New UK research has found that carrying extra body fat, especially around the waist, may be linked to a smaller brain size, which could indicate a higher risk of dementia. In hard numbers, 1,291 people who had a BMI of 30 or higher and a high waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest average gray matter volume, at 786 cubic centimeters; 514 people with a BMI of 30 or higher but without central obesity had an average gray matter volume of 793 cubic centimeters.
Their brain may already have shrunk, causing them to pile on weight after losing grey matter in the brain regions which help to control your appetite and feel full.
It was unclear whether obesity lead to brain structure abnormalities or the other way around, he said.
The Body Mass Index (BMI), waste-to-hip ratio and body fat of 9,652 people (average age of 55 years) was measured for the study.
This compared with a volume of 798 for around 3,000 people of healthy weight.
However, the study found only an association between belly fat and lower brain volume, and can not prove that carrying more fat around the waist actually causes brain shrinkage.
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Looking at both BMI as well as waist-to-hip ratio clarifies what role different types of body fat may play in affecting the brain, Hamer says.
Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY, who was not involved with the study, agreed with the findings.
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'.
Future research should explore inflammation, nutrition and vascular health to better understand potential links between brain health and obesity, she said. All of these brain regions are involved in motivation and reward. It is possible that individuals with lower volumes of gray matter in some brain areas have increased the risk of obesity. 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".
A limitation of the study was that only 5 percent of those invited to participate in the study took part, and those who participated tended to be healthier than those who did not, so the results may not reflect the population as a whole.