Published: Sat, January 12, 2019
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Overweight people have smaller brains, study suggests

Overweight people have smaller brains, study suggests

People with a high waist-to-hip ratio can be men with beer bellies or women with "muffin tops" who have slimmer hips compared to their abdomen.

The study shows that "1,291 people who had a high BMI and a high waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest average grey matter brain volume of 786 cubic centimetres, compared to 3,025 people of healthy weight who had an average grey matter brain volume of 798 cubic centimetres and 514 people with a high BMI but without high waist-to-hip ratio who had an average grey matter brain volume of 793 cubic centimeters".

After adjusting for other factors such as age, physical activity and smoking, the researchers found that, while a high BMI alone was linked to having a slightly reduced volume of grey matter, those who also had a high central obesity ratio had even lower amounts. People with higher numbers on both BMI and waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest gray matter volume.

Scientists looked at a total of 9,652 people with an average age of 55.

Experts think fat could trigger the immune system to overreact and damage the brain, causing it to shrink and raising the odds of obese people starting to lose their memories.

Dr Mark Hamer, who led the study from Loughborough University, said: 'Our research looked at a large group of people and found obesity, specifically around the middle, may be linked with brain shrinkage'.

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. Researchers then used magnetic resonance imaging to determine brain volumes for white and gray brain matter and volumes in the various regions of the brain. 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. It was found that almost one in five of the participants were found to be obese.

Though the study didn't look at potential mechanisms linking visceral fat and brain shrinkage, one hypothesis is that this type of fat is thought to produce inflammatory substances that may play a role in brain atrophy, the researchers said. White matter contains nerve fiber bundles that connect various regions of the brain.

It could be that people with lower volumes of gray matter in certain brain areas are at a higher risk of obesity.

The study, nonetheless, found only an association between lower brain volume and belly fat.

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