Link Between Belly & Brain

According to an article by Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer for Live Science, there is a link between the size of your belly and the size of your brain. They’ve always believed that belly fat is particularly bad for the heart, but now there is a new study that has more evidence that is may also be bad for the brain.

The United Kingdom performed the study and found those who were obese and had a high waist-to-hip ratio had slightly lower brain volumes, on average, than people who were a healthy weight. The belly fat was linked with lower volumes of gray matter, which is the brain tissue that contained nerve cells.

Lead study author Mark Hamer, a professor at Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences in Leicestershire, England says that their research looked at a large group of people and found obesity, especially that around the middle, may be linked with brain shrinkage. Brain shrinkage has been linked with an increased risk of memory decline and dementia. The findings were published in the journal Neurology.

The study did find only an association between belly fat and lower brain volume, and can’t prove that if you carry more fat around the waist it actually causes brain shrinkage. Visceral fat, or belly fat, is stored deep within the abdominal cavity and tied to greater health risks than subcutaneous fat that is stored just under the skin.  This causes a higher risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and premature death, as reported by the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers analyzed information from more than 9,600 people living in the United Kingdom and with an average age of 55. Their BMI and waist-to-hip ratio was measured and they underwent an MRI to determine their brain volumes. Those with a high BMI and high waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest brain volumes compared with people who had only a high BMI and of a healthy weight. Having both a high BMI and high waist-to-hip ratio had an average gray matter volume of 786 cubic centimeters, compared with 793 cubic centimeters for people with a high BMI but not a high waist-to-hip ratio and 798 cubic centimeters for people of a healthy weight.

This type of fat is thought to produce inflammatory substances that may play a role in brain atrophy, according to the researchers. Dr. Gayatri Devi is a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York not involved with the study who agreed with the findings. The brain gray matter shrinkage seems to be associated with obesity and increased visceral fat.

The people agreeing to take part in the study did tend to be healthier than those who did not want to take part. This could show the results may not apply to the general population as a whole, but good general health is very important for good brain health.

Dr Fredda Branyon