The brain-belly fat connection: Studies show a link between diet and dementia

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — It may be what you eat, but new research suggests your diet and lifestyle can affect how you think.

A new study confirms the link between body fat and brain size. And you might be surprised who it affects the most.

Susan Chavet, 66, has made a choice to eat better and get fitter. The reason is not only her body, but also her brain.

“My mom had Alzheimer’s, and she had a weight problem,” Chavet said.

Easy tasks and remembering things started to become a challenge.

“I can’t remember the beginning of sentences. I can’t remember what I did in the morning,” she said.

A International study Including researchers at Providence St. John’s Health Center may explain what’s happening to Chavet.

“There is a correlation between body fat and reduced brain volume,” said Dr. Cyrus Raji of Washington University in St. Louis.

“When you have a lot of fat cells, fat tissue becomes more active and inflamed, they send cytokine signals to the brain that tell the brain to actually shrink,” said Dr. David Merrill with Providence St. John’s Health Center.

As brain volume decreases it increases the risk of dementia later in life. The researchers used MRI scans to examine the body fat and brain volume of 10,000 participants. Surprisingly, the effect was more pronounced in 20-39 year olds compared to older participants.

“This is important because the changes we see in the brain related to body fat are not a product of normal aging,” Raji said.

The study also found that women experienced a greater association between increased abdominal fat and lower brain volume compared to men. Differences in hormone levels may be to blame, the researchers said.

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“We wanted to investigate whether or not changes in hormones with aging could affect this outcome,” Raji said.

Can brain shrinkage be reversed? Dr. Working with Merrill, Chavet was able to slow his cognitive decline through lifestyle changes. He said he was experiencing a remarkable change.

“I like to think of it as ‘food for the brain.’ Now I feel sharper than ever,” Chavet said.

Merrill recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity daily and eating a nutritious diet of 2,000 calories or less per day.

And, he said, ask yourself this: “Are the foods you choose nourishing your body and your brain,” he said.

Chavet said the choice is yours.

“Every day you have the opportunity to make a choice. I’m living proof of how I changed my mindset,” he said.

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