London - You might think your middle-aged spread is down to an idle lifestyle, but it seems it’s more to do with a lazy brain.
Scientists say brain cells vital to regulating appetite slow down as we age. As a result, it takes us longer to feel full.
This means we eat more than we should – and our weight creeps up, usually at a rate of about half a kilo a year.
With the seeds of middle-aged spread sown in early adulthood, a person can easily put on two stone (13kg) by the time they are 50, and their brain is to blame.
The discovery of how the cells work now paves the way for pills that could prevent us from developing middle-aged spread. Aberdeen University researcher Lora Heisler said: “From young adulthood approaching middle age people commonly experience progressive weight gain around the stomach area that is commonly referred to as middle-aged spread.
“One of the reasons for this can be attributed to a small subset of cells in an area of the brain where appetite is controlled.
“These cells make important brain hormones called pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) peptides that are responsible for regulating our appetite and body weight.
“As we approach mid-life these fullness cells slow down and become lazier in sending these signals, which leads to a misjudgement of how much food our body needs.”
The problem is exacerbated by people generally becoming more sedentary as they age – meaning they need less food than before to stay at the same weight.
In research in the laboratory, Professor Heisler identified the key cells, which are found near the bottom of the brain. She also showed that some dieting drugs speed them up again.
This is important, as it opens up the possibility of creating new obesity drugs, which zero in on and speed up the lazy neurons, or brain cells.
Difficulty in creating a safe and effective weight loss drug means that British doctors only have one that they can prescribe.
Professor Heisler said that knowing the brain’s secrets should make it easier to design a new pill – and she has already patented a recipe. She said: “More than half of people in the UK are overweight and one in four is clinically obese. This is an enormous percentage of the population and given the links established between obesity and serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, it is essential that we strive to find new methods to tackle this epidemic.
“Our new understanding of the crucial role POMC plays in combatting middle-aged spread opens the door to new medications that could be developed to jumpstart the signals these neurons send to control appetite and our waistline.”
However, she says prevention is better than cure. She said: “To prevent yourself from getting middle-aged spread, eat a little bit less than you think you want at each meal.”
Simply eating more slowly will help too, as it gives the lazy brain cells time to act. - Daily Mail