Obesity May Exacerbate Alzheimer’s Disease

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If your clients need another reason to get down to a reasonable weight, the health of their brains may be a good one. A new study out of the University of Sheffield has discovered that being overweight may exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease.

While maintaining a healthy weight may preserve brain structure in the case of mild Alzheimer’s disease, obesity may impact neural tissue vulnerability and worsen Alzheimer’s, based on a multimodal neuroimaging study. 

The highlights of the study, published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease Reports, show how being overweight in mid-life may impact brain health as we age.

According to Professor Annalena Venneri, lead author of the study from the University of Sheffield's Neuroscience Institute and NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, "More than 50 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer's disease and despite decades of ground-breaking studies and a huge global research effort, we still don't have a cure for this cruel disease.”

Venneri believes prevention plays a pivotal role in fighting this disease. While obesity doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, the study shows that an additional burden is put on brain health when a person is overweight and this in turn may worsen Alzheimer's disease. 

Venneri notes that chronic conditions that lead to dementia often “lurk in the background” for several years, so don’t put off losing weight until you’re in your 60s if you’re overweight. People should consider their brain health and disease prevention much earlier. Education of children and teens about the risk of being overweight in long term health, including dementia, is also vital. 

Let's take a look at this study.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield and the University of Eastern Finland evaluated MRI scans from 47 clinically-diagnosed patients with mild Alzheimer’s dementia, 68 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 57 cognitively healthy participants.

Three complementary, computational methods were used to evaluate the anatomy of the brain, blood flow, and fibers of the brain. Multiple brain images and measured differences in local concentrations of brain tissue were compared to evaluate grey mater volume (which degrades in the onset of Alzheimer’s), white matter integrity, cerebral blood flow, and obesity.

A positive association between obesity and grey matter volume near the right temporoparietal junction was found in mild dementia patients. This led researchers to believe that obesity may contribute toward neural vulnerability in healthy individuals, along with those with some cognitive impairment. 

According to the study, brain structure could be preserved in patients with age-related weight loss in cases of mild Alzheimer’s disease if a healthy weight were maintained.

Dr. Matteo De Marco from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute and a co-author of the study, notes that weight change is a common symptom in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as people either forget to eat or start to snack on convenience foods like cookies or chips, instead of more nutritious food.

Healthy weight maintenance could preserve brain structure in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrition for brain health is equally important as for heart disease or diabetes. 

Health professionals can use the following tips for weight maintenance and dementia reduction for their clients:

  • Reduce empty calories from sugary treats and salty snacks.
  • Limit calorie-laden beverages such as smoothies, sports drinks, or alcohol.
  • Include fish in your diet twice per week to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Add blueberries to whole grain cereal or yogurt. They have been linked with reduction in dementia risk.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Take a walk, ride a bike, play tennis!
  • Reduce mindless eating while reading, watching TV, or doing other activities.
  • Add more vegetables to your meals for volume, but not calories.
  • Drink plenty of water. You may be quelling your thirst with food instead of water.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


Dake, Manmohi D. et al. ‘Obesity and Brain Vulnerability in Normal and Abnormal Aging: A Multimodal MRI Study’. 1 Jan. 2021 : 65 – 77.

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