Obesity Linked with Brain Volume Decline in Old Age

Obesity is widely understood to pose a threat to our health; indeed it can adversely affect heart and blood pressure, our risk of developing type II diabetes and arthritis, not to mention damaging our self-esteem.  What scientists are now finding is that obesity it also linked with a significant decrease in brain volume, with implications for planning and memory functions.

Researchers from the Universities of California and Pittsburgh used sophisticated morphometric techniques to examine grey and white brain matter differences in volume, in MRI scans from 94 elderly subjects (whose cognitive function remained normal for at least five years after the scan).  Taking into account variations according to age, gender, race, insulin levels and diabetes, increased BMI was associated with atrophy in the frontal, temporal and subcortical regions of the brain – in other words, obesity is linked with brain shrinkage in the elderly. [1]

For individuals with a BMI over 30, the parts of the brain most affected were the frontal lobe (controls decision making); the hippocampus (special navigation and memory); the anterior cingulated gyrus (emotional responses, regulation of blood pressure and heart rate); and the thalamus (regulates sleep/wake cycles) – when compared with individuals with a BMI in the normal range of 18.5-25.

This cross-sectional study did not look at any causal factors and further research is needed to understand the clinical relevance of the potential relationship between obesity and brain atrophy. Both brain function and obesity are areas that are affected by the diet, though the role of nutrition in maintaining mental and physical health is often underestimated.

Certain types of polyunsaturated fat – namely omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil – are an essential component of a healthy and balanced diet, with a vital role in brain growth and development. Higher intake of omega-3 fish oil is associated with increased amounts of grey matter in the brain, [2] and studies have demonstrated the potential of omega-3 EPA to reverse brain atrophy. [3] What’s more, these ‘good fats’ may also reduce the conversion of metabolic syndrome to type 2 diabetes, commonly associated with obesity.  [4]

Oily fish, eaten twice weekly, provides the necessary levels of omega-3 EPA to maintain general health and well-being – from maintaining the cardiovascular system, to regulating blood clotting, nourishing brain cell membranes and regulating inflammation to moderating the immune system. Higher doses can be safely obtained from daily supplementation with purified pharmaceutical-grade omega-3 EPA fish oil, such as our supplement Vegepa.

Our range of ultra-pure high strength omega-3 EPA supplements are used and endorsed by leading doctors and complementary practitioners. Specialists in this field, our board of expert consultants have formulated products for clinical conditions, general health, joint problems and arthritis, children and vegetarians.


[1] Raji C.A. et al, (2010) Brain structure and obesity, Hum Brain Mapp. 31: 353-64.

[2] Conklin SM, Gianaros PJ, Brown SM, Yao JK, Hariri AR, Manuck SB, Muldoon MF. (2007) Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake is associated positively with corticolimbic gray matter volume in healthy adults. Neurosci Lett. 421: 209-12.

[3] Puri, B.K. (2010) EPA and Huntington’s chorea: treatment and associated cerebral changes. Annals of General Psychiatry, 9(Suppl 1):S27.

[4] Barre DE. (2007) The role of consumption of alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in human metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes–a mini-review. J Oleo Sci. 56: 319-25. Review.

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