The bigger your waistline, the smaller and older your brain

No one questions any longer that being overweight or obese is a serious health problem.

Excess body fat has been linked to a dozen types of cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirms that being obese puts you at increased risk for life-threatening diseases and conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.

According to former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, “overweight and obesity may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking.”

But does excess body weight affect your brain? Based on research done over the past fifteen years, the answer seems to be yes.

Being overweight produces definite physical changes in your brain… and none of them are good.

In the past several years, three separate studies have linked obesity with a shrinking brain…

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Losing brain connections

The white matter in your brain is the stuff that allows different parts of your brain to talk to each other. It is involved in problem-solving and quick thinking. It also plays a role in balance, walking, and mood.

White matter wears away with normal aging, but being overweight, it appears, will make your brain older a lot faster…

In 2016, a team from the University of Cambridge examined the amount of white matter in the brains of 527 people ages 20 to 87. The subjects were divided into “lean” and “overweight” groups, based on their body mass index (BMI).

The brains of the overweight subjects were roughly ten years older than the brains of their lean counterparts. In other words, a 50-year-old overweight person had the same amount of white matter as a 60-year-old lean person.

Fat around the middle is especially bad

Just this year, there’s been more research that backs up the Cambridge study.

In February, a study at Loughborough University in England took things a step further.

Recognizing that body weight can fluctuate over months and years, Mark Hamer and his colleagues added another variable: waist-to-hip ratio.

Almost 10,000 subjects were involved in the study, ranging in age from 40 to nearly 70 years. All had participated in a recent UK based ‘Biobank’ survey, during which they’d had their bodies scanned with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment

Related: 7 ways super-agers keep big brains

In people with both high BMI and waist-to-hip ratio, brain volume was just 786 cubic centimeters, on average. But people who had a healthy BMI and body proportion were found, on average, to have a brain volume of 793 cubic centimeters.

And here, we’re talking about the loss of grey matter.

Grey matter is the cortex of the brain. If white matter is the stuff that allows signals to travel, grey matter is the stuff that actually sends out those signals. It is responsible for things like muscle control, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, self-control and sensory perception.

Women and men are affected differently

Finally, an April 2019 study from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands looked at whether men and women might be differently affected by the “brain shrink” resulting from excess body fat.

There was still significant “brain shrink” in obese people of both genders, but there were some differences between men and women.

In men, higher body fat was linked with less grey matter overall. In women, however, the brain shrinkage seemed to concentrate in one area, the globus pallidus, an area of the brain that controls voluntary movement.

Stay trim and prevent Alzheimer’s?

It’s important to note that all of the subjects in these studies were of middle age or older.

While the researchers made no direct connections between brain shrinkage and diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, it does beg the question…

Related: 10 foods that make your brain almost a decade younger

We know that, in fact, people with these diseases are losing brain tissue and brain mass, depriving them of physical and mental functions. Whether we can prevent these diseases by staying trim and preventing brain shrink, though, is a leap.

What’s not, though, is that excess weight can get the best of your brain. But by taking steps to control the weight, you could avoid shrinkage of your brain occurring any earlier than it would with natural age.

Editor’s Note: According to Dr. Michael Cutler, the right foods control inflammation, support immunity and keep harmful bacteria away — all while producing enzymes and nutrients necessary for optimal health. Learn how to feed your brain and your body in The Part-Time Health NutClick here to get your copy, and free gifts, today.


  1. We Now Have More Evidence of a Worrying Link Between Obesity And Smaller Brains — ScienceAlert
  2. Brains of Overweight People Look 10 Years Older Than Those of Lean People — ScienceAlert
  3. Carrying Extra Belly Fat Has Just Been Linked to a Worrying ‘Brain Shrink’ — ScienceAlert
  4. Obesity associated with increased brain age from midlifeNeurobiology of Aging


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.