Scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that people who are overweight or obese in their 50's are more likely to develop Alzheimer's at an earlier age than those that maintain a healthy weight. The study used data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, America's longest-running scientific study of human aging.
The data included 1,400 people who had taken regular cognitive tests every year or two for fourteen years. Of the 1,400 people, 142 individuals had developed Alzheimer's. By looking at the age of onset of Alzheimer's and the individual's body mass index (BMI) - the ratio of a person's weight to height - at age fifty, the research team was able to find the correlation.
For every increasing step up on the BMI chart, the onset of Alzheimer's was 6 ½ months earlier. For example, an individual with a BMI of 30 during middle-age, which is considered obese, developed Alzheimer's a year earlier than someone with a BMI of 28, which is considered to be in the overweight range. Currently, a BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight.
Dr. Madhav Thambisetty, lead author on the study and a researcher at the NIH's National Institute on Aging, said, "Maintaining a healthy BMI at midlife is likely to have long-lasting protective effects."
For now, the research group is not sure if having a healthy BMI is a guaranteed way to prevent Alzheimer's onset and they have yet to study whether losing weight after the age of 50 decreases the risk of Alzheimer's onset or reduces symptoms.
Some of the Baltimore Longitudinal study participants underwent brain scans and autopsies. From this, the team also saw that individuals who had higher BMI's at middle-age had more recognizable signs of Alzheimer's, such as amyloid-beta build-up in the brain, even if they had not developed dementia.
This research suggests that keeping a healthy weight at any age is ideal. Eat a healthy, varied diet and exercise to promote brain health and overall vitality.
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