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‘Don’t leave it too late to lose weight’, Alzheimer’s researchers warn

Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

By Dave Higgens
Being overweight may exacerbate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
And waiting until later life to lose weight may be too late to guard against this risk, a team from the University of Sheffield has warned.

A study has found that maintaining a healthy weight could help people who are already experiencing mild Alzheimer’s but also found that being overweight in mid-life could have an impact on brain health in older age.

The researchers from Sheffield and the University of Eastern Finland stressed that that their study does not show that obesity causes Alzheimer’s but warned people to think about their weight.

Professor Annalena Venneri, from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute and NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, said: “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.”

Prof Venneri said: “More than 50 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer’s disease and, despite decades of groundbreaking 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.

“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.”

Earlier studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and recent analysis more than a million people showed that higher body mass index is associated with increased dementia risk when measured earlier than 20 years before diagnosis.

This new study, published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports, examined MRI brain scans from 47 patients clinically diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia, 68 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 57 cognitively healthy individuals.

It looked at the anatomy of the brain, blood flow and also the fibres of the brain and revealed that obesity may contribute toward “neural tissue vulnerability”.

Joint author Dr Matteo De Marco from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute, said: “Weight loss is commonly one of the first symptoms in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as people forget to eat or begin to snack on easy-to-grab foods like biscuits or crisps, in place of more nutritional meals.”

Dr De Marco said: “Unlike other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people don’t often think about the importance of nutrition in relation to neurological conditions, but these findings show it can help to preserve brain structure.”

Richard Oakley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know obesity is a risk factor for dementia, and this study tell us more about the impact obesity has on brain health and the potential risk of developing dementia.

“However, the study didn’t look at people with Alzheimer’s disease who were also obese, so we still don’t know how obesity might affect the brain of someone already living with the condition.

“With one million people projected to be living with dementia in the UK by 2025, Alzheimer’s Society is calling for more investment in research.”

Mr Oakley said that 40% of all dementia cases might be preventable and urged everyone to keep active.

He said: “Swap the digestives for a piece of fruit because research has shown that keeping your body healthy can help keep your brain healthy too.”

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