Belly Fat Can Lead to Brain Shrinkage

Carrying extra body fat, especially around the middle, may be linked to brain shrinkage, according to a study published in the Jan. 9, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 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.

“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,” said study author Mark Hamer, PhD, of Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England. “Our research looked at a large group of people and found obesity, specifically around the middle, may be linked with brain shrinkage.”

After adjusting for other factors that may affect brain volume, such as age, physical activity, smoking and high blood pressure, researchers found that while a high BMI alone was linked to slightly lower brain volumes, those with high BMI and waist-to-hip ratios had lower gray matter brain volumes than participants who did not have a high waist-to-hip ratio.

“While our study found obesity, especially around the middle, was associated with lower gray matter brain volumes, it’s unclear if abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity or if obesity leads to these changes in the brain,” said Hamer. “We also found links between obesity and shrinkage in specific regions of the brain. 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.”

What can be done to keep maintain weight management while warding off “belly fat”?

  • Celebrate winter and get moving! Schedule one afternoon a week for the family to rake and then play in the snow.  Studies show that you can burn about 200 calories an hour by sledding.  Not only will you get a great workout, your kids will have a blast too while combating childhood obesity.
  • Stay hydrated – even as it gets colder. If your belly feels full, you won’t be as hungry and won’t overeat.
  • Exercise before bed. Do you give into cravings while watching TV at night?  Try exercising instead. According to an April 2013 study in the journal, Obesity, our circadian system makes us hungriest a few hours before bedtime. But you may feel fuller after working out. A different study in the journal, Metabolism, found that perceived fullness was higher among participants after 12 weeks of aerobic training than before they were exercising. So a brisk walk after dinner each night may make you less likely to snack before bed.

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