Give Your Brain a Six Pack?

Give Your Brain a Six Pack?

Abdominal Obesity and Brain Volume?

If you’re looking for even more motivation to lose weight, new research from Boston University suggests that abdominal obesity is associated with smaller brain volumes later in life.  Losing weight can be difficult for many, but obesity itself can have adverse effects on your heart along with your brain.  Vascular and metabolic risk factors such as obesity affect more than just the health of your heart/cardiovascular system.

Researchers in the department of Neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine published recent data regarding the association of abdominal obesity and brain volume (Debette et al, 2010).  Specifically, they found numerous associations between measures of abdominal obesity and smaller brain volumes.

The study included 733 community participants from the Framingham Offspring cohort.  Just over half or 53% of these subjects were women.  For the study design, they used both  anthropometric and computer-tomography based measurements of abdominal obesity.


The study found inverse associations between body mass index, waist circumference, subcutaneous adipose tissue, visceral adipose tissue, waist-to-hip ratio, with total cerebral brain volume independent of  other vascular risk factors.  The strongest association was with visceral adipose tissue and total brain volume.  Visceral adipose tissue is the fat that surrounds organs.

When adjusting for c-reactive protein levels, the associations were less prominent. C-reactive protein is an acute-phase reactant–levels of which increase during inflammation.

The study authors speculated about three possible mechanisms that may in part account for this observed association:

  1. Inflammation – Obesity is highly associated with inflammatory markers.
  2. Diabetes and insulin resistance – Both are related to obesity and could explain part of the association between adiposity and brain volume.
  3. Adipose tissue derived hormones – adiponectin, leptin, resistin, grhrelin.


“In middle-aged community participants, we observed a significant inverse association of anthropometric and CT-based measurements of abdominal, especially visceral, fat with total brain volume.”

Study Author Quoted at Medscape Today:

“We know that having a smaller brain is associated with a higher risk of subsequent dementia, so I think it’s just another piece that suggests that vascular and metabolic risk factors like obesity are bad for the brain, and it’s just 1 more reason to try to stay within the normal BMI and avoid abdominal obesity…” Dr. Seshadri concluded.


  1. Debette S, Beiser A, Hoffman U, DeCarli C, O’Donnell C, Massaro J, Au R, Himali J, Wolf P, Fox C, Seshadri S.  Visceral Fat Is Associated with Lower Brain Volume in Healthy Middle-Aged Adults.  ANN NEUROL 2010;67-000-000.
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