Currently, an estimated 47 million people are affected with dementia worldwide and one of the risk factors for dementia as we grow older is obesity. How did these studies measure obesity? They used a waist to hip ratio as their measure of obesity- not BMI. BMI is body mass index and takes the height and weight of individuals into account to determine body fat. However, this is not always a reliable measure as body builders and very athletic individuals can be considered obese but have very little body fat.
What did these studies find? The studies evaluated the cognitive performance by testing memory and visuospatial tasks and found that adults over the age of 60 with higher waist to hip ratios had reduced cognitive performance in such tasks.
Why is belly fat (increased waist to hip ratio) associated with cognitive decline? Researchers believe that the reason individuals with increased belly fat show more cognitive decline than their counterparts in similar age groups is because fat cells produce inflammatory markers. In addition to this, just because you are overweight or obese does not mean that you have the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals. The body needs a diverse spectrum of antioxidants and phytochemicals to remain healthy and for our cells to function normally. Unfortunately, while the standard American diet is heavy on sugar, salt, and carbohydrates, it tends to be low on antioxidants which helps decrease the inflammatory response.
So what can I do to decrease the risk of developing dementia?
- Focus on reducing belly fat. Belly fat harms the brain because it produces hormones and chemicals that promote inflammation and insulin resistance.
- Decrease processed foods as much as you can. All sorts of additives are added in processed foods to increase the shelf life and make it taste good. These additives promote inflammation and are usually nutrient poor meaning they have very fewer antioxidants that help in repair and regeneration of cells.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day! Being active and exercising regularly really helps decrease belly fat and improves your overall health.