I’ve got some bad news for all you baby boomers out there. You’re middle-aged. I know it’s a hard thing to accept, so just let it sink in. As each day passes, your skin sags a little more, your wrinkles become more defined, and your brain shrinks away a bit at a time. Don’t let it getcha down though. Show that balding hairline proudly, pull those argyle socks up, and think about your 401k, you’ve made it.
If the years have caught up to you and you’ve let yourself get to a very American obese weight, your brain is shrinking even faster. At least that’s what new research coming out of the University of Cambridge is showing us. From the time you hit those dreaded middle ages, if you’re obese, your brain tends to look like its healthier, leaner counterparts. Of course, that’s when it’s compared to the brains of leaner people 10 years your elder.
Brains Beware: The Research
A cross-section study analyzed the brains of 473 people ranging in ages from 20-87. The participants were divided into two groups: lean and overweight. As the researchers began examining the data, they began to notice one pretty shocking difference between the two groups. The brains from obese people had substantially less white matter than their coequals. After comparing the two groups, the researchers calculated the obese brains to have the equivalent white matter as the lean brains about 10 years their elder. Okay, so what does that mean?
Well, think of white brain matter as the light-pink-looking inner part of the structure. It gets its color from the lipid-heavy myelin it’s comprised of. We used to think of it as more of a passive sort of tissue, not involved in a whole lot of activity. We now know our white matter helps connect all the working parts of our brains together. It’s usually associated with our cognition and processing, acting as a relay for communication between hemispheres.
Okay, I’m Scared Now
First of all, don’t fret. All the participants took cognitive tests (think something similar to an IQ test) yet no differences were found between the two conditions. So even though there was this drastic difference in brain volume there were no other measurable effects. Your brain may look like a 50-year old at 40, but it doesn’t seem to have an effect on intelligence.
In fact, this could be more of a starting point for research into how obesity psychologically effects us than anything. The truth is, we aren’t sure, but the more the smart people peer into it, the more bismal things look. Obesity may be seen as more of a disease in the future as we start to understand its deleterious effects. Until then, go take a walk. It’s not only good for your health, brain, and weight; it can induce creativity.
Until next time my friends.
- Ronan, L. et al. (2016). Obesity associated with increased brain-age from mid-life. Neurobiology of Aging, e-pub 27 July 2016.