Obesity, smoking and other risk factors can actually cause your brain to shrink in middle-age, leading to mental decline later in life, a UC-Davis study found.
The study's authors gave 1,352 middle-aged participants brain scans over the course of decade, while also measuring their body mass and waist circumferance and giving them diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol tests.
Participants who were obese at middle age had faster declines in tests of executive function, and also showed a drop in brain volume. Diabetes and smoking led to shrinkage in the hippocampus area of the brain. Researchers also noticed growth in vascular brain damage in those with high blood pressure and diabetes.
Catherine Roe, an assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said these results don't prove the risk factors caused brain shrinkage.
But, Roe said, "We know smoking and being overweight are bad for other parts of your health. This is just one more reason to get these things under control."
The study appeared Aug. 2 in Neurology. Dr. Charles DeCarli, the study's author, called the results "a no-brainer." He noted that the study focused on generally healthy participants, and didn't reflect the even larger health and obesity problems seen in certain areas and populations of the United States.
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