New Study Links Extra Pounds at Middle Age with Increased Chance of Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Take it from me: maintaining your weight while entering middle age – especially for a woman – can be really difficult. I have to admit that I haven’t been great about it. First of all, I always have eschewed looking at the scale and, instead, focused on how my clothes fit. And I’ve always had a solid body type, probably due to being really athletic when I was younger. In fact, my weight and appearance have never matched. In my 40s, however, I have found that a number of factors came into play causing excess pounds to creep onto my frame. First was a high-pressure professional position that meant I spent more time at the office (and less time exercising). Second on the list was being laid off from that position in April 2005, which gave me the time, but also increased my stress level. The third factor was taking on caregiving for my mom as she battled Alzheimer’s from 2005-2007. The fourth factor was injury. A really painful case of plantar fasciitis that lasted several months stopped me from exercising for several months. Then I was challenged by lower back pain. And the fifth factor was a slowing metabolism caused by reaching middle age.

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    But now I’ve got new incentive to take off the additional weight.  A new study out of Sweden found a link between being overweight and an increased chance of developing dementia during one’s lifetime. Katherine Harmon of Scientific American reports that the study, which involved 8,534 identical and fraternal twins who were 65 and older, found that those who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia were 70% more likely to have been overweight during middle-age. Harmon noted, “Not all – or even most – of those who reported being overweight in midlife had dementia at the time of the study. About 30 percent of individuals were overweight or obese and only about 4 parent of participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.” This study’s importance, according to Harmon, is that the findings are part of a growing body of research linking extra body weight and cognitive decline.

    So what’s behind the connection between excess pounds and dementia? Harmon wrote, “The mechanisms that link the two conditions are still unclear. Because the trend held with Alzheimer's disease as well as vascular dementia, the researchers pointed out that nonvascular pathways are likely involved. One possibility, the researchers explained in their study, is that being overweight in midlife ‘may reflect a lifetime exposure to an altered metabolic and inflammatory state,’ which has been linked to cognitive faltering.”

    I’m not a medical person or a researcher on Alzheimer's topics, but Harmon's report makes me wonder if the study’s participants ate foods that are not part of an anti-inflammatory diet.  In addition, when I think about excessive pounds, I think of lack of exercise – and that’s important since recent research has indicated that regular exercise increases brain circuitry.  In relation to the Swedish study, I think additional research is needed on these two topics – types of food eaten and exercise levels – of those who were overweight at middle-age and who ended up with dementia. I also think this research is important in that it gives added ammunition to encourage each of us to continue to make lifestyle choices that may help us avoid dementia.

Published On: May 04, 2011