Weight-Alzheimer link different for men and women
Nov 21, 2008
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -

Women who are heavy in their middle years are at greater risk of Alzheimer's
disease, especially if they have large waists. However, for men, being
underweight during that period of life actually increases the likelihood of
developing the degenerative brain disease, researchers report in the American
Journal of Epidemiology.

In addition, changes in weight had different effects on the risk of developing
Alzheimer's disease for men and women.

"In future studies, investigators should address optimal age- and gender-specific
health weight and weight loss strategies for prevention of AD," Dr. May A.
Beydoun of the National Institutes of Health in Baltimore and her colleagues
conclude.

Previous research has identified gender differences in the relationship between
body mass index (BMI) and Alzheimer's disease risk, Beydoun and her team note,
but scientists do not understand why, or agree on how changes in BMI might be
related to Alzheimer's. To investigate, the researchers looked at 2,322 men and
women participating in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.

During the study's 23-year follow-up period, 187 participants were diagnosed with
Alzheimer's disease.

Men who were underweight -- meaning they had a BMI of 18.5 or below -- at age
30, 40 or 45 were at more than five-fold greater risk of Alzheimer's than men who
were normal weight at those ages. For women, being obese -- that is, having a
BMI of 30 or greater -- and having excess belly fat at 30, 40 or 45 boosted risk
more than six-fold.

Furthermore, while men who gained a significant amount of weight between 30
and 50 were 3.7 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's than those whose weight
held steady, weight loss between age 30 and 45 actually doubled the risk for the
disease for women.

Weight loss could signal underlying disease processes related to the
development of Alzheimer's disease, Beydoun and her team suggest, noting that
other researchers have found that people with mild cognitive impairment who lose
weight or are underweight are more likely to develop Alzheimer's.

There also appear to be close relationships between fat- and appetite-regulating
hormones and brain function, the researchers add, while both excess fat and
decline in mental function have been linked to inflammation.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, November 15, 2008.
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