It’s common knowledge that obesity affects our health and increases mortality risk.
Obesity can raise the chances of cardiovascular conditions, diabetes complications, heart attacks, strokes, and a number of other health problems that can kill us—or, at the very least, seriously impair our health.
We’re all familiar with the link between obesity and the accelerated breakdown of our bodies, but did you know that it can also speed up the decline of your mind as well?
According to a number of studies (as you’ll see below), the link between obesity and cognitive impairment is very real, and a problem we all need to be concerned about right now!
One review from 2017  looked at the relationship between obesity and cognitive impairment, analyzing how obesity factors into not only current cognitive performance, but the future of cognitive aging and the chances of someone developing dementia.
In the paper, the researchers described the “strong association between obesity and impaired cognitive function”. They talked about the anthropometric measures of obesity (BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-stature ratio, etc.) and the hallmarks of “reduced neural integrity”, the atrophy of grey and white matter in the brain.
Essentially, the paper summarized the problem stating, “Obesity and its comorbidities are associated with impaired cognitive performance, accelerated cognitive decline and neurodegenerative pathologies such as dementia in later life.”
Their recommendation was to target not just obesity in general, but specifically mid-life obesity (during the 20s-40s). This way, we can protect our bodies while preventing the cognitive decline caused by obesity once we get older.
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In 2018, another review was published  examining previous studies that analyzed the link between obesity and higher dementia rates. In the paper, it was stated that “Obesity and dementia are both associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease”, as well as a number of other neurodegenerative conditions.
The cause behind the problem? Obesity tends to decrease blood flow to the brain, which in turn triggers “vascular dementia”. At the same time, it increases the presence of fat cells in the brain, which can damage the brain’s white matter. Damage to the white matter can decrease cognitive function and lead to a loss of intellectual behavior. The high fat content and damage to the brain triggers specific proteins and cytokines that can increase the risk of dementia, leading to faster neurodegeneration.
While the study did cite a number of other potential risk factors—including stress, exposure to pesticides, and existing health conditions—the link it established between obesity and neurodegeneration was very real and very concrete.
A study from 2018  looked at the direct effects obesity has on later-life cognitive functioning. The researchers analyzed more than 10,000 adults all between the ages of 35 and 55, collecting 30 years’ worth of data on their subjects. Throughout the study, the BMI of the adults was calculated six times, and their obesity rates were tracked. Dementia cases were also tracked, leading to the inclusion of 329 adults who developed dementia during the course of the study.
The data proved that obesity at the age of 50 (or younger) led to a higher rate of dementia—but, interestingly enough, not at the ages of 60 or 70. Those with the highest BMI tended to have the highest rate of dementia, while those with consistently low BMI were less likely to suffer from cognitive decline.
As the study concluded, “Our results suggest midlife obesity is a risk factor for dementia, and the extent to which the continuing obesity epidemic will create a surge in future dementia rates is an important public health issue.”
That’s definitely the truth! With obesity rates climbing—and being a problem for more children and teenagers as well as adults—the rates of dementia are potentially going to climb as well. Thanks to this research, it’s clear that there is a direct link between obesity and a higher risk of neurodegenerative conditions.
But, in a way, that’s good news, too! The research has given us a clear path to solve the problem—or, at the very least, decrease the risk of dementia. All we have to do is manage obesity, and we could drastically lower our chances of developing neural impairment.
Granted, losing weight is always easier said than done. It’s an ongoing struggle that many people will face their entire lives, trying every kind of diet, weight loss plan, workout program, and supplement they can get their hands on.
Yet, as we can clearly see, it’s a battle worth fighting! By managing your weight, you protect not only your body, but your brain as well. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent neural impairment and ensure effective brain function for as long as possible.
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