3 ways belly fat starts disease and slows your brain

The interconnectedness of your brain, your gut, and your immune system is a well-known fact, but maybe one that’s not completely familiar to you.

These three systems work together to keep you healthy and in balance. If one of them is off, all sorts of seemingly unrelated things will start to go wrong with your body and your mind.

A leaky gut can be the culprit behind chronic pain and autoimmune disease.

You may be surprised to hear that it can also be the cause of thinking and mood difficulties.

An unhealthy microbiome caused by infections and drug treatments may be a factor in the onset of mental and cognitive problems.

A recent Iowa State University study has shown that increased body fat can trigger the immune system and reduce our ability to “think on our feet” as we get older.

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Fat, cognition and the immune system

Fluid intelligence is the ability to think creatively and with flexibility in order to solve problems and negotiate new situations. It involves short-term memory, and the ability to hold onto information long enough to solve a problem.

Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to take knowledge and facts and “plug them in” much as you would when taking a standardized test.

Fluid intelligence is what makes us able to deal with the ever-changing demands of life, and particularly with those that come with age: changes in our bodies, changes in our relationships, and the inevitable losses of friends and family.

Auriel Willette, an assistant professor of food science and nutrition, and Brandon Klinedinst, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience, looked at data from more than 4,000 middle-aged to older UK Biobank participants.

Related: Why belly fat fuels cancer growth

The UK Biobank Study is a long-term study begun in 2006 that is investigating how genetics and environment contribute to the development of disease.

Willette and Klinedinst found that people in their 40s and 50s who had more fat around the midsection also had worse fluid intelligence as they got older.

What’s more, about half of these changes in cognitive ability were explained by changes in white blood cells that are part of the immune system: lymphocytes and eosinophils in women, basophils in men.

Belly fat brings on inflammation, disease and mental inflexibility

We all have an apron-like fold of belly fat called the omentum that serves to protect our organs and fight infection.

In 1906, British surgeon Rutherford Morison called the omentum the “abdominal policeman” because of the way it seemed to actively protect injured organs.

The omentum is made of VAT – visceral adipose tissue or deep belly fat. This fat is full of antimicrobial peptides, and anti-inflammatory cytokines that fight infection and help maintain a healthy, balanced metabolism.

However, this study showed that people carried abdominal fat they’d accumulated themselves, rather than just the omentum, which plays its own natural protective role, things went awry…

Fluid intelligence tended to reduce with age and changes to the way the omentum influences the immune system resulting in inflammation and the possibility of metabolic dysfunction. This can cause damage that can lead to diabetes or other inflammatory diseases.

And the more abdominal fat a person carried, the greater these health issues.

How to control belly fat and keep your mind sharp

Belly fat, or visceral fat, can’t be measured by stepping on the scale. You can weigh less than you did before but have more visceral fat that’s endangering your health.

It sounds simple to say that exercise and diet are the best ways to get control over belly fat. Simple, but true.

Here are some dietary recommendations to fight belly bulge:

  • Eat high-fiber foods every day. Studies show that foods with soluble fiber can reduce belly fat. These include flaxseed, Brussels sprouts, avocados, legumes, and blackberries.
  • Avoid foods with trans fats. Foods like margarine, frozen pizza, baked goods, and fast food are on this list. Read ingredient labels carefully. Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats.
  • Eat protein. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and beans help you feel full. Eat fatty fish like salmon and sardines every week. The omega-3 fats in these fish could help reduce visceral body fat.
  • Stop drinking fruit juice. It contains just as much fructose as some sweetened beverages. Choose sparkling water or unsweetened iced tea instead.
  • Quit diet soda. A study at The School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio found that the more diet soda you drink, the more you risk inflammation from visceral fat.

As far as exercise goes, a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training seems to be the best method for reducing belly fat.

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  1. Changes in the immune system explain why belly fat is bad for thinking — EurekAlert
  2. Belly Fat and Your Brain — Psychology Today
  3. Belly Fat Has a Role to Play in Fighting Infections — The Scientist
  4. Some functions of the omentumThe BMJ
  5. The Impact of Inflammation on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: Implications for Health Care Practice and ResearchJournal of Neuroscience Nursing
  6. 20 Effective Tips to Lose Belly Fat (Backed by Science) — Healthline
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.