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Add fat, subtract gray matter, spur mental decline

You’ll never read an article in this column about why you shouldn’t go outside in the winter with a wet head. Or how to carry scissors around the house properly so you don’t poke an eye out.

I’m not your mother.

But like your mother, this column can nag you to the point of no end. I’d like to think, however, I save my nagging for really important stuff.

Like all the damage done from eating too much.

Two articles ago, you learned I bought a book that advocates an eating style as opposite as it gets to the one I’ve faithfully followed for 30-plus years. While I eat seven or eight times a day, the book’s title states there’s a better way.

It’s “Two Meals a Day.”

I bought that book by Mark Sisson because of something we all know yet often choose to forget: “You learn more from people who challenge your notions than support them.”

But I did it for another reason as well, one that I see as common sense and made clear by this bit of coin currency trivia. If you use different combinations of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars, you can make one dollar’s worth of change 293 different ways.

So if you use different combinations of protein, carbohydrates, and fats to make the meals that make up your diet, there surely has to be more than one way to construct one that allows you to reach and maintain an optimal body weight.

So if you have tried eating frequent meals of primarily proteins and complex carbs - what I advocate, in short - and have not met with success, you may want to experiment with some or all of what Sisson suggests.

But whatever you do with your diet, keep this in mind. The golden goal is to keep from being “overfat,” a catch-all term Dr. Phil Maffetone uses in a July 2017 Frontiers in Public Health article. Though not necessarily obese or overweight by medical standards, overfat occurs when your body fat level reaches a point that impairs health.

It’s the point that three out of every four people walking the Earth today have reached, Maffetone asserts, and a condition that shares “direct links to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, and to hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and gout, pulmonary diseases, sleep apnea, and others.”

One of the those “others” is the type of cognitive decline that can progress to dementia and its most dreaded variant, Alzheimer’s disease.

Current estimates suggest that nearly 20 percent of women and nearly 10 percent of men over 65 will eventually fall victim to AD, yet those percentages need not be so high. An article posted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health references a 10-study meta-analysis of more than 40,000 subjects that found being obese increases the risk of AD by 42 percent, while calling obesity a “potentially modifiable risk factor” of the disease.

A study from the University of South Australia and published in the June 2021 issue of Neurobiology and Aging offers why being fat increases your risk of any cognitive decline. It leads to a loss of gray matter.

In an article about the study for Medical News Today, lead author Anwar Mulugeta, Ph.D., calls gray matter “an essential component” in brain function because of the role it plays in learning, memory, cognitive function, attention, and muscle control. Experts believe that a partial loss of it can lead to age-related cognitive decline as well as dementia.

And if you think Maffetone’s aforementioned estimate that 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat is a case of an overzealous crusader creating a false crisis, think again. The senior author of the University of South Australia study, professor Elina Hyppönen, told MNT, “Even in a relatively normal weight individual, excess weight around the abdominal area may be a cause of concern.”

On a related note, a study first published online in June as a research letter in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that being obese or overweight as a teen makes it more likely to develop type 2 diabetes or have a heart attack - 2.73 and 2.19 times more likely - well before the time you worry about any sort of cognitive decline.

In your 30s and 40s.

Moreover, when compared to normal-weight teens, the obese teens who took part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health were more likely to be obese 24 years later, as well as more likely to have experienced high cholesterol, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, asthma, and sleep apnea.

The study of 12,300 teenagers used body mass index as the measure to determine obesity. By that measure, approximately 20 percent of U.S. teens are obese currently.