Obesity Gene Increases Alzheimer’s Risk

Obesity caused by a genetic mutation may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by reducing the volume of the brain, according to a new study.

New research reveals that the mutated obesity gene linked to overeating and excess body weight could also be associated with the loss of brain tissue, causing obese people to be at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s in their old age.

The study compared brain scans of more than 200 healthy elderly people ages 55 to 90. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that people carrying the FTO gene, a specific mutation of the obesity gene, had 8 percent fewer cells in the region of the brain that is involved in making complex judgments, called the frontal lobes. Obese people with the FTO gene also had 12 percent less tissue in the occipital lobes, the area of the brain that is responsible for processing vision.

Having less brain tissue means that a person has fewer reserves if the brain plaques linked to Alzheimer’s form. While brains generally shrink with age, lead researcher Paul Thompson, a neurologist at UCLA, said that the study shows if you carry the mutated FTO gene, your weight can affect tissue loss, and ultimately lead to degenerative brain diseases.

A previous study of people who had the FTO gene but were physically active indicated that physical activity can overcome a genetic predisposition to obesity. In light of this fact, Dr. Thompson urged FTO carriers to get plenty of exercise and maintain a low fat diet to help lessen the risk of dementia and stroke, which is also caused by reduced brain volume.

“In all the maelstrom of activities you do, exercise and a low-fat diet are genuinely saving your brain from both stroke and Alzheimer’s,” Thompson told Reuters.

Scientists have yet to determine exactly how the FTO gene shrinks the brain, but the latest finding supports the need for more research on the link between obesity and Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 26 million people globally.

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