Healthy women who put on weight between the premenopausal and postmenopausal years risk losing nerve cells in the brain, research suggests.
Gaining weight is a “highly modifiable” risk factor that may be targeted to prevent or slow the progression of potentially harmful age-related changes in the brain, the University of Pittsburgh-based study team suggests in the June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
Dr. Isabella Soreca and colleagues analyzed brain imaging data obtained from 48 healthy older women who were tracked over a 20-year period as part of the longitudinal epidemiological Pittsburgh Healthy Women Study.
They report in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that an increase in body weight during the transition to menopause and beyond was “uniquely associated” with a lower volume of gray matter (the portion of the brain containing nerve cell bodies).
Soreca and colleagues say this finding is “particularly noteworthy” given that these were healthy older women who entered menopause naturally and had no history of cardiovascular disease or psychiatric disease and none were obese in mid-life or later on.
“Women may be particularly motivated to maintain a healthy weight in the postmenopausal years, should it be confirmed that weight gain causes alteration in brain function that is important to quality of life,” Soreca and colleagues conclude.
SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, July 2009.