Losing Muscle and Gaining Weight: ‘Skinny Fat’ and Declining Cognitive Function

Loss of muscle mass and gain of peripheral fat may be an important predictor of cognitive function in the elderly, according to a recent study published in Clinical Interventions of Aging. Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue, is a natural part of aging that has been known to have a negative impact on cognitive function. Obesity has the same effect, however when the two conditions occur simultaneously, the impact on cognitive health is more profound than that of either condition on its own.

In their study conducted at Florida Atlantic University’s Comprehensive Center for Brain Health, researchers used data from 353 participants (mean age of 69) in aging and memory studies to analyze sarcopenic obesity’s effect on cognitive ability. This data included clinical visits, cognitive tests such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, functional tests such as chair stands and grip evaluation, and body composition measurements.

The results showed those with sarcopenic obesity having the lowest performance on cognitive testing, with sarcopenia alone yielding the second lowest scores and obesity alone following in third. Specifically, those with sarcopenia or obesity scored lower in categories of memory, mental flexibility, self-orientation and control, and those with both conditions performed even worse in these tests.

Researchers believe that obesity may contribute to these results through behavioral, vascular, and inflammatory mechanisms that may have a negative impact on several control and self-monitoring behaviors in the elderly, and that sarcopenia impacts conflict resolution and selective attention.

The team acknowledges that the exact mechanism of cognitive impairment observed in these conditions is still unknown. “Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass,” says senior author James E. Galvin, one of the top neuroscientists in the country. “They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by maintaining and improving strength and preventing obesity.”

Source: EurekAlert