Scientists say belly fat linked with brain shrinkage

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People with a BMI above 30.0 are considered obese.

The new findings, published January 9 in the journal Neurology, suggest that the combination of obesity (as measured by body mass index, or BMI) and a high waist-to-hip ratio may be a risk factor for brain shrinkage, the researchers said.

Belly fat has always been thought to be particularly bad for your heart, but now, a new study adds more evidence to the idea that it may also be bad for your brain. The latest study finds an intriguing link between body fat, especially around the middle, and the brain.

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. According to their findings, people with more excess fat around the middle appear to have a shrunken brain and less gray matter.

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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. It was found that almost one in five of the participants were found to be obese. Because the study only analyzed body fat and brain images at a single point in time for all of the participants, it's also possible that the reverse effect could be occurring, and that brain changes are responsible for changing eating habits and satiety and therefore driving the increase in body fat. Their findings revealed that those with higher ratios of obesity and waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest brain volume.

Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'While BMI can be a crude measure and not necessarily a good indication of our general health, this research suggests that taking a person's waist-to-hip ratio into account may provide additional information that could be relevant to the health of the brain. All of these brain regions are involved in motivation and reward.

They found no significant differences in brain volumes of white matter. "Our research looked at a large group of people and found obesity, specifically around the middle, may be linked with brain shrinkage", Hamer said.

'The study adds to existing evidence highlighting a link between a healthy weight and a healthy brain, but the researchers didn't look at whether participants went on to develop diseases like Alzheimer's and this will need to be explored in future research'.

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