Bigger beer bellies may lead to pint-sized brains

Sleep helps the brain consolidate memories and clear out waste. Lack of sleep can affect your reaction time your memory and how well you process information. Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for diabetes heart disease and stroke and speed up the

Sleep helps the brain consolidate memories and clear out waste. Lack of sleep can affect your reaction time your memory and how well you process information. Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for diabetes heart disease and stroke and speed up the

Big waist, small brain?

No significant differences were found in white matter brain volume. Specifically, belly fat was linked with lower volumes of gray matter, the brain tissue that contains nerve cells.

Of the whole group, 19% were shown to be obese according to their body mass index (BMI), a measurement which relates weight and height. A 2018 study, for instance, has shown that people with excess belly fat have twice the risk of suffering from heart attack or die from cardiovascular problems regardless of their weight. Are you heavier or shorter than the average American?

They found nearly 1,300 study participants were obese and apple-shaped, and that they had less grey matter, which is important for thinking skills. What did they find? "The reductions in brain size increase in a linear fashion as fat around the middle grew larger", Hamer wrote. Their findings revealed that those with higher ratios of obesity and waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest brain volume. Meanwhile, 3,025 people with overall health scores had an average grey matter volume of 798 cubic centimetres. Because the study only analyzed body fat and brain images at a single point in time for all of the participants, it's also possible that the reverse effect could be occurring, and that brain changes are responsible for changing eating habits and satiety and therefore driving the increase in body fat.

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"We also found links between obesity and shrinkage in specific regions of the brain". All of these brain regions are involved in motivation and reward. "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", says study author Professor Mark Hamer from the University's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS).

Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'While BMI can be a crude measure and not necessarily a good indication of our general health, this research suggests that taking a person's waist-to-hip ratio into account may provide additional information that could be relevant to the health of the brain. This connection between reduced brain volume and abdominal fat could suggest that inflammation and vascular factors may be at work.

It could be that people with lower volumes of gray matter in certain brain areas are at a higher risk of obesity. Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

Though the study didn't look at potential mechanisms linking visceral fat and brain shrinkage, one hypothesis is that this type of fat is thought to produce inflammatory substances that may play a role in brain atrophy, the researchers said.

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