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Published on: January 16, 2012
by Keith L. Black, MD for Everyday Health:
Could the size of your jeans be inversely related to the size of your brain?
Could the size of your jeans be inversely related to the size of your brain? Possibly. A recent study, published in the medical journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that healthy elderly adults with more visceral fat around their middles had smaller brains and performed more poorly on memory tests than those with slimmer waistlines. Low brain volume often indicates a greater risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
We’ve known for awhile that visceral fat — the deep fat between the organs that we can’t see or feel — poses more health risks than subcutaneous fat, which is that extra padding that lies just below the skin that most people associate as body fat. Many studies have linked abdominal visceral fat to an elevated risk of diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.
But there are only a small handful of studies that have shown a correlation between waist size and brain size. In 2010, a study of 733 men and women with an average age of 60 also found that the more visceral abdominal fat, the lower the brain volume; the average waist circumference of the sample set was 39 inches. (The National Institutes of Health recommend a waist circumference below 35 for women and below 40 for men.)
How does belly fat affect the size of the brain? We aren’t sure, but inflammation could play a role, since obesity is a sign of inflammation in the body. Visceral fat also may make the body more resistent to insulin, which affects brain metabolism.Although it’s too early to know for certain whether high visceral fat means increased risk for memory-related brain diseases, we do know that too much fat is linked to other potentially serious and chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, low HDL (good) cholesterol and diabetes. So, it’s important to keep your gut in check regardless of its impact on the brain.
Shedding visceral fat
It’s impossible to know how much visceral fat you have based on just looking at your body alone. In fact, you can be thin and still have elevated amounts of visceral fat. The most accurate methods to measure visceral fat involve scans, which can be costly unless medically necessary.Generally speaking, though, if your overall body mass index (BMI) is in the overweight or obese range, it’s safe to assume that you’re carrying too much visceral fat. If you’re middle-aged or older, it’s even more important to shed it.There’s no unique or easy way to lose visceral fat; it’s lost through all the tried-and-true ways that all body fat gets lost – through diet and exercise. The good news is that visceral fat is usually a bit easier to shed than the subcutaneous fat that we can pinch. Here are some suggestions:
If these suggestions sound similar to your New Year resolutions, good for you. If not, it’s never too late to add them to the list.
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