Weight Gain and Early Onset Dementia

Weight Gain and Early Onset Dementia
By Heather Hamilton, PhD., LMHC, NCC, DCC  |  ©2022BreakThrough!

Are You Eating to Gain Weight and Hasten the Onset of Dementia?

We know that how we eat contributes to weight gain and leads to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. But did you know that how you eat may hasten the onset of early dementia? Current research suggests that inflammation in the brain, specifically in the region of the hypothalamic area leads to the dysregulation of key brain functions. This inflammation is a precursor for the development of obesity & impaired cognitive functioning.

Let’s compare 2 maps of the United States. The top image (CDC, 2017) illustrates rates of obesity; the bottom image depicts rates of early-onset dementia (Blue Cross, 2020).

It’s evident that patterns of correlation are emerging, and our health as a nation is suffering.


If a person has a skin rash that’s particularly visible they’ll carefully treat the inflamed area until it’s healed. However, low-grade inflammation in the hypothalamic area of the brain is the “hidden” inflammation we aren’t treating as earnestly. This hidden inflammation is metabolic in nature and targets cells specialized in energy metabolism leading to insulin resistance. If there’s just a short period (2-3 weeks) of excess saturated fat and sugar (carbs) in the diet, the effects of metabolic disturbance can be reversed. However, after a longer period, the neuroprotective mechanism fails resulting in inflammation. This inflammation leads to the production of cytokines and leads to deficiencies in insulin and leptin signaling. Reducing our intake of carbs and saturated fats (inflammatory foods) helps our brain DETOX and recover from inflammation & dysregulation.


Low-grade chronic, systemic inflammation caused by high levels of circulating cytokines is an emerging factor in crossover studies of obesity, depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis. Cyto-what right? Bear with me; I’ll keep this short. A cytokine is a small protein released by cells that has a specific effect on the interactions between cells.

Cytokines influence brain neurotransmitters and activity of the HPA axis. Stress (anxiety) and depression are both associated with the up-regulation of the immune system, which in turn causes increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines [44]. Increased cytokines interfere with tryptophan availability, which impedes the synthesis, release, and synaptic uptake of serotonin. In experimental studies, when certain cytokines are administered to patients they deplete available serotonin and induce typical symptoms of depression and increased anxiety. This depletion in turn stimulates an increase in appetite for up-regulating substances (sugar) that restore mood, energy, and a (temporary) sense of well-being.


Now, Let’s BreakThrough!

Pretty cool information right? But what can we do differently? Sure we can reduce our consumption of bad stuff, but there’s a better lifestyle plan! The Mediterranean diet may alleviate many of the symptoms of chronic inflammation. For further reading please read: Is the Mediterranean Diet the Right Choice for Me? As well as Controversies About a Common Etiology for Eating and Mood Disorders, and Hypothalamic Inflammation and Energy Balance Disruptions: Spotlight on Chemokines


      We hope you have enjoyed this article from The BreakThrough! Program.

References & Related Topics

Le Thuc, O., Stobbe, K., Cansell, C., Nahon, J. L., Blondeau, N., & Rovère, C. (2017). Hypothalamic Inflammation and Energy Balance Disruptions: Spotlight on Chemokines. Frontiers in endocrinology, 8, 197. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2017.00197

Early-Onset Dementia and Alzheimer’s Rates Grow for Younger American Adults



Rossetti, C., Halfon, O., & Boutrel, B. (2014). Controversies about a common etiology for eating and mood disorders. Frontiers in psychology5, 1205. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01205

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