Health Tips: Protect your brain from the damage body fat can cause


David “Fathead” Newman was an extraordinary jazz and rhythm-and-blues saxophone player who worked as a sideman with Ray Charles, recorded with Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Gregg Allman, Dr. John and Natalie Cole, and put out 38 albums under his own name.

While Fathead may have made beautiful music, a new study shows that putting fat together with your head -- well, that’s not a pretty combination. A study in JAMA Network Open reveals that having excess fat, in general, and excess belly fat specifically, causes brain injury and cognitive impairment. Furthermore, the study found that excess body fat causes an assault on the brain that is in addition to the brain damage (ministrokes, strokes, dementia and more) that cardiovascular diseases related to excess body fat can cause. Double trouble.

The researchers looked at data from two studies of 9,189 adults age 30 to 75. They found that those with the most body fat had reduced cognition associated with three years’ extra brain aging compared with leaner study participants -- and that was just in the three to 11 years that the study participants were tracked. Excess body fat for decades probably harms brainpower even more.

The three best ways to reduce excess body fat: Eat a plant-based diet free of red and processed meats, added sugars, syrups and ultraprocessed foods -- and consume most food before 3 p.m.; get 300 minutes of activity weekly; and sleep seven to eight hours a night. Then you’ll likely be a “smarthead” for years to come!

How marijuana exposure harms your newborn

Puff may be a magic dragon -- but despite the flower-child message of that 1963 Peter, Paul and Mary hit, it’s all evil magic when you consider the effects of marijuana on the health of a newborn.

Unfortunately, more women are smoking marijuana and more are doing it while pregnant. A 2019 study in JAMA Open found that over the past eight years, the number of women who’d smoked pot in the year before they became pregnant had almost doubled to 12.5%, and nearly 3.5% of women were smoking while pregnant.

Whatever the number has become today, with increased legalization and pandemic blues, it’s too high (pun intended).

Research published in JAMA Open Network looked at data on more than 59,000 women and found that newborns whose moms were exposed to marijuana while pregnant (smoky rooms count, too!) were at risk for low birth weight and being small for their gestational age; being born preterm; being admitted to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit); having a smaller head circumference; and having a lower Apgar score (assessing breathing, heart rate, muscle tone, reflexes and skin color) at one minute post-birth.

Those health challenges are similar to what happens to children affected by fetal alcohol syndrome (from Mom drinking while pregnant). These kids, born after in-utero exposure to marijuana or alcohol often have feeding problems, asthma and increased risk of infection, as well as visual, hearing, learning and behavioral problems.

So, do your child a favor and “tune in, listen up and skip the pot.”