Shrunken Brains!

Shrinking Brains From Too Much Fat

Here’s an upsetting study for anyone who might have too much body fat (like me!).

Researchers at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands looked at the relationship between body fat and brain size.

They had the benefit of some previous studies that showed a link between high body fat and shrinking brains, but those studies were small. They also didn’t use direct measurement of body fat percentage, instead relying on Body Mass Index.

This time, the researchers determined the body fat percentage of participants using bioelectrical impedance, which sends a mild electrical signal though the body. They measure brain volume with MRI scans. They also had a study cohort of almost 20,000 people.

According to the results, higher body fat was correlated strongly with reduction in the amount of gray matter. Gray matter is the part of the brain that contains nerve cells.

The results were much more startling for men than women.

Women showed a shrinkage in the globus pallidus, which is involved in mediating voluntary movement.

Men, however, also showed a reduction in the thalamus, caudate nucleus, hippocampus, putamen, and nucleus accumbens. Some of these sections pertain to movement, and others to the reward circuits in the brain.

The study does not say that high body fat CAUSES brain shrinkage. There could be any number of factors that cause both conditions, for example. Or, instead of high body fat causing the brain to shrink, it could be that having brain shrinkage causes people to have higher body fat.

More research will be needed to try to unravel this curious relationship between fat and brain size.

The study was published in the journal Radiology.

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