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Scientists Find Human Brains Are Getting Larger and Larger

If someone tells you that you have a big head, take that as a compliment.

Humankind’s brains have apparently gotten bigger and bigger over the years, according to a team of scientists, who are surmising that bigger brains may stave off dementia as folks age.

An international team of researchers, led by the University of California Davis Health, arrived at this finding after studying the MRIs of people starting with those born in the 1930s, all the way through the 1970s.

In the resulting study, published in JAMA Neurology, the researchers found that 1970s babies had nearly 15 percent more brain surface area and 6.6 percent more brain volume than 1930s babies.

The scientists had taken MRI data from the Framingham Heart Study, a long running health survey started in 1948. They specifically looked at brain scans from 3,226 subjects.

Besides increases in brain volume and surface area, researchers also saw that parts of the brain associated with memory and learning had also increased in size.

So what are the implications of our larger brains?

It’s not clear if larger brains make us more intelligent, judging by, well, pretty much everything you read in the headlines.

But researchers think having big brains could be a plus because they may be tied to brain health. While there's been an increase in total patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease as more folks grow older, the percentage of people newly diagnosed has decreased per decade, according to a study published in 2016 in the The New England Journal of Medicine that also examined data from the Framingham Heart Study.

"Larger brain structures like those observed in our study may reflect improved brain development and improved brain health," UC Davis professor of neurology and study first author Charles DeCarli said in a statement. "A larger brain structure represents a larger brain reserve and may buffer the late-life effects of age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and related dementias."

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