Shrink Your Waistline to Grow Your Brain

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

February 4, 2019

There are a lot great reasons to maintain a healthy weight. I hear about many of them from my own patients.

  • “I want to look hot again!” says the pudgy 32-year old single mom.
  • “I’m sick of dealing with these damned sugar problems,” declares an overweight middle-age patient with diabetes.
  • “With all the huffing and puffing I do just to get out of my chair, I’m afraid I’ll have a heart attack or something,” frets an obese gentleman in his 60’s.
  • “My knees are killing me,” complains a chubby young executive.

But in all of my years as a physician, there is one extremely important reason to lose weight that has never shows up on my radar. I’ve never heard a single patient say they wanted to drop those extra pounds to protect their cognitive abilities or ward off dementia.

This is a sad truth. And I hate being the one who has to deliver this news to them. But the fact is, a higher BMI – especially when combined with a higher waist-to-hip ratio – is linked to brain shrinkage and an increased risk of developing dementia at an early age.

In particular, people with a higher BMI who also have a high waist-to-hip ratio have lower gray matter volume than normal weight individuals. The volume is also lower than those who only have a high BMI (without a high waist-to-hip ratio).

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Gray matter is essential to the central nervous system and is used to process information in the brain. When gray matter volume is low, it disrupts higher brain function. And it’s directly related to the severity of Alzheimer’s disease.

But here’s something I think you’ll find extremely interesting:

The Same Things That Increase Brain Volume
also shrink Your Waistline!

Some of the exact same habits that boost your brainpower also help to lower body weight and reduce abdominal fat. And I don’t think it’s coincidence.

For example, exercise is a great tool for maintaining a healthy weight. But it’s an even more powerful weapon when it comes to preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Regular physical activity is a potent way to increase gray matter volume. This is true even if you are “up there” in age.

Plus, exercise nourishes your neurons, decreases beta amyloid plaques and increases the size of your hippocampus. This is the area of your brain that is critical to turn short-term memories into long-term memories.

Even better, staying active increases something called BDNF, brain derived neurotrophic factor. This protein encourages the growth of new neurons and enhances synaptic activity. It helps your brain make the right connections more easily and readily.

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Increased BDNF levels could even delay or reverse memory loss, improve brain function and make you smarter.

It’s no wonder that people who get the highest levels of physical activity in their mid- to later years have brains that are 10 years younger than those with the lowest levels of activity!

At the same time, people who eat a Mediterranean style diet are less likely to be overweight. Over time they tend to have very little change in waist circumference. This means a much lower chance of abdominal obesity.

They also have higher BDNF levels, larger hippocampal volumes and higher total brain volumes than those who eat an American style diet.

And let me be clear on this.

The way we eat here in the U.S. actual reduces BDNF. This can quickly lead to problems with the way your neurons communicate, affect your cognitive abilities and result in behavioral changes. (In other words, eating standard American fare is an invitation for dementia!)

I urge you to take your weight loss seriously. Not just so you can “look hot” again. But to prevent or reverse diabetes, take the extra strain off your circulatory system, protect your joints…

… And save your brain!


Mark Hamer, G. David Batty. Association of body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio with brain structure. Neurology. 2019.

Study: excessive body fat around the middle linked to smaller brain size. Press Release. American Academy of Neurology. Jan 2019.

Kivimäki M, et al. Body mass index and risk of dementia: Analysis of individual-level data from 1.3 million individuals. Alzheimers Dement. 2018 May;14(5):601-609.

Stout JC, et al. Association of dementia severity with cortical gray matter and abnormal white matter volumes in dementia of the Alzheimer type. Arch Neurol. 1996 Aug;53(8):742-9.

Erickson KI, et al. Physical activity, fitness, and gray matter volume. Neurobiol Aging. 2014 Sep; 35 Suppl 2: S20–S28.

Erickson KI, et al. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 15;108(7):3017-22.

Agnoli C, et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and long-term changes in weight and waist circumference in the EPIC-Italy cohort. Nutr Diabetes. 2018; 8: 22.

Luciano M, et al. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort. Neurology. 2017 Jan 31;88(5):449-455.

Jacka FN, et al. Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation. BMC Med. 2015; 13: 215.

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