Obesity is a dangerous disease linked to over 60 medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, cancers, hypertension, and other serious illnesses. Combined with the health concerns associated with a higher body mass index (BMI), a relatively new study has found that obesity affects brain volume.
In this UK-based research study, the team at Biobank examined ~10,000 individuals with varying measures of BMI, waist-to-hip ratios, and total fat mass. What was found was shocking; individuals with a higher body mass index had different brain scans than individuals with a BMI in the “healthy” category.
Researchers discovered that obesity affects brain volume by reducing the gray matter in the brain.
How Obesity Affects Brain Volume
Gray matter makes up the brain’s outer layer and is where information is processed. It plays a role in normal human functions such as motor control, coordination and balance, memory, and emotional regulation. As the gray matter begins to shrink, individuals risk developing cognitive disorders, memory loss, and declining motor skills.
Similarly, this study also found a link between brain volume and obesity related to white matter in the brain. White matter sits within the deeper parts of the brain and helps with learning.
Gray matter is developed during early childhood and stops expanding by eight years old. On the contrary, the white matter continues to grow through the mid-20s. From that point on, the gray matter slowly decreases in size while the brain density increases. As the brain density increases, so does our mental ability to process and retain information.
This link between brain volume and obesity was more significant in men than in women. In fact, obese men were at a higher risk of experiencing shrinking in the gray and white matter while women only experienced shrinkage in the brain’s white matter.
These discoveries coincided with previous research that proved a high body mass index was associated with a smaller brain volume. Yet, although there is evidence pointing to the link between brain volume and obesity, researchers are still unclear what the cause of this is. Some experts believe there is a reduction in white and gray matter in the brain due to inflammation caused by increased body fat. This inflammation harms brain tissue, resulting in a loss of neurons affecting cognitive function.
Yet, still, it is “unclear if obesity changes the brain or if people with lower volumes of gray matter in certain areas are at a higher risk of obesity.“
Lowering Your Risk of Declined Cognitive Function
There are methods to reverse brain damage and strengthen cognitive function for individuals who may be at risk of gray matter shrinkage in the brain.
- Meditation and mindfulness practices
- Physical activity
- Improvement in sleep patterns
- Eating a healthy diet
- Weight loss
- Challenging your brain with problem-solving puzzles or word games
Making a few lifestyle changes lowers your risk of developing any neurological conditions that could affect brain volume. Combined with improved brain function, living a healthy lifestyle also benefits your overall health and quality of life.
This article was originally published on the Bariatric Centers of America website.