People who are obese in middle age run a lower risk of developing dementia later, said a large and long-term study Friday whose findings challenge the prevailing wisdom.
On the other end of the scale, however, being underweight in the 40-55 age
bracket was associated with a higher risk, the researchers found.While admitting they were “surprised” by the potential protective effect of obesity, the team cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
The reasons for the observed association were not known, they wrote in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.”The message that people shouldn’t take away is that it’s OK to be overweight or obese,” study co-author Nawab Qizilbash of the OXON Epidemiology research company told AFP by telephone from Madrid.
“Our findings were unexpected, that obese and overweight people would be protected,” said lead researcher Dr. Nawab Qizilbash, from OXON Epidemiology Ltd. in Madrid, Spain.However, the retrospective study was only able to show an association between obesity and a reduced risk of dementia, not a cause-and-effect relationship.
And Qizilbash added that people shouldn’t take these preliminary findings as a license to gain weight in hopes of preventing dementia since the study also showed a predictable increase in premature death risk from being overweight or obese.
Dementia is a term used to describe a number of conditions associated with a decline in memory and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 60-80% of cases in the US.
Some risk factors for dementia are well established. It is known that a person’s risk of the condition increases with age, for example, and people with a family history of the condition are more likely to develop it themselves.