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Abdominal fat in middle age raises risk of memory loss, dementia

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Abdominal fat

It’s not uncommon to experience memory problems in older age, but some people can start showing signs of mild to substantial memory loss even earlier, especially if they have a large volume of abdominal fat during middle age.

Indeed, having a lot of abdominal fat in middle age can nearly quadruple your risk of developing memory loss and dementia in later years.

While there are multiple risk factors for dementia, abnormal fat metabolism is a risk known to increase memory and learning problems. And, now, researchers have found that the same protein that controls fat metabolism in the liver is located in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls memory and learning.

These findings by neurological researchers from the Rush University Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health were recently published in Cell Reports.

"We need to better understand how fat is connected to memory and learning so that we can develop effective approach to protect memory and learning," said Kalipada Pahan, PhD, the Floyd A. Davis professor of neurology at Rush University Medical Center.

The primary fat metabolizing organ in the body is the liver, and PPARalpha (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha) is known to directly control fat metabolism in the liver, explained Dr. Pahan.

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"We are surprised to find high level of PPARalpha in the hippocampus of animal models," said Pahan.

"While PPARalpha deficient mice are poor in learning and memory, injection of PPARα to the hippocampus of PPARalpha deficient mice improves learning and memory," Pahan added.

According to Pahan, abdominal fat is an early indication of some kind of dementia later in life.

In an experiment, the researchers were able to create some mice with normal levels of PPARalpha in the liver and depleted PPARalpha in the brain. These mice had poor memory and learning skills, but the mice that had normal PPARalpha in the brain and depleted PPARalpha in the liver showed normal memory.

"Our study indicates that people may suffer from memory-related problems only when they lose PPARalpha in the hippocampus", said Pahan.

"Further research must be conducted to see how we could potentially maintain normal PPARalpha in the brain in order to be resistant to memory loss", said Pahan.

SOURCE: Regulation of Cyclic AMP Response Element Binding and Hippocampal Plasticity-Related Genes by Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor α,
Avik Roy, Malabendu Jana, Grant T. Corbett, Shilpa Ramaswamy, Jeffrey H. Kordower, Frank J. Gonzalez, Kalipada Pahansend. Cell Reports, Volume 4, Issue 4, 724-737, 22 August 2013 10.1016/j.celrep.2013.07.028