New Research Reveals Link Between Obesity and Brain Structure

When we hear the term Body Mass Index (BMI) it’s often in relation to conditions such as Diabetes or high blood pressure. It’s not very often we hear BMI having anything to do with the brain – that is about to change. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Yale University have found a new link between high BMI and brain structure.

Recently published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, the team of researchers showed that the brains of overweight people age at a much faster rate than those of their lean counterparts. In fact, researchers were able to show that the brains of obese or overweight individuals appear to age an extra ten years compared to lean people. Through brain scanning technology, the scientists were able to draw conclusions from the decrease in volume of white matter in the overweight or obese groups.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Yale University started with the knowledge that the volume of white matter in a human brain typically increases during youth and then subsequently decreases with age. This trend is consistent among lean and overweight individuals; however, the researchers were interested in the idea that a subject’s BMI may contribute to the rate at which this shrinkage of white matter occurs.

The recently published study had 473 participants between the ages of 20 and 87. 247 of these individuals were classified as lean (BMI ranging from 18.5 to 24.99 kg/m^2) and 227 were classified as overweight or obese (BMI over 30 kg/m^2).

The researchers tested whether brain volume correlated with BMI and made their discovery by analyzing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Changes in brain volume, especially white matter volume, were then assessed among participants, taking into account gender and preexisting health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The team found that obese participants over the age of 37 (the typical age for natural changes to the brain structure) had less white matter volume than lean subjects. Such specific variations in brain matter were also more prevalent around the age of 40 before stabilizing. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether an increased BMI alone is driving this effect.

Of course, this research is still in the very early stages. Additional research is necessary to understand the full impact of obesity on the brain; however, scientists from Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre have suggested an interesting theory: the expression of genes responsible for obesity could also be responsible for white matter shrinkage, which may in turn trigger overeating.


At MMS, we do our best to be a resource for our patients and provide information on relevant research in digestible language. While this study on BMI and brain structure is still incredibly new, we look forward to watching the progress of research so we can continue to provide the best services and treatments for our patients. Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions.


Original Source: Diabetes CO UK


Last updated on January 22, 2017, posted in: News, Recent research by
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