Weight loss slows aging of brains by up to 9 months

New research reveals that adopting a diet rich in fresh vegetables but low in processed foods has remarkable effects on the biological age of brain.

A team of international researchers has discovered that adhering to a Mediterranean diet, abundant in vegetables, seafood, and whole grains, or simply following dietary guidelines, can attenuate the indicators of accelerated brain aging often associated with obesity. Surprisingly, even a modest reduction of 1% in body weight showed a notable impact, they said in a study published in eLife Sciences

The study, entitled “Adipose tissue distribution from body MRI is associated with cross-sectional and longitudinal brain age in adults,” involved brain scans taken after 18 months, demonstrating that participants' brain age appeared nearly nine months younger than their expected age based on chronological measurements.

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This disparity between biological and chronological age is relatable – you might not feel as old as the years suggest, or your body might seem to age faster than you perceive.

The distinction is a core concept: biological age versus chronological age. Scientific evidence establishes that biological age goes beyond subjective feelings. It manifests in various ways, such as markers within your DNA, at the tips of your chromosomes, and, as this research indicates, in the neural connections of your brain.

While earlier studies suggest that stress-induced biological aging could potentially be reversed, this new research underscores that enhancing your diet is among the simplest strategies for improving your physical condition, irrespective of your age.

The study encompassed 102 participants from a larger clinical trial conducted at an Israeli workplace. Brain imaging was performed both before the trial commencement and after 18 months, alongside assessments of liver function, cholesterol levels, and body weight.

The participants were divided into three diet groups: a Mediterranean diet featuring nuts, fish, and chicken instead of red meat; a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extras like green tea for its polyphenols; and a diet aligned with healthy dietary guidelines.

A predictive algorithm estimated brain age, trained on brain scans from a separate group of nearly 300 individuals. This algorithm accurately gauged age based on brain connectivity metrics. On average, participants lost approximately 2.3 kilograms, and for every 1% reduction in body weight through a structured diet or health guidelines, their brain age appeared almost nine months younger compared to their chronological age.

Although it remains uncertain whether changes in brain connectivity lead to enhanced brain function, recent reviews suggest a favorable impact of the Mediterranean diet on memory in older individuals. The connections within the intricate web of the brain are still being unraveled, and this research adds to that knowledge.

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The study also linked reduced brain aging indicators to decreased liver fat levels and improved lipid profiles. However, the lasting impact and depth of these changes remain to be fully understood.

Lead author and neuroscientist Gidon Levakov from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel emphasizes the significance of a healthy lifestyle, including minimizing processed foods, sweets, and sugary beverages, in safeguarding brain health.

He told ScienceDirect that despite the insights gleaned from this clinical trial, there are certain limitations to consider. The majority of participants were men, and their self-reported diet and lifestyle data might carry recall bias. Moreover, factors like work-related activity and free gym memberships were variables that influenced the outcomes. 

One curious fact is that disparities in experiencing these health benefits based on socioeconomic status do exist: individuals with higher income and education levels demonstrated greater cardiovascular improvements from the diet, even with similar adherence levels.