Link found between oversized waists and smaller brains - research

Henrietta Strickland
January 11, 2019

In fact, the difference was substantial: people with high BMI and a high waist-to-hip ratio had an average gray matter brain volume of 786 cubic centimeters, while healthy weight people had an average of 798 cubic centimeters.

Lead researcher Dr Mark Hamer, from Loughborough University, said: "Existing research has linked brain shrinkage to memory decline and a higher risk of dementia, but research on whether extra body fat is protective or detrimental to brain size has been inconclusive".

However, the study found only an association between belly fat and lower brain volume, and can not prove that carrying more fat around the waist actually causes brain shrinkage. In the end they found that high BMI linked to smaller brain volume.

The study looked at more than 9,600 people across Britain, with an average age of 55. Fat accumulated around the middle, which would be represented by a high waist-to-hip ratio, tends to have more toxic effects as it tends to surround abdominal organs like the liver, stomach and intestines than subcutaneous fat, which forms under the skin, by triggering inflammation that can drive everything from heart disease to conditions like arthritis. "This will need further research but it may be possible that someday regularly measuring BMI and waist-to-hip ratio may help determine brain health".

The findings showed that people with a high BMI alone had slightly lower brain volumes, but those with high BMI and high waist-to-hip ratios were shown to have even less. Hamer notes that he recently published data showing how physical activity may increase grey matter, suggesting that exercise may be a way to counteract some of the negative influences obesity might have on the body and brain.

Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY, who was not involved with the study, agreed with the findings.

It was unclear whether obesity lead to brain structure abnormalities or the other way around, he said.

A limitation of the study was that only 5% of those invited to participate ended up taking part, the researchers pointed out.

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