The findings of the study, which was published in the journal Neurology on January 9, suggest that the combination of obesity and high waist-to-hip ratio could be a risk factor for brain shrinkage, which has been tied to elevated risk for memory decline and dementia. It was found that almost one in five of the participants were found to be obese. This effect remained strong even after researchers accounted for other factors that might affect brain volume, including age, smoking history, education, physical activity and history of mental illness.
The lowest grey matter brain volume, seen in 1,291 participants, was 786 cubic centimetres (cc).
No significant differences were found in white matter brain volume. BMI is the weight-to-height ratio-people with a BMI above 30.0 are considered obese.
Grey matter contains most of the nerve cells, and includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing, hearing, memory, speech, decision making, self-control etc.
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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'.
"While our study found obesity, especially around the middle, was associated with lower grey 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. Potential causes of lower brain volume Cara Bohon, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, wrote in an email that the study's findings are "not particularly new or surprising". Researchers measured BMI, waist-to-hip ratio and overall body fat and surveyed participants about their health. This connection between reduced brain volume and abdominal fat could suggest that inflammation and vascular factors may be at work. The white matter, however, did not appear to be affected by obesity. Bohon's own research suggests that weight loss can reverse brain changes, as it showed that when people lost weight, whether a lot or a little, brain volume improved.
'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'. "People should strive to maintain normal body weight".
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