Obesity has long been linked to many different health issues, but several recent studies have found that it may also decrease the risk of dementia. While controversial, these studies show that being underweight increases the risk while being overweight may decrease it.
The study, which was published in “The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology,” evaluated nearly 2 million people over 40 in the U.K. for up to 20 years. After adjusting for other risk factors, researchers found that the risk of cognitive decline decreased as BMI increased. Those who were underweight, or who had a BMI below 18.5, had a 34 percent higher risk while those who had a BMI over 40 were 29 percent less likely to suffer cognitive decline than those who were a normal weight.
As many as 50 million people are believed to suffer from dementia worldwide, but this number is growing and expected to triple over the next several decades. The cause is unknown, but risk factors include age, genetics, insufficient exercise and a poor diet. The findings from this research contradict some other studies, but this study was larger and lengthier than previous studies.
Researchers were unable to identify the nature of the link or prove cause and effect. However, some surmised that vitamin E deficiencies, which are known to increase the risk of reduced brain function, were likely to be less in people who eat more.
This is a devastating disease that can affect not only your brain function but also many other aspects of your life, but researchers warn that this is not enough reason to gain weight if you are currently at a healthy weight. Obesity is known to put people at risk for other chronic conditions and can shorten your life.
Until further studies better analyze the relationship between obesity and brain function, you can be confident in following current recommendations to eat a balanced diet with brain-healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and to exercise regularly. If you are obese, losing weight to reach a healthy weight may help boost your overall health and reduce your risk of many serious medical problems.