Obesity and the shrinking brain

Obesity and the shrinking brain

The list of reasons to keep your weight down is already a long one. Being overweight is bad for the heart. That extra weight is a strain on the back. It elevates the risk of diabetes.

Add one more thing to the tally: Obesity might shrink your brain.

English researchers found in a study that carrying extra body fat, especially around your belly, might increase the risk of brain shrinkage. And that could increase memory loss and the risk of neurological problems such as dementia.

Scientists studied a group of nearly 10,000 people and measured their body-mass index, or BMI, their waist-to-hip ratio and overall body fat. About 19 percent of these volunteers were clinically obese.

Researchers then determined each participant’s brain volume by using magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI, which measured how much white and gray matter their brains contained.

The results were disquieting for those who occasionally indulge in junk food. Obesity by itself was associated with a slightly smaller brain. But the biggest shrinkage was seen in those people who were both obese and had more fat around their middle. This was true even after researchers adjusted the findings for other factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, physical activity and age.

Researchers point to one important caveat: They cannot conclude whether obesity leads to brain shrinkage, or if brain shrinkage causes the obesity. They say additional research is needed.

The study’s authors said there may come a day when measuring someone’s BMI and waist-to-hip ratio will help doctors determine someone’s brain health.

So, remember: When you get bigger, your brain may be getting smaller.

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