Excess Belly Fat Raises Risk of Alzheimer's, Other Dementias

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If you’re healthy and middle-aged but carrying excess belly fat, you are also carrying around an increased risk for dementia later in life, according to a new study. This suggests that if you drop the fat, you could also help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

A research team headed by Sudha Seshadri, MD, of Boston University School of Medicine evaluated 733 participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. The subjects averaged 60 years of age and about 70 percent were women. Researchers examined the association between body mass index, waist circumference, waist to hip ratio, abdominal fat measured using computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging measures of total and other brain volumes and the risk of dementia.

The investigators found an association between increasing body mass index and lower brain volumes. Similar results were seen in previous studies that included less than 300 participants. Dr. Seshadri pointed out that the new study “suggests a stronger connection between central obesity, particularly the visceral fat component of abdominal obesity, and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

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According to the “Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures 2010” report from the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million people in the United States have the disease, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in the nation. Along with the physical and emotional burdens imposed on patients and their families, the economic impact is staggering, with costs of $172 billion per year and climbing.

Alzheimer’s disease is the main type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia is the second most common type, and its symptoms often overlap with those of Alzheimer’s, although memory may not be as seriously affected. Other less common forms of dementia include mixed, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia, among others.

Results of this study and others will hopefully lead to effective strategies to help people prevent the accumulation of excess belly fat and thus reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. “Our findings, while preliminary, provide greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying the link between obesity and dementia,” noted Dr. Seshadri.

SOURCES:
Alzheimer’s Association
Debette S et al. Debette S et al. Annals of Neurology 2010 May 20

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