In the current online edition of the journal Human Brain Mapping, Paul Thompson, senior author and a UCLA professor of neurology, and lead author Cyrus A. Raji, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, compared the brains of people who were obese, overweight, and of normal weight, to see if they had differences in brain structure.
These researchers discovered that obese people had 8 percent less brain tissue than people with normal weight. (Overweight people had 4 percent less tissue). According to Thompson, who is also a member of UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, this is the first time anyone has established a link between being overweight and having what he describes as “severe brain degeneration.”
This could be a scary thought for the nation's millions of obese people. “That's a big loss of tissue and it depletes your cognitive reserves, putting you at much greater risk of Alzheimer's and other diseases that attack the brain,” said Thompson, who went on to say that the risk for Alzheimer's is greatly reduced if one eats healthily and keeps body mass under control.
In looking at both grey matter and white matter of the brain, they found that the people defined as obese had lost brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes (areas of the brain critical for planning and memory) and in the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), hippocampus (long term memory) and basal ganglia (movement is controlled here).
"The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than the brains of those who were lean," says Thompson. This research shows another reason for the extremely high cost to society of the ever-increasing obese population.