According to a new study that relied on MRI technology for finding a correlation between higher amounts of fat and lower brain volumes in specific regions, a connection between obesity and the shrinking of the human brain exists.
The study’s lead author Ilona A. Dekkers, M.D., from Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, said, ‘MRI has shown to be an irreplaceable tool for understanding the link between neuroanatomical differences of the brain and behavior. Our study shows that very large data collection of MRI data can lead to improved insight into exactly which brain structures are involved in all sorts of health outcomes, such as obesity.’
A number of researches have linked obesity with dementia and enhanced cognitive decline. To carry out an evaluation of this relationship further, the team of researchers carried out an analysis of brain imaging results obtained from 12,000 participants in the UK Biobank study. MRI technique was utilized for evaluating the neuron-rich gray matter and the white matter.
Dr Dekkers said, ‘We found that having higher levels of fat distributed over the body is associated with smaller volumes of important structures of the brain, including gray matter structures that are located in the center of the brain. Interestingly, we observed that these associations are different for men and women, suggesting that gender is an important modifier of the link between fat percentage and the size of specific brain structures.’
Men featured a lower brain (gray matter) volume overall while women displayed on a significant negative association with the globus pallidus. However, for both genders, a higher amount of body fat percentage correlated with microscopic changes to the brain’s white matter. The researchers have stressed that further work is required for establishing a true relationship between brain shrinkage and body since a correlation doesn’t imply causation. The study also hasn’t included different types of fats which Dr Dekkers believes might play a role in brain changes.
The study’s senior author, Hildo Lamb, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CardioVascular Imaging Group of Leiden University Medical Center, said, ‘For future research, it would be of great interest whether differences in body fat distribution are related to differences in brain morphological structure, as visceral fat is a known risk factor for metabolic disease and is linked to low-grade systemic inflammation.’
The study has been published in the journal Radiology.