By Deane Alban
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
You are probably pretty familiar with the health problems associated with being overweight. It can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes…. among others.
But you may not know the burden that being overweight puts on your brain.
Does a Big Belly Equal a Small Brain?
Dr. Majid Fotuhi, author of The Memory Cure, states “as the belly expands, the brain shrinks”.
There have been numerous studies in the news lately about the connection between being overweight and memory loss. Here are some of the alarming findings:
- Compared to people of normal weight, overweight people have 4% less tissue and obese people have 8% less brain tissue. This loss is not insignificant! According to Dr. Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology, this is considered severe brain degeneration and puts you at greater risk for developing brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
- Compared to people of normal weight, overweight people’s brains look 8 years older and obese people’s brains appear 16 years older.
- The more overweight you are, the more brain shrinkage and corresponding brain function loss you are likely to have.
How Being Overweight Affects the Brain
It’s not known why being overweight is related to brain atrophy. Some of the most likely causative factors include:
– Changes in hormone levels
– High blood pressure
– High cholesterol
– High blood sugar levels
– Poor circulation
– Poor nutrition
– Lack of exercise
Get Healthy, Not Skinny
Most people say they want to lose weight to look better. They want to fit into their old jeans or get back to the weight they were at some earlier point in their life. But these are not the best reasons to want to lose weight.
A better motivator to lose weight is for your overall health, especially your brain health. After all, your brain runs the whole show. By eating a healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy body weight, you can reverse the deterioration of your brain.
Healthy eating and exercise are the only real solutions to what is being called an upcoming epidemic of dementia and Alzheimer’s. There are no medical cures for these diseases, so prevention is the key! No doubt these epidemics are being fueled by the epidemic of obesity. It’s estimated that soon half the population of the US will be considered obese, but you don’t have to be amongst them.
Here are three steps for getting healthy (but not necessarily skinny)
Retire the Bathroom Scale
Don’t torture yourself with constantly weighing yourself. A regular bathroom scale can be your worst dieting aid. Your weight in pounds is a poor indicator of your progress. It doesn’t tell you what is really important — how much fat you are carrying.
Instead of losing pounds, a healthier goal is to lower your body fat percentage. If you don’t have a body fat composition scale instead, you should consider trading your old bathroom scale in for one.
Meanwhile, you can get a rough calculation of your BMI (Body Mass Index) with a BMI calculator on this US government website.
Belly fat is particularly unhealthy. This type of fat is called visceral fat and it increases your chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, heart disease, and even cancer. It can cause sleep apnea, a condition where you stop breathing in your sleep.
Here’s an easy way to determine if you carry a dangerous amount of fat around your middle: Measure your waist. If your waist in inches is less than half of your height in inches, you are not in the danger zone. Pretty simple!
Eat For Brain Health
To lose weight and get your brain fitness back, you need to eat for brain health. This means a diet based on healthy foods with balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Avoid crash diets, specifically very low fat diets. Your brain — which is 70% fat– needs plenty of healthy fats!
There’s a reason people get grouchy, irritable, and spaced out on these kinds of diet — their brains are starved for energy! Follow a sensible eating plan based on sound nutrition principles. I eat according to the dietary principles laid out by Paul Jaminet (Ph.D) and Shou-Ching Jaminet (Ph.D) in their book Perfect Health Diet. (You can learn more about this book in my review: Mom Was Right – Why “Meat & Potatoes” Diet May Be Best.) One of the authors had a serious problem with memory loss which vanished when he started eating this way!
Nutrition has long been a passion of mine, for personal interest and to share with others. I’ve read hundreds of books on nutrition looking for the ultimate diet and this is the best nutrition book I’ve read. Period. It appeals to my logic since it’s based on irrefutable scientific evidence. It also appeals to my common sense and resonates with my gut instincts as being true. When all the parts came together, I felt like a fog had been lifted.
Here are some of the big questions that get answered in this book:
- what the human body is designed to eat
- why you can’t lose weight
- why you can’t control your cravings
- why will power isn’t enough to stick to a healthy eating plan
- why you’re hungry all the time and what you can do to stop this
While it can get pretty technical, it’s set up so that you can easily implement the plan even if you choose to skim through some of the more clinical findings.
Perfect Health Diet is available on Amazon as a Softcover or as a Kindle eBook. I urge you to read it. Imagine how life will be when you are no longer searching for the perfect diet but know what you were meant to eat!
The other crucial component to getting into good brain-healthy condition is exercise. Exercise will increase circulation to your brain and even grow new capillaries. It encourages BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) to create new brain cells. It can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels, possible causes of brain atrophy.
If you haven’t exercised recently, walking is great way to ease your way back into an exercise program. A fun way to get into a walking program is with a monitor like the Fitbit One. Clip this amazing little device to your waistband and it tells you how many steps you’ve taken, how far you’ve walked, how many calories you’ve burned, and will even monitor how well you slept!
If you’re already an avid walker, you might be ready for an exercise “upgrade”. There are many excellent reasons that everyone, especially seniors, should consider strength training. Exercise is a known brain booster. It increases blood supply to the brain and promotes the formation of new brain cells. It’s widely considered one of the best things you can do to increase brain fitness.
- Obese in Middle Age? You May Suffer Faster Cognitive Decline Later On at Healthland.Time.com
- Obesity Tied to Memory Loss at PsychCentral.com
- Obesity Accelerates Memory Loss at DailyMail.co.uk
Previous articles by Deane:
- The ABCs of Vitamins for Memory and Brain Health
- Coconut Oil Cures Alzheimer’s Disease: Truth or Wishful Thinking?
- 6 Common Habits that Rob You of Essential Brain Vitamins
Updated September 2014
About the author:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her current focus is helping people overcome brain fog, “senior moments”, and other signs of mental decline now, and preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia in the future.
The human brain is designed to last a lifetime, but modern life takes a greater toll on the brain than most people realize. Deane teaches the best ways to keep your brain healthy and stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com.