Older women, weight gain and memory loss

Being overweight or obese can have devastating health consequences from increased risk of heart disease and stroke to diabetes and hypertension. But a study by researchers at Northwestern University found that for older women the higher their body mass index, the worse their memories tended to be.

The study tracked 8,745 women aged 65 to 79 who were cognitively “normal,” post-menopausal at the start of the Women’s Health Initiative. The researchers found that for every point a woman's weight increased her memory score on the Modified Mini-Mental Status Examination fell by a point.

Diana Kerwin, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern and the study’s lead author, speculated that hormones known as cytokines released by body fat can cause inflammation which in turn likely impacts brain function.

The body shape of the overweight and obese women also impacted their memory and brain function,  the researchers found. Those with pear-shaped bodies had greater cognitive decline compared with apple shaped women, the study found. The researchers speculated that this body-shape difference was likely related to “the type of fate fat deposited around the hips versus the waist.”

“Obesity is bad, but its effects are worse depending on where the fat is located,” Kerwin said.
“The message is obesity and a higher Body Mass Index are not good for your cognition and your memory,” Kerwin added. “While the women’s scores were still in the normal range, the added weight definitely had a detrimental effect.”

The study was published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

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