DEC 17, 2019 3:03 PM PST

Increased Belly Fat with Aging Linked to Reduced Mental Flexibility

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Did you ever consider that your brain can flex similarly to the way your biceps can? Sure, brain flexing is more abstract and less literal, but the concept applies. As humans age, natural lifestyle changes often occur that include less physical activity and increased calorie consumption, and researchers think these changes affect the brain’s ability to “flex.” Even more, the immune system could be the reason why.

Researchers from the present study looked specifically at how loss of muscle mass and increased body fat affect cognition with age. Considering potential new therapeutic approaches for aging adults, experts might be able to specifically target those aging adults facing issues with obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and muscle loss.

The study included a data analysis from more than four thousand participants - male and female adults middle-aged and older. Researchers collected direct measurements of lean muscle mass, abdominal fat, and subcutaneous fat and compared such values to changes in fluid intelligence over six years. Psychology Today defines “fluid intelligence” as the “capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge.”

Researchers observed higher quantities of midsection fat associated with reduced fluid intelligence in participants in their 40s and 50s. Greater muscle mass appeared to be protective of fluid intelligence. The link between fat, muscle mass, and fluid intelligence held true even when researchers controlled for factors like education level, socioeconomic status, and chronological age, as opposed to biological age. In this context, biological age is defined by the quantifiable presence of fat and muscle.

The foundation of the study dedicated to investigating the role of the immune system was based off of past research demonstrating links between higher body mass index and increased immune activity in the blood. Such immune activity is associated with immune activity in the brain and cognitive dysfunction.

In the study, researchers observed changes in lymphocytes and eosinophils correlated with increased abdominal fat and reduced fluid intelligence for females. For men, the key immune cells were basophils. The immune system appeared to play no role in the protective effect of muscle mass against reduced fluid intelligence.

In the future, researchers would consider applying the concepts gleaned from the present study to determine whether or not fat levels, muscle mass, and immune changes impact the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sources: Iowa State University, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
JAN 20, 2021
Immunology
Gut Bacteria's Poison Arrows Exposed
JAN 20, 2021
Gut Bacteria's Poison Arrows Exposed
Bacteria armed with toxin bombs and excruciating abdominal pains caused by raging inflammation in the gut. While the cau ...
JAN 28, 2021
Neuroscience
Immune Cells Destroy Synapses in Multiple Sclerosis
JAN 28, 2021
Immune Cells Destroy Synapses in Multiple Sclerosis
Researchers from Germany have found that Multiple sclerosis (MS)-associated inflammation in the cerebral cortex destroys ...
MAR 16, 2021
Immunology
What Happens When Your Immune System Forgets
MAR 16, 2021
What Happens When Your Immune System Forgets
One of the most remarkable features of the immune system is its ability to “remember” past encounters with p ...
APR 08, 2021
Immunology
It's Not Just Cholesterol That Clogs Arteries
APR 08, 2021
It's Not Just Cholesterol That Clogs Arteries
Researchers have discovered a gene that is directly linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as high b ...
APR 27, 2021
Neuroscience
Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier Linked to Schizophrenia
APR 27, 2021
Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier Linked to Schizophrenia
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that people with schizophrenia may have a more permeable bloo ...
MAY 11, 2021
Immunology
Immune Cells Help Brain Tumors Spread, but We Can Stop Them
MAY 11, 2021
Immune Cells Help Brain Tumors Spread, but We Can Stop Them
Researchers have discovered how a glitch in the brain’s immune system can inadvertently cause an accelerated growt ...
Loading Comments...