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Excess body weight drives gray matter losses similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows. The brains of people who were obese showed marked signs of gray matter atrophy in areas of the brain responsible for attention, problem-solving, and reasoning.

Using neuroimaging data, researchers compared the grey matter patterns of more than 1,300 older adults. Participants included those with Alzheimer’s disease and those who were cognitively healthy, obese but otherwise healthy, or lean.

The scientists found that obesity and Alzheimer’s disease had similar effects on the brain. Both conditions were associated with gray matter atrophy in the right temporoparietal cortex (an area involved in attention) and the left prefrontal cortex (an area involved in reason, problem-solving, and comprehension). They also found that obesity-related gray matter atrophy patterns didn’t overlap with amyloid-beta or tau protein distribution in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid-beta and tau accumulation are widely considered hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Excess body weight drives many metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. Recent evidence demonstrates that excess body weight impairs cognitive function. The findings from this study suggest that excess body weight drives gray matter losses similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease.

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