effects of aging, combined with a poor diet and obesity, adversely affected specific brain mechanisms and processes, increasing the risk of the disease.obesity-prime-brain-for-alzheimers

Read on to learn more about how obesity can impact one’s risk for Alzheimer’s.

Obesity in the U.S and Worldwide

A person is considered obese at around 35 pounds overweight and obesity is considered a global health hazard, with its prevalence more than doubling since 1980, according to The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which reviewed 195 countries.

Across the country, obesity rates in adults and children continue to rise. There is no U.S. state that currently has a rate below 21%. In six states – Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming – the rate has risen above that figure. In fact, statistics are high enough to warrant the disease being considered an epidemic, by experts.

Like Alzheimer’s and diabetes, obesity is a very costly health problem, because it increases the likeliness of a person getting other diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, which we’ll discuss more below.

Obesity’s Impact on Alzheimer’s and Other Health Conditions

Obesity increases the risk of several other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure — all of which are known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.

It is uncertain as to exactly how obesity adversely impacts the brain and cognitive function, but its negative effects on the vascular system are thought to be one causal factor. Yet another causative issue may result from impairment in insulin metabolism (insulin resistance) leading to a limited amount of available glucose (blood sugar) in the brain — the primary source of energy for the brain.

Other known risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Metabolic conditions (including diabetes and obesity)
  • Smoking

Although researchers are well-aware of some of the origins that lead to the progression of Alzheimer’s, many of these mechanisms are currently unknown. Experts say that their understanding of predisposing risk factors is growing continually.

Obesity Research

The latest study, conducted by Rebecca MacPherson, Bradley Baranowski and Kirsten Bott, revealed that when fed a very high fat, high-sugar (HFS) diet, the brains of mice were more susceptible to Alzheimer’s.

In the study, researchers gave one group of mice the HFS diet, while the other group received a regular diet, lower in fat and sugar. They then evaluated the effects of the obesity-inducing HFS diet on the aging mice.

When the effects of the HFS diet were examined in the brains of the older mice, scientists discovered high levels of brain inflammation, cellular stress and insulin resistance. These signs of disease were noted in an area of the brain that is impacted by Alzheimer’s — the hippocampus. The hippocampus is also the area of the brain involved in memory storage.

Although the mice in the study that were fed a normal diet also had inflammation of the brain as they aged, obesity was found to boost the risk of Alzheimer’s by impacting key processes in the brain.

“This study provides novel information in relation to the mechanistic link between obesity and the transition from adulthood to middle age and signaling cascades that may be related to [Alzheimer’s] pathology later in life,” explained the study authors, MacPherson, Baranowski and Bott.

“These results add to our basic understanding of the pathways involved in the early progression of [Alzheimer’s disease] and demonstrate the negative effects of an HFS diet on both the prefrontal cortex and hippocampal regions [of the brain],” they concluded.

Did you know that obesity had an impact on Alzheimer’s and other health conditions? We’d like to hear from you in the comments below.

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