(NaturalNews) People with bigger heads may suffer less from Alzheimer's than people with smaller heads, according to a study conducted by researchers from Munich University and published in the journal Neurology.
"Improving prenatal and early life conditions could significantly increase brain reserve, which could have an impact on the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or the severity of symptoms of the disease," lead researcher Robert Perneczky said.
The researchers recruited 270 Alzheimer's patients from specialty clinics and research registries in Canada, Germany, Greece and the United States. Each participant underwent a head measurement, a brain scan and tests of memory and cognitive function.
The researchers found that participants with larger heads performed significantly better on tests of memory and cognitive function than participants with smaller heads, even after controlling for the amount of brain-cell death as measured by the brain scan. For every 1 percent of brain cell death, having a head one centimeter bigger was associated with a 6 percent increase on cognitive tests.
The researchers suspect that a larger head may correlate with a larger brain, meaning that the brain has a greater buffer against cell death. And while head size may seem to be beyond a person's control, it is not beyond their parents' control -- proper health and nutrition during fetal development and the first few years of life is critical for helping the brain reach its full capacity.
"These findings add weight to the theory of brain reserve, or individual capacity to withstand changes in the brain," Perneczky said. "Our findings also underline the importance of optimal brain development early in life, since the brain reaches 93 percent of its final size at age six."
Simon Ridley, head of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, cautioned against reading too much into the results but welcomed the researchers' recommendations.
"The researchers have also posed the idea that nutrition, injury or infection in early life can have an impact on brain reserve, suggesting that we should look after our brain from day one," Ridley said.