Obesity harms women's memory and brain function

Jul 14, 2010

The more an older woman weighs, the worse her memory, according to new research from Northwestern Medicine. The effect is more pronounced in women who carry excess weight around their hips, known as pear shapes, than women who carry it around their waists, called apple shapes.

The study of 8,745 cognitively normal, post-menopausal women ages 65 to 79 from the Women's Health Initiative hormone trials is the first in the United States to link obesity to poorer and in women and to identify the body-shape connection.

"The message is obesity and a higher (BMI) are not good for your cognition and your memory," said lead author Diana Kerwin, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and a physician at Northwestern Medicine. "While the women's scores were still in the normal range, the added weight definitely had a detrimental effect."

For every one-point increase in a woman's BMI, her memory score dropped by one point. The women were scored on a 100-point memory test, called the Modified Mini-Mental Status Examination. The study controlled for such variables as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The study will be published July 14 in the .

The reason pear-shaped women experienced more memory and brain function deterioration than apple-shaped is likely related to the type of 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.

Cytokines, hormones released by the predominant kind of fat in the body that can cause inflammation, likely affect cognition, Kerwin said. Scientists already know different kinds of fat release different cytokines and have different effects on , lipids and blood pressure.

"We need to find out if one kind of fat is more detrimental than the other, and how it affects brain function," she said. "The fat may contribute to the formation of plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease or a restricted blood flow to the brain."

In the meantime, the new findings provide guidance to physicians with overweight, older female patients.

"The study tells us if we have a woman in our office, and we know from her waist-to-hip ratio that she's carrying excess fat on her hips, we might be more aggressive with weight loss," Kerwin said. "We can't change where your fat is located, but having less of it is better."

Explore further: Scientists 1 step closer to cell therapy for multiple sclerosis patients

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Have migraine? Bigger waistline may be linked

Feb 12, 2009

Overweight people who are between the ages of 20 and 55 may have a higher risk of experiencing migraine headaches, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual ...

Fat around the heart may increase risk of heart attacks

Jul 30, 2008

When it comes to risk for a heart attack, having excess fat around the heart may be worse than having a high body mass index or a thick waist, according to researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and ...

Recommended for you

Antioxidant biomaterial promotes healing

1 hour ago

When a foreign material like a medical device or surgical implant is put inside the human body, the body always responds. According to Northwestern University's Guillermo Ameer, most of the time, that response can be negative ...

Immune response may cause harm in brain injuries, disorders

3 hours ago

Could the body's own immune system play a role in memory impairment and cognitive dysfunction associated with conditions like chronic epilepsy, Alzheimer's dementia and concussions? Cleveland Clinic researchers believe so, ...

One route to malaria drug resistance found

7 hours ago

Researchers have uncovered a way the malaria parasite becomes resistant to an investigational drug. The discovery, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, also is relevant for other infectious ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MichaelExe
not rated yet Jul 14, 2010
Estrogen causes fat deposition in the buttocks, hips and thighs, as opposed to the waist.
http://en.wikiped...ribution

It seems oestrogen is beneficial to memory into early postmenopause, but "Estrogen-containing hormone therapy initiated during late postmenopause does not improve episodic memory (an important early symptom of Alzheimer's disease), and it increases dementia risk."
http://www.ncbi.n...19401959

Some other related reviews include:
http://www.ncbi.n...19996872
http://www.ncbi.n...19836813
http://www.ncbi.n...19468050
http://www.ncbi.n...l=pubmed
http://www.ncbi.n...l=pubmed