March 26, 2008
Belly Fat Big Boost To Dementia Risk

A beer belly rots your brain even though the beer might not be at fault.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – People with larger stomachs in their 40s are more likely to have dementia when they reach their 70s, according to a study published in the March 26, 2008, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in northern California who had their abdominal fat measured. An average of 36 years later, 16 percent of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia. The study found that those with the highest amount of abdominal fat were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest amount of abdominal fat.

So then would belly liposuction reduce your risk of Alzheimer's Disease?

A lot of people are walking around (or sitting) with hazardous bellies.

“Considering that 50 percent of adults in this country have an unhealthy amount of abdominal fat, this is a disturbing finding,” said study author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, a Research Scientist of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, CA, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Research needs to be done to determine what the mechanisms are that link abdominal obesity and dementia.”

Having a large abdomen increased the risk of dementia regardless of whether the participants were of normal weight overall, overweight, or obese, and regardless of existing health conditions, including diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Those who were overweight and had a large belly were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia than people with a normal weight and belly size. People who were both obese and had a large belly were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia than those of normal weight and belly size. Those who were overweight or obese but did not have a large abdomen had an 80-percent increased risk of dementia.

This study didn't prove the direction of causation. But the results are highly suggestive.

Yet Seshadri also notes that factors other than fat could be responsible for the results. Whitmer's team controlled for some of these, such as education and rates of other illnesses. But other issues were not taken into account. Overweight people are less likely to exercise, for instance. Physical activity is known to decrease obesity risk, as well as being psychologically beneficial.

Whitmer acknowledges this short-coming, but points out that the dementia rates were greater among those who were not overweight during middle-age, but did have high levels of belly fat. These people are likely to have exercised since their weight was normal, she says, but they still went on to develop cognitive problems.

Pay attention to comments from obesity researcher Rudolph Liebel of Columbia University in this previous post. Note that fat cells are now known to secrete at least a couple of dozen hormones and other signalling compounds. Some of those compounds cross the blood-brain barrier. Fat is not a passive pile of blubber. Belly fat in particular secretes more stuff than other areas of fat. The fat on your belly is sending out messages that are messing up your brain and body.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 March 26 06:44 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies

matthew said at March 26, 2008 9:23 PM:

as you are probably aware, there is a tendency to lose muscle and gain fat as we age. Controlling for other factors, do bodybuilders have a decreased risk for heart disease, stroke, dementia, and maybe other life threatening conditions?

My real interest is the relationship between more fat free mass and less disease. But they have more expensive metabolic tissue. That would seem to be a drawback. But what about inflammation and aging? Their is more to bodybuilding than having a muscular physique. Bodybuilding in your 40 and 50's requires excellent health too.

clayton said at March 27, 2008 7:05 AM:

Body building is only one aspect of being physically fit. The muscles are bloated with goo, my trainer described it to me when describing how a small 140# guy can do over a 100 100# snatch's in a row in under 10 minutes. Visceral fat is pro inflammatory, a significant marker for dementia. Look at French studies showing that people who eat fish and other omega 3 rich foods have a 70% decreased risk of developing dementia. Pass the canned sardines in olive oil!!!

Get your hands on kettle bells and do some yoga as well, reduce your cortisol levels quickly and naturally. Eat fish or take good clean omega-3 supplements. Maybe even take up a martial art or take on grappling, a nice full body workout like no other. Me I mountain bike and run with my dog, and I throw kettle bells around.

matthew said at March 27, 2008 8:23 AM:

Sure, i've seen a news release saying that about visceral fat. (news releases are to be read with a grain of salt) But it's probably not as simple as lowering total body fat to nix visceral fat. And yeah, it's not visceral fat alone but v. fat and stress combined. Besides, the question is simply can muscle tissue have a protective effect itself against disease. I should have been more clear. If fat can cause problems, what can muscle do?

noiz said at March 27, 2008 7:02 PM:

Muscle can pick up your problem and throw it into another room.

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