Abdominal Fat in Mid-Life May Contribute to Dementia Later On
> 3/27/2008 10:29:07 AM

Numerous health problems accompany obesity, from heart disease to diabetes, and these conditions also contribute to an individual's chances of developing dementia. Previous research has indicated that weight alone may boost this risk, but a longitudinal study appearing in the journal Neurology demonstrates that body mass index (BMI) is not the only factor to keep track of when considering a person's weight. Through research spanning three decades, a team of researchers found that the location of fat stores can also influence overall health. Specifically, they identified an association between excess abdominal fat in middle age and subsequent dementia.

The study's 6,583 subjects had been assessed between 1964 and 1973, when they were between the ages of 40 and 45. During this assessment, the size of their bellies, their sagittal abdominal diameter (SAD), was measured with a special caliper. After an average of 36 years, nearly 16 percent of the subjects had been diagnosed with dementia. Analysis of both SAD and BMI measurements revealed, not surprisingly, that those with a high SAD and a high BMI, one indicative of obesity, had the greatest chances of developing dementia. Their risk was more than three times that of an individual with a normal BMI and a normal SAD. Still, SAD measurement appeared to have an effect on cognitive functioning independent of overall weight. Those with normal BMIs but high SAD measurements were still nearly twice as likely to develop dementia. These results remained significant when the researchers controlled for other factors that may have been involved, including age, sex, education level, and the effects of existing health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

The factors that contribute to dementia may be interconnected, and an expanding waistline could be just one more indication of risk. Excess abdominal fat is an unhealthy condition that may fuel other contributing factors of dementia, and the link proposed by this study provides further evidence that an unhealthy weight or distribution of weight can damage overall health. The harm associated with abdominal fat is not clearly understood, but the researchers suggest that because this type of fat, also known as visceral fat, is stored near internal organs and produces hormones, it may have a large impact on the body's internal processes, which in turn could cause harm to brain's functioning.

In their study, the researchers point out that about half of Americans currently have excess abdominal fat, and there is a need for greater awareness of the risks posed by this condition and of the actions we can take to prevent the health problems associated with it. Measuring abdominal fat may prove an important tool in identifying risk for a range of health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and dementia. The researchers surmise that measurements taken in middle-age may be more effective than those taken in old age because the harmful effects of abdominal fat may be present long before the signs of dementia become apparent. Lifestyle changes are also a crucial step for anyone who wishes to lose weight. Excess abdominal fat is a modifiable risk, and individuals who adopt healthier eating habits and increase their exercise levels will increase their overall well-being, potentially staving off future health problems.

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