Why weight around the middle shrinks the brain

“Obesity is already associated with a raft of adverse health effects, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and dementia.”

Dr. Brenton Hordacre is an Australian researcher whose research points to the fact that obesity can mess with our mental health as well as our physical health.

Dr. Hordacre’s recently published study is the first to link obesity with reduced brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity refers to your brain’s ability to rewire itself after a stroke or other brain injury.

Brain plasticity is what I depended on as I recovered from the removal of a cyst on my brain, over a year ago. It took a month for my brain to “bounce back,” and for me to recover my memory and my ability to keep my balance and swallow.

Dr. Hordacre’s research indicates that, had I been obese, I might not have experienced the full recovery of my abilities.

And in fact, research has already shown that the brains of people who are obese look and function differently.

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Bigger middle, smaller brain

In a British study published last year in the journal Neurology, 9,652 people who were already part of the UK Biobank, so their health data was already available.

People who had both a high body mass index (BMI) and a high waist-to-hip ratio — indicating obesity around the stomach or middle area — had the lowest overall brain volume.

But more importantly, 1,291 of them had the lowest gray matter brain volume, about 786 cubic centimeters on average.

In contrast:

  • 3,025 people of a healthy weight had 798 cubic centimeters of gray matter.
  • 514 people who had a high BMI but a healthy waist-to-hip ratio had an average gray matter volume of 793 cubic centimeters.

Once again, we’re seeing that where extra fat is carried, namely around the stomach, impacts outcome.

Gray matter houses the brain’s 100 billion nerve cells, and deals with muscle control and sensory perception, as opposed to white matter, which holds the nerve fibers connecting different parts of the brain.

Although the connection is clear, it’s uncertain whether central obesity results in changes in brain volume, or whether “abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity.

Still, Mark Hamer, the study author and professor at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, says, “This will need further research but it may be possible that someday regularly measuring BMI and waist-to-hip ratio may help determine brain health.”

More weight, less flexible brain

Dr. Brenton Hordacre’s research mentioned earlier, now shows that the brains of obese people not only are smaller, but less flexible.

Not only does this make it more difficult to learn new tasks or remember things, but it makes the brain less capable of repairing itself.

In a series of experiments, the researchers tested 15 obese people between ages 18 and 60 and compared them with 15 people in a healthy-weight control group.

When repeated electromagnetic pulses were applied to the brains of the obese group, the response was minimal, suggesting that the capacity to change was impaired. In contrast, the brains of healthy-weight individuals showed significant neural activity.

According to Dr. Hordacre, the findings “suggest that losing weight is particularly important for healthy brain aging or for recovery in people who suffer strokes or brain injuries, where learning is fundamental for recovery.”

Keeping weight loss simple

There’s a lot of weight-loss advice out there, but the best advice is to keep it simple.

Studies show that if a diet plan is too complicated or hard to keep track of, you’ll give up on it sooner. And consistency, not extremes, is the key to successful weight loss.

And, according to Israeli researcher Daniela Jakubowicz, “the goal of a weight-loss diet should be not only weight reduction but also reduction of hunger and cravings, thus helping prevent weight regain.”

Some people have even found that satisfying their craving for sweets early in the day leads to greater success in sticking to a weight-loss plan for the rest of the day.

But in addition to weight loss, you can look to well-researched supplements to help guard against brain shrinkage: omega-3s and B vitamins.

According to a study referenced at Alzdiscovery.org, people with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and taking B vitamins had 40 percent less brain shrinkage.

Both weight loss, especially from around the middle, and boosting omega-3 intake are associated with improvements for brain and cardio health and reduced risk of metabolic disorders, like diabetes.


World first study links obesity with reduced brain plasticity — Eureka Alert

Central obesity linked to brain shrinkage  — Medical News Today

How might obesity affect the brain? — Medical News Today

Supplement combo turns bad fat to good fat to help stave off obesity and diabetes — Easy Health Options

Keep this cholesterol villain from shrinking your brain — Easy Health Options

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.