Weighty Issues for Alzheimer’s: How Weight Affects Alzheimer's Disease

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • Piling on the pounds as the years go by may pose more of a threat to your long-term health and well-being than you realize. In fact, being overweight during middle age may increase your risk of developing dementia in your golden years, a recent Swedish study published in the journal Neurology suggests.
    We have already seen that midlife obesity (body mass index [BMI] at or above 30) has been linked to a heightened risk of dementia later on. This new research adds that simply overweight status may have the same implications. Overweight is defined by a BMI of 25 up to 30.

    The researchers found that being overweight at midlife increased one's risk of dementia in late life by over 70 percent. Obesity posed an even bigger risk: nearly four-fold.

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    The global impact of this is huge, as 1.6 billion adults worldwide are obese or overweight - including approximately two-thirds of Americans.
    The reasons for the weight-dementia connection have not been definitively identified, to date. Possibilities include:

    • A higher BMI is known to raise risk of other dementia-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These diseases could then impact the likelihood of dementia.

    • There is evidence that adipose tissue (fat) produces inflammatory chemicals that could have an effect on brain health. Having excess fat at midlife could mean a longer duration of exposure to these potentially harmful and memory-robbing chemicals.

    The science is not exact in other ways as well. BMI is an estimate of body fat. It can overestimate fat in very muscular individuals and can underestimate in the elderly or others who have lost muscle.

    In any case, weight is a factor that we each have the power to do something about - unlike genetics or certain environmental exposures. We can strive to get unwanted and excess pounds off and keep them off as we age.
    The authors also importantly noted that it is never too late to start in terms of reducing one's risk of dementia through weight reduction and maintenance.
    Here are some tips to get you started:

    1. Know your numbers. It's easy to check your BMI. The NIH has a chart to do just that. Aim for a BMI less than 25 but above 18. If you have question about how the BMI chart may or may not be applicable to you and your body habitus, talk to your doctor. They may have other numbers for you to track (such as weight measured by scale or waist circumference).

    2. Track your weight (but not too often). Consider weighing yourself no more than once a week. Weight tends to fluctuate from day to day, so this can lead to frustration. But less often will hamper your opportunity to address smaller gains.

    3. Exercise daily. In addition to helping you get your weight in check, regular exercise has numerous other benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer.


    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn't mean better health. Dr. Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers' eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders' insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.

Published On: May 18, 2011