Obesity Makes Your Brain 10 Years Older Than It Should Be!

Obesity is much more complex than we think. Your waistline can alter your brain cells. 

3 min read
Hindi Female

Are you the type of person who’d rather eat a cupcake than a carrot?

Bad news alert.

A credible, new study by the Cambridge and the Yale University has validated ‘you are what you eat.’ Obesity makes you age ten times faster than your lean counterparts.

The effects of fat on the heart, liver, kidneys and other organs were known but the fact that it can impair cognition, memory and white matter is startling.


Is That Burger Shrinking Your Brain?

Obesity is much more complex than we think. Your waistline can alter your brain cells. 
Imagine, a 40-year-old overweight person has the brain density of a 50-year-old slim person primarily because of what they eat. What’s good for the heart is good for the head too. A healthy diet and moderate exercise are the holy grail for a quality life.(Photo: iStockphoto)

The fact that your brain shrinks with age is well known but does it cause any other characteristic changes? To find out, researchers looked into the head of 473 people of all shapes and sizes between the ages of 20 and 87 years. And they were shocked to see that the white matter density of overweight/obese individuals had aged 10 years more than their slimmer mates.

For all those who don’t remember school biology, white matter is that tissue which determines how well you function and learn, it also passes information between various areas of the brain.

Scientists found that the shrinkage of brain is much more prevalent in overweight people from middle-age onward and not so much in the 20s and 30s.

The overall message is that the brain ages 10 years faster if you are obese. It is not clear why such damages occur or if obesity affects the brain or it’s vice versa. 
Lisa Ronan, Author, University of Cambridge

The big question then, can obesity trigger dementia? At the moment, researchers don’t know that yet and more follow up is needed to study that.

Meanwhile, noted metabolic and obesity specialist in Mumbai, Dr Ramen Goel is not at all surprised to learn these findings.

We already know that obesity is very damaging to the heart, joints, knees, hips, livers and a risk factor of many diseases. It was a matter of time before we learnt its impact on the brain. We are only starting to learn how the pounds on your waist shrink the matter in your brain, ageing could just be the tip of the iceberg. 
Dr Ramen Goel, Director Bariatric and Metabolic Surgeon, Wockhardt Hospitals

And that’s unsettling.

A study published in the American Geriatric Society looked at the memory scores of 65 to 79 year olds and found that for every 1-point increase in the individual’s body mass index, there was a 1-point decrease on a memory test.

Clearly, packing on the pounds can not just alter your waistline, it can alter your brain, memory, learning and cognitive functions too.

Plan to put down that burger soon?


‘Obesity Is Far More Complex Than We Know’

Obesity is much more complex than we think. Your waistline can alter your brain cells. 
Fat helps the brain but exercise can help even more. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Till now, scientists haven’t been able to understand how the excess fat affects the brain and why this impacts mostly those past their prime. But another study published in The Journal of Neuroscience attempts to explain how obesity has such a detrimental impact on the brain.

Now fat cells release chemicals into the bloodstream that flow to all the organs and muscles and this leads to inflammation which cause diseases like fatty liver, heart problems among others.

In a nut shell, scientists injected fat pads into lean lab rats and they immediately became dimmer, duller, performed poorly on previously done cognitive tests. Further scans revealed that chemicals in the fat cells rendered the blood-barrier leaky, permeable and vulnerable to attacks on the brain.

Of course both the obesity-brain studies have their shortcomings:

1) The first does not necessarily conclude if obesity causes brain ageing or brain changes cause obesity.

2) The latter is done on mice, and mice humans are no lab rats.

However, what’s not contested is that India is the third most obese country in the world, a-third of our people are at a risk of dying prematurely from weight related complications. There is no reason why you shouldn’t make weight loss your mission for the year.


(26 November is the Anti-Obesity Day – an international day to raise awareness around obesity as a public health hazard. This article was originally published on 8 August, 2016 and has been republished from The Quint’s archives.)

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Topics:  Obesity   Ageing   Human Brain 

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