News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

New Study Links Midlife Weight Gain And Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease


A new study of nearly 1,400 patients with an average age of 60 has identified midlife obesity as a risk factor for early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dr. Angela Bentle, a geriatrics and internal medicine specialist with Methodist Charlton Medical Center, has concerns about the results. But she says it’s still a reason enough to watch your weight.

Highlights from Dr. Bentle’s interview:

How or why is obesity a risk factor for early onset Alzheimer’s? “This study really look at adiposity as a risk factor and not obesity, per se. Adipocytes are fat cells. So they really looked at an elevated Body Mass Index  and not reaching obesity. When they looked being overweight at midlife that the more overweight you were, they concluded the earlier you would have onset of dementia – six or seven months earlier than they would have had they not been overweight.”

How were the results determined? “They looked at normal brains and autopsy samples and neuroimaging. The imaging part did not pan out so much. The autopsy samples – they only had 71 people who had Alzheimer’s dementia. Other people in the autopsy sample of 191 had other forms of memory impairment, not Alzheimer’s dementia. And they compared that with 75 normal brains on beta amyloid imaging. Beta amyloid is the protein that’s laid down in the brain (Sam: The plaque?) Yes, the beta amyloid plaque associated with dementia.”

Why would being overweight contribute to that (dementia)? “You know, we can make a solid connection between obesity and diabetes, and with diabetes and other health risks, but they didn’t make a good argument for obesity being associated with Alzheimer’s dementia. And they definitely said that the people that carry the gene for Alzheimer’s dementia, about 10 percent of them actually developed Alzheimer’s dementia, which means 90 percent did not. And there was no association with BMI (Body Mass Index) and early onset of Alzheimer’s dementia that were positive for the gene.”

So what should a person take from this? “There are so many health problems that come with obesity – diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis. And we’ve already seen that diabetes itself is linked to dementia. I would say there are healthy ways to live and eat that include daily walking or exercise, and a healthy diet that takes out some of those bad carbs that are associated with the hypoglycemic index and chronic fatigue and can lead to obesity and these other health complications.”

For more information:

Study on Obesity & Early Onset Alzheimers 

Early Onset Alzheimer’s 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.