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Excess belly fat could shrink your brain, study says

There are a lot of health issues associated with belly fat. But did you know it could do also impact your brain?

» RELATED: Lack of sleep makes your brain work slower

Researchers from the Loughborough University in England recently conducted a study, published in the Neurology journal, to determine the relationship between body fat and brain function.

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

For their assessment, they examined nearly 10,000 adults over age 55. They measured the subjects’ body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio or belly fat and overall body fat. They also surveyed the participants about their health and used magnetic resonance imaging to assess their brain volume. 

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After analyzing the results, they found a high BMI alone was linked to slightly lower brain volumes. They also said those with a high BMI and waist-to-hip ratio had lower gray matter, which is responsible for the parts of the brain that deal with self-control, muscle control and sensory perception.

In fact, the more than 1,200 people with a high BMI and belly fat had the lowest average gray matter brain volume, compared to those who didn’t have excess belly fat.

“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.”

Want to learn more about the assessment? Take a look here

» RELATED: Sleep deprivation could cause the brain to eat itself

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