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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Too Much Belly Fat Linked to Dementia

Study Shows Deep Belly Fat May Be Linked to Shrinkage in Brain Volume

Measuring Belly Fat continued...

Seshadri's team looked at the potential associations of body mass index, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and the CT measure of abdominal fat with the total brain volume.

The CT measured both visceral or deep belly fat and subcutaneous fat -- the fat that lies right below the skin.

While Seshadri can't quantify the risk of having a high amount of belly fat with a specific brain shrinkage, she says the results she found are linear: the more belly fat, the lower the brain volume.

The deep fat is the culprit, she says. "We found that subcutaneous was not [significantly] associated with any adverse effect on the brain volume, whereas visceral fat was clearly associated with smaller brain volume."

She also found a link between higher BMI and higher waist circumference, but the strongest association was between high visceral belly fat and lower brain volume.

The average BMI of study participants was 28 (30 and above is termed obese, 25 and above overweight.) The average waist circumference was 39 inches. Women should keep waist circumference below 35 and men below 40, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Exactly why the belly fat reduces brain volume isn't known, Seshadri says. Inflammation may play a role, as obesity is linked with inflammation in the body.

Some research has found that people on anti-inflammatory drugs show smaller age-related volume changes in their brain than do those not on the drugs.

Hormones produced by visceral fat tissue could pay a role in brain shrinkage, too, she says.

Second Opinion

The study results are another reminder that paying attention to heart disease risk factors is also a good way to preserve your brain health, says William Thies, PhD, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer's Association.

"The key message in this study is another reason for people to keep good control over the factors that influence their heart health -- such as body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure -- as an important way to also keep their brain healthy as they age, and possibly reduce their risk for cognitive decline and dementia."

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