Obesity gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease

April 20, 2010 in Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News

Obesity gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease
A study published by U.S researchers this week has found that a variant of an obesity gene carried by more than a third of the U.S. population also reduces brain volume, potentially increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers found that people with a specific variant of the fat mass and obesity gene, also known as the FTO gene, not only tended to weigh more, but their brains were smaller, putting them at risk for Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers compared brain scans of more than 200 healthy people between the ages of 55 and 90.  Researchers report they found consistently less tissue in the brains of people who carry the "bad" version of the FTO gene compared to non-carriers.

On average, people with the obesity variant of the FTO gene had 8 percent less tissue in the frontal lobes of their brains. They also had 12 percent less tissue in their occipital lobes, which is the part of the brain that processes vision and other perceptions.

Reduced brain volume can increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease by reducing the amount of brain reserve a person has to compensate if the brain plaques linked to Alzheimer's form.

Previous studied have found that people with two copies of the FTO gene variant on average weigh nearly 7 pounds more and are about 70 percent more likely to be obese than those who do not have the gene.

However, studies have also shown that people with the FTO gene who are physically active, weigh about the same as non-carriers, suggesting that physical activity can overcome a genetic predisposition to obesity.

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