Researchers in the U.K. recently published the largest-ever study on body weight and dementia. The study followed two million men and women over 20 years. And the researchers published their findings in Lancet, perhaps the premier medical journal of our time. Of course the findings starkly contradict the “prevailing wisdom” about body weight. So it received very little attention in the mainstream press. Imagine that.
The study found that men and women considered “overweight” by conventional standards have far lower dementia risks.
Again, this important discovery barely made a “blip” in the media.
On the other hand, I can’t seem to sit down to my computer this week without coming across “news” about a pitifully designed study showing obese men and women perform worse on memory tests than their “healthy” weight peers.
But as the saying goes…the devil’s in the details.
If you look closely at the second study, you see it involved just 50 participants. And it appeared first in a very small medical journal hardly anyone’s ever heard about.
Of course, that doesn’t matter or occur to most mainstream journalists. All they see is a chance to blame obesity for poor memory because it plays into our modern cultural bias against “excess” weight.
Perhaps — as I’ve said before — the REAL problem isn’t “obesity.” Perhaps the real problem is how we define “healthy” weight and “excess” weight in 2016.
Botticelli had it right
For the vast majority of human history, conventional wisdom never considered being “skinny” as healthy. In fact, until relatively recently, most people and doctors considered being skinny as undesirable. It was an obvious sign of ill health and malnourishment.
Then, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) started researching diet, nutrition, and health during the 1980s. They became obsessed with the classic epidemiological studies of Drs. Lew and Garfinkel conducted during the 1970s, which showed people who packed on excess weight had increased chronic disease rates. But they ignored Lew and Garfinkel’s other findings: First, people who were underweight had even greater increases in disease and death rates. Second, people in the “happy middle” when it came to weight had the lowest disease and death rates.
The Lancet study I mentioned above — massive in scope — could help set the record straight, if anyone would pay attention to the results.
For that study, researchers analyzed the medical records of nearly two million people from the U.K. The participants had an average age of 55 years and an average body mass index (BMI) of 26 at the study’s outset. (Most doctors today consider this BMI just on the heavy side of a healthy weight.)
Over the 20-year study, 45,000 people developed dementia. People who started out the study as underweight, with a BMI less than 20 during their 40s to 60s, were 34 percent more likely to develop dementia than their “healthy” weight peers.
By comparison, people who were “overweight” during middle age were less likely than their underweight and even “healthy” weight peers to develop dementia.
Overall, dementia risk fell as BMI increased…
In fact, even people with a BMI of 40 or higher — who the researchers called “very obese” — were 29 percent less likely to develop dementia than their “healthy” weight peers. These patterns persisted throughout two decades of follow-up. They also persisted even after the researchers adjusted for potential factors that could affect the data.
Blatant bias affects the researchers too
In their report, the researchers said, “Our results contradict the hypothesis that obesity in middle age could increase the risk of dementia in old age.” And they called for more research. They also admitted to being “surprised” by the protective effect of obesity. And they cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
Here’s another glaring case where researchers don’t trust their own findings — despite following two million people for 20 years. See just how pervasive our bias against weight is?
In another new study, researchers found some other interesting results about dementia by analyzing data from the famous, long-term Framingham Heart Study. The Framingham Heart Study has yielded important observations on dementia before. In fact, after two expensive “Decades of the Brain,” some of the most important findings about dementia come out of this heart study. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Part of the problem may be that brain researchers continue to look in all the wrongs places for answers about dementia.
The Framingham Heart Study found that dementia rates declined between 1992 and 2001. The researchers speculated that better treatment of heart disease and high blood pressure helped prevent vascular dementia. Evidence also linked higher education level and better lifestyle choices with this declining dementia rate. But here again — they couldn’t figure out why underweight people in their study had higher rates of dementia.
Sometimes you have to use a little common sense.
Physicians a century ago would not have found it mysterious that undernourished, skinny individuals aren’t as healthy, in both body and mind, as people with a little meat on their bones.
Clearly political correctness and the whims of fashion have corrupted not only “conventional wisdom” about weight. They’ve even corrupted the medical researchers’ own “scientific” views about body weight.
In my view, it’s not just a question of eating more. Men and women in our culture today generally follow poor diet. So it only makes sense that underweight men and women in our culture would take in even fewer important nutrients.
Overall, you must eat more of the right foods and supplement your diet. Research shows following this natural approach reverses dementia in 90 percent of cases. I outlined these natural approaches in more detail the February issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re a subscriber, you can download this issue from the Archives for free by clicking on the “Subscriber Sign-In” link above and logging in with your username and password. And if you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started so that you don’t miss out on this important information.
“BMI and risk of dementia in two million people over two decades: a retrospective cohort study,” Lancet June 2015; 3(6): 431–436
“Incidence of dementia over three decades in the Framingham Heart Study,” NEJM 2016;37:523-32