More belly fat may be bad for the brain — especially for women, a new study suggests.
The analysis, published online Aug. 28, 2023, by the journal Aging and Disease, involved 10,000 healthy adults (average age 53, 47% women) who underwent whole-body MRI scans. Researchers evaluated the types of abdominal fat in each participant. They also measured each participant's brain volume and compared it to what would be typical for that person's sex and age. They found that people with greater amounts of both visceral and subcutaneous belly fat had less brain tissue, particularly in brain regions involved in thinking, memory, and performing everyday tasks. (Visceral fat is stored deep inside the belly and is wrapped around the organs, while subcutaneous fat is stored under the skin.) Additionally, women with higher amounts of visceral fat appeared to have smaller brain sizes compared with men who also had greater visceral fat levels.
The study didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship between abdominal fat and brain volume, just that a relationship exists. The analysis also didn't account for genetics or for lifestyle factors that can affect brain health, such as exercise and diet.
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