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Cutting Belly Fat May Help Lower Dementia Risk

May 21, 2010

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine have drawn a line between excess abdominal fat in otherwise healthy, middle-aged people and a risk for dementia later in life. The suggestion of a relationship between obesity and dementia that could lead to promising prevention strategies in the future, says the authors of the study, published early online in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association. A 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) report estimated that 24.3 million people have some form of dementia, with 4.6 million new cases annually. Individuals with dementia exhibit a decline in short-term and long-term memory, language processing, problem solving capabilities, and other cognitive function. Clinical diagnosis of dementia is made when two or more brain functions are significantly impaired. Symptoms of dementia can be attributed to irreversible causes such Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and Huntington's disease, or caused by treatable conditions such as brain tumor, medication reaction or metabolic issues. For the current study, Sudha Seshadri, MD and colleagues recruited participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. The sample included 733 community participants who had a mean age of 60 years with roughly 70 percent of the study group being 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 had less than 300 participants. "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. Our findings, while preliminary, provide greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying the link between obesity and dementia," concluded Dr. Seshadri. "Further studies will add to our knowledge and offer important methods of prevention."