A recent study published in the journal “Neurobiology of Aging,” reveals that being overweight in midlife can age the brain ten years past its actual age. Overweight middle-aged adults have a reduced amount of white matter in the brains compared with people who are not overweight. Due to the fact that obesity rates continue to rise, this means that more and more adults are suffering from a brain that is aged beyond their years.

Obesity and Health

Obesity clearly raises the risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. It has only recently been discovered that it affects the brain as well. Obesity has been shown to begin brain shrinkage at an earlier age, leading to brain deterioration. The first sign of brain shrinkage may be hearing loss, typically in higher frequencies. The eyes then begin to need assistance and reflexes may slow. Memory begins to fail, especially short-term memory, and people may even begin to speak slower.

During this time of aging, a loved one may need some in home care to help them with daily activities. Salus Homecare is one that offers services to people who may be suffering from brain shrinkage due to obesity.

Brain Scan Technology

New technology reveals that the nerve tracts in the brain shrivel more when middle aged people are obese or overweight. This makes the cerebrospinal fluid cavities larger, which leaves holes in the brain. This shriveling happens in the neuron terminal branches. Additionally, people may lose over 40% of dopamine neurons, which can cause other diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Relevant Studies

To learn more about the relationship between obesity and brain shrinkage, researchers analyzed data of 473 cognitively healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 87. Based on their BMI, 246 participants were of normal weight, 150 participants were overweight, and 77 were classified as obese.

The researchers used MRIs to assess the cerebral matter volume in the participants. Compared with the participants who were of an average weight, overweight and obese subjects had significantly less volume of white matter.

Researchers then studied the relationship between the white matter volume and the weight and age of the participants. They found that the largest factor in brain deterioration in middle-aged adults was being overweight and obesity.

Overweight and obese middle-aged adults were found to have a white matter volume comparable to average-sized adults who were a decade older. This means that an overweight adult at the age of 40 had the brain matter volume of an average-weighted 50 year old.


Researchers cannot tell if obesity causes brain deterioration or if brain deterioration causes obesity. Also, researchers did not find a difference in cognitive function with an IQ test between the subjects. However, their conclusions show that midlife obesity might contribute to an aging brain, and there is reason to conduct more research on the link.

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