Obesity reduces the white matter in the human brain

Does obesity cause the brain to age faster?
Being overweight has consequences for the whole organism. The brain is not exempt from this. Overweight and obese middle-aged people, for example, show a significant decrease in the volume of the so-called white matter in their brains. Scientists from the Universities of Cambridge and Yale have found this out in a recent study. According to the researchers, the brain of people with obesity shows changes that only occur ten years later in people with normal weight.

The volume of white matter naturally decreases with age. However, in recent years there has been increasing evidence that obesity could also have an impact on this process, according to the University of Cambridge. Obesity, which has already been clearly linked to an increased risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, could therefore accelerate the decline in white matter. The British scientists have now checked this in their current study. Their results were published in the specialist magazine "Neurobiology of Aging".

Striking differences in the volume of white matter
The research team used 473 people between the ages of 20 and 87 to investigate the possible effects of obesity on the structure of the brain. Using the body mass index (BMI), the scientists divided the test subjects into a normal-weight control group (246 people), overweight people (150 people) and obesity patients (77 people) and checked their brain structure using MRI scans. In the case of the overweight and obese study participants, there were “striking differences in the volume of the white matter” compared to the normal weight group, the researchers report.

Deviations are particularly large in middle age
According to the scientists, obese and obese people showed a widespread reduction in the white matter compared to the control group. The researchers further explain that white matter is the tissue that connects the areas of the brain and enables information to be transmitted between regions. This naturally decreases with age.

Obviously a little faster for people who are overweight. The differences in the volume of white matter between the study groups were particularly drastic in middle age, which indicates that "our brain can be particularly vulnerable during this period of aging," explains study author Professor Paul Fletcher from Cambridge University.

Impact of the changed brain structures unclear
The researchers report that overweight people over the age of 50 had a comparable volume of white matter in their examinations as slim people over the age of 60. However, despite the clear differences in the volume of white matter between slim and overweight people, the scientists found no connection between overweight or obesity and the cognitive skills of the study participants. The consequences of the differences remain open.

Examine the connection between brain structures and obesity
Why "People who are overweight show a greater reduction in the amount of white matter" is, according to co-study author Dr. Lisa Ronan from the University of Cambridge “so far unclear”.

According to the researchers, they can only "speculate whether obesity is causing these changes in any way or whether obesity is a result of changes in the brain." The question also arises whether the changes could be reversible if the weight was reduced. In any case, the connection between brain structure and obesity or obesity must be examined more closely in further studies. (fp)

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