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Obesity Linked to Dementia

Excess abdominal fat places otherwise healthy, middle-aged people at risk of dementia later in life says new research from the USA.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine have determined that excess abdominal fat places otherwise healthy, middle-aged people at risk of dementia later in life. Preliminary findings suggest a relationship between obesity and dementia that could lead to promising prevention strategies in the future. Results of this study are published in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association.

For the current study, researchers recruited 733 participants who had a mean age of 60 years (with roughly 70% of the study group comprising women). Researchers examined the association between Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, waist to hip ratio, CT-based measures of abdominal fat, with MRI measures of total brain volume (TCBV), temporal horn volume (THV), white matter hyperintensity volume (WMHV) and brain infarcts in the middle-aged participants.

"Our results confirm the inverse association of increasing BMI with lower brain volumes in older adults and with younger, middle-aged adults and extends the findings to a much larger study sample," noted Dr. Seshadri. Prior studies were conducted in groups with less than 300 participants and the current study includes over 700 individuals. "More importantly our data suggests a stronger connection between central obesity, particularly the visceral fat component of abdominal obesity, and risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Seshadri added. The research showed the association between VAT and TCBV was most robust and was also independent of BMI and insulin resistance. Researchers did not observe a statistically significant correlation between CT-based abdominal fat measures and THV, WMHV or BI.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research at The Alzheimers Society confirmed, 'We have all heard how a beer belly can be bad for our heart but this study suggests carrying excess abdominal weight could also increase your risk of getting dementia. This is not really surprising as a large stomach is associated with high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes - all major risk factors for dementia. While this large and robust study builds on the growing literature looking at links between obesity and dementia more work is needed. One in three people will die with dementia yet dementia research is drastically underfunded. We must invest now to make the advances necessary.'

May 2010