Being Overweight Could Be Making You Forgetful

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Older people who have larger waistlines, high blood pressure and other risk factors associated with a condition doctors call “metabolic syndrome” may be at higher risk of memory problems, a new study suggests.

In the large French study, older adults with metabolic syndrome were 20% more likely to have cognitive decline on a memory test than those without it.

“Our study sheds new light on how metabolic syndrome and the individual factors of the disease may affect cognitive health,” study author Christelle Raffaitin of the French National Institute of Health Research in Bordeaux said in a press statement. “Our results suggest that management of metabolic syndrome may help slow down age-related memory loss, or delay the onset of dementia.”

The study, by researchers from the Universite Victor-Segalen Bordeaux 2 and Sanofi-Aventis, is published in this week’s online issue of Neurology. The authors report that 16% of the 7,087 participants, all them over 65, had metabolic syndrome. They took a series of tests, including a memory test, a visual memory test and a word fluency test, two and four years later.

Those with metabolic syndrome were also 13% more likely to show cognitive impairment on the visual memory test.

It’s a well-done study, says neuropsychologist Felicia Goldstein, an associate professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“Besides the large sample size, the study also controlled for other risk factors for cognitive impairment, such as depression, ApoE e4 (the gene associated with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease), and cardiovascular disease. In this way, a direct association between the vascular components that make up the metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline is even more compelling,” Goldstein says.

Gail Musen, a researcher at Joslin Diabetes Center and instructor at Harvard Medical School, agrees. She says it begins to look at the separate components of metabolic syndrome to figure out how each may be affecting memory. The goal, she says, is to target the particular components of metabolic syndrome, such as high “bad” cholesterol or high blood glucose, with appropriate medication.

Because more than 60% of Americans are overweight or obese, many are at risk for metabolic syndrome, says Susan Spratt, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition at Duke Medicine. “It has far-reaching consequences to our society, including decreased ability to work and increased nursing home and long-term care costs.”

(c) Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <http://www.gannett.com>

Copyright USA TODAY 2011

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