Individuals are more likely to be slimmer during the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, just like overweight individuals during middle age have a higher risk of developing the disease decades later, researchers from the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Kansas City, reported in the journal Neurology this week after conducting a study on the relationship between BMI and Alzheimer’s disease.

Jeffrey M. Burns, MD, MS and team used advanced brain imaging techniques as well as analyzing the cerebrospinal fluid of 506 individuals for Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers. These biomarkers can be detected years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s start to emerge. A biomarker is a biochemical feature (facet) that is used to measure the progress of a disease – it can also be used to measure the effects of treatment.

All the participants had been enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

The participants included people with no signs of memory problems, individuals with mild cognitive impairment, some had mild memory problems, while the rest had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that those with Alzheimer’s biomarkers tended to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than individuals without the biomarkers; this included both the participants with no cognitive or memory problems and those with mild cognitive impairment.

85% of participants with mild cognitive impairment whose BMI was below 25 had beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, a sign of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, only 48% of those with mild cognitive impairment who were overweight had beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. The same difference was found among participants with no memory or thinking problems.

Dr. Burns said:

“These results suggest Alzheimer’s disease brain changes are associated with systemic metabolic changes in the very earliest phases of the disease. This might be due to damage in the area of the brain called the hypothalamus that plays a role in regulating energy metabolism and food intake.

Further studies should investigate whether this relationship reflects a systemic response to an unrecognized disease or a long-standing trait that predisposes a person to developing the disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease, also known as simply Alzheimer’s or Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type (SDAT), is a progressive neurologic brain disease which leads to the irreversible loss of neurons and intellectual abilities, including reasoning and memory. The deterioration eventually becomes severe enough to completely undermine social and occupational functioning.

Plaques and tangles develop within the structure of the brain during the course of the disease, causing brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s patients have deficient levels of some neurotransmitters, vital brain chemical which are involved in the transmission of messages in the brain.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It gets worse with time, hence it is called a progressive disease. Although there is no cure, there are ways of slowing down its advance and treating some of the symptoms. Alzheimer’s is a terminal disease, it causes death.

Written by Christian Nordqvist