London: An expanding waistline along with
other middle-age vices such as smoking and drinking not just
harm your heart, they could also cause your brain to shrink, a
new study has claimed.
Conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure
also take their toll on the grey matter, having an effect on
brainpower just ten years later, the researchers found.
Doctors could use the information to pick out patients
at a higher risk of dementia and encourage them to improve
their lifestyles while there was still time, they said.
"Identifying these risk factors early could be useful
in screening people for dementia and encouraging people to
make changes to their lifestyle before it’s too late," study
author Charles DeCarli, from the University of California at
Davis, was quoted as saying.
For their study, published in the journal Neurology,
the researchers measured weight and height of more than 1,300
men and women in their 50s and 60s.
Their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes were
also examined. Scans to measure brain volume were carried out
over the next ten years and mental tests were also run on
The brain shrinks with age, even in the healthiest of
people. But in those with diabetes, the hippocampus -- the
brain`s "memory hub" -- shrank more quickly than in those
without the condition, the researchers found.
The hippocampus also shrivelled faster in smokers. And
those with high blood pressure were more prone to small
lesions or areas of brain damage, known as "white matter
hyper-intensities", they said.
High blood pressure was also linked to a more rapid
worsening of scores on mental tests, effectively ageing the
brain by up to eight years, the researchers said.
Those who were obese in their 50s tended to fare
poorly on the mental tests in the study.
A previous study of American pensioners found that
obesity ages the brain by up to 16 years. It is thought that
high levels of fat raise the odds of the arteries clogging up,
cutting the flow of blood and oxygen.
It is estimated that half of cases of Alzheimer`s
could be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as doing more
exercise, eating healthily and not smoking.
People who are overweight at 60 are more than twice as
likely to get dementia by 75.