Not only does a healthy weight protect you from diseases such as diabetes and cancer, a new correlational study has found a link between being overweight (or having a higher BMI) to decreased brain functioning in older adults. What’s to blame? Inflammation.
Inflammation occurs when the body’s defensive system becomes overresponsive, causing it to mistakingly attack itself instead of foreign invaders. Kyle Bourassa, a co-author of the study explains, “the higher your BMI, the more your inflammation goes up.”
The study explored data from over 20,000 adults aged 50 years or older over a six-year period. After retrieving the participants’ BMI — an index of weight in relation to height — the researchers tested for inflammation using the C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory blood marker. Cognitive function was measured using both verbal fluency and word recall tests. The findings showed a clear correlation between greater BMI and CRP levels to lower cognitive function. That is, the increases in BMI and CRP throughout the six-year study period resulted in
“The higher participants’ body mass at the first time point in the study, the greater the change in their CRP levels over the next four years. CRP stands for C-reactive protein, which is a marker in the blood of systemic inflammation in your body. Change in CRP over four years then predicted change in cognition six years after the start of the study. The body mass of these people predicted their cognitive decline through their levels of systemic inflammation.”
While more research would be needed to further establish causation, the researchers suggest using anti-inflammatory medication to not only reduce inflammation if you have it, but to also improve your cognition. Bourassa adds, “having a lower body mass is just good for you, period. It’s good for your health and good for your brain.”