Having a beer belly linked to having a smaller brain

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The study, from the United Kingdom, found that people who were obese and had a high waist-to-hip ratio (a measure of belly fat) had slightly lower brain volumes, on average, compared with people who were a healthy weight.

Mark Hamer of Loughborough University, who led the study, said that previous research on whether extra body fat was detrimental to brain size had been inconclusive.

Lower brain volume, or brain shrinkage, has been linked with an increased risk of memory decline and dementia.

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. Fat accumulated around the middle, which would be represented by a high waist-to-hip ratio, tends to have more toxic effects as it tends to surround abdominal organs like the liver, stomach and intestines than subcutaneous fat, which forms under the skin, by triggering inflammation that can drive everything from heart disease to conditions like arthritis. They looked at nearly 1,000 people, with an average age of 55, accounting for all kinds of other factors that could potentially sway the results, such as age and how physically active they were. "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".

The lowest grey matter brain volume, seen in 1,291 participants, was 786 cubic centimetres (cc).

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To find that out, researchers would have to follow the same people over time and record changes in body weight and brain volume. The white matter, however, did not appear to be affected by obesity.

It was unclear whether obesity lead to brain structure abnormalities or the other way around, he said.

Links were also found between obesity and shrinkage in specific regions of the brain.

A limitation of the study is that people who agreed to take part in the study tended to be healthier than people who did not want to take part, so the results may not apply to the general population as a whole, the researchers noted.

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