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Study links belly fat to smaller brain

12 January 2019

A 2018 study, for instance, has shown that people with excess belly fat have twice the risk of suffering from heart attack or die from cardiovascular problems regardless of their weight. If you're too heavy, especially around your middle, you probably have shrunken gray matter volume in your brain, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. Excess Belly Fat And Brain Shrinkage Findings of a new study that involved almost 10,000 people now provide evidence that having excessive fat around the middle may also be bad for the brain.

'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'.

For the study, researchers determined obesity by measuring body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio in study participants and found those with higher ratios of both measures had the lowest brain volume.

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About 500 participants with a high BMI but not a high waist-to-hip ratio also had an average amount of grey matter.

Some previous studies have also found a link between visceral fat or a high waist-to-hip ratio and lower brain volume, but these studies tended to be small and did not look at the combined effect of BMI and waist-to-hip ratio.

Gray matter contains most of the brain's nerve cells and includes brain regions involved in self-control, muscle control and sensory perception.

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They looked at nearly 1,000 people, with an average age of 55, accounting for all kinds of other factors that could potentially sway the results, such as age and how physically active they were. Meanwhile, 3,025 people with overall health scores had an average grey matter volume of 798 cubic centimetres.

"It may be possible that someday regularly measuring BMI and waist-to-hip ratio may help determine brain health", Dr Hamer added. "One particularly interesting finding is that, among individuals with obesity, those with greater waist to hip ratio (a marker of visceral fat around the abdomen), showed even lower gray matter volume", Bohon said. Their findings revealed that those with higher ratios of obesity and waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest brain volume.

Future research should explore inflammation, nutrition and vascular health to better understand potential links between brain health and obesity, she said.

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

Study links belly fat to smaller brain