Alzheimer’s and Diet: Reduce Midlife Obesity

Men and women who were overweight in their 40s have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in San Diego, California, in April.

Tracking more than 9,000 people for nearly three decades, the scientists reported that subjects with the highest levels of fat in the arm and back were nearly three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with low levels.

“These findings are important because obesity and overweight are treatable and modifiable risk factors,” said the study’s lead author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Foundation Research Institute in Oakland, California.

“Our results suggest that keeping your weight down in midlife can help you remain mentally alert later on in life. And if we don’t control the current epidemic of obesity, the number of cases of dementia in the future may increase even higher than is currently predicted.”

Belly Fat

Of particular concern is fat in the belly. Studying data from more than 6,700 people whose waistlines were measured 20 years ago, at ages 40 to 45, Dr. Whitmer and colleagues found that those with the highest amounts of abdominal obesity were 145% more likely to develop dementia compared with people with the least abdominal fat.

Alzheimer’s and Diet

Alzheimer’s and diet may be as closely related as heart disease and diet.

A diet that prevents Alzheimer’s, other recently published research has found, is a heart-healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans), potatoes, seafood, and grains like brown rice and pasta, and limits intake of saturated fat-rich foods like meat and dairy products. (Annals of Neurology, 2006; 59 (6) and online April 18, 2006, 10.1002/ana.20854)

Lead author Nikolaos Scarmeas and his team at Columbia University Medical Center followed nearly 2,300 elderly residents of New York City and found that the more the subjects followed the heart-healthy diet, the less likely they were to develop Alzheimer’s over the next four years.

Benefits of Exercise

And in other new research, scientists at the University of Washington found that older people who exercised three or more times weekly were 40% less likely to develop all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, over the next six years compared to their sedentary counterparts. (Annals of Internal Medicine, 2006; 144 (2): 73)

These studies mirror a growing body of data indicating that losing weight, following a healthful diet, and exercising regularly are good not just for the heart but also for the brain, concludes Dr. Ronald Scheib Medical Director of the Pritikin Longevity Center® & Spa.

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