Bigger beer bellies may lead to pint-sized brains

Recently it's been discovered that vitamin D can help support brain health especially in seniors. People with low vitamin D levels experience more cognitive decline than those with normal levels. The vitamin also supports healthy blood vessel functio

People with a BMI above 30.0 are considered obese.

The study was published in the journal Neurology. Similarly, the waist-to-hip ratio is scored, and a high score - above 0.90 for men and above 0.85 for women - means a person has central obesity, or a bigger belly than hips.

Lower brain volume, or brain shrinkage, has been linked with an increased risk of memory decline and dementia. The researchers factored in age, physical activity, smoking and high blood pressure, all of which might lead to reduced volume.

Some previous studies have also found a link between visceral fat or a high waist-to-hip ratio and lower brain volume, but these studies tended to be small and did not look at the combined effect of BMI and waist-to-hip ratio. While grey matter is involved in reward processing and certain aspects of controlling behavior, it's not clear whether body fat is a driver of these changes in grey matter, or the result of them. 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.

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.

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Using a technique called magnetic resonance imaging, researchers studied the volumes of white and grey brain matter and volumes in various regions of the brain. In the study, scientists compared body mass index (BMI) measurements as well as waist-to-hip ratio recordings taken between 2006 and 2010.

Obese people carrying weight around their middle had the lowest average amount of grey matter, at an average of 786 cubic centimetres, compared to people of a healthy weight who had an average of 798 centimetres. White matter contains nerve fibre bundles that connect various regions of the brain.

It could be that people with lower volumes of gray matter in certain brain areas are at a higher risk of obesity.

"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", study author Dr Mark Hamer said in a statement.

'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'.

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